The year was 2013, and boxers Shakur Stevenson and Jajaira Gonzalez were filling out the paperwork to apply to the USA Boxing Junior International Travel Team. Each waited to showcase what they had been training for for the majority of their lives. Even though each fighter had confidence charged and buried underneath their bruised, covered hands, little did these two know that each would be making the rounds in the youth scene. United under a common mission to find success through their family struggles, a sense of friendship began to evolve. After two plus years of actively growing into the skilled boxers they are today, Stevenson and Jajaira Gonzalez found themselves in a relationship forged in the fiery passion of the sport. The recent bout between Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez centered the relationship between Jajaira Gonzalez and Stevenson and the resulting drama it created.
This past Sat., Oct. 26, Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), fighting out of Newark, N.J., and Joet Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs), Jajaira’s older brother and a rising star from Glendora, C.A., squared off. They competed for the vacant WBO featherweight championship in the main event of Top Rank Boxing at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada. Each were hard at work in getting their families out of poverty. Gonzalez had steadily climbed the professional ranks since his debut in 2012 and made appearances on numerous, small cards against rather undistinguished opponents. For Gonzalez, this also meant capturing the boxing world’s attention, solidifying his legacy, and representing his family.
Stevenson had surging success in his amateur career that won him the 2014 AIBA Youth World Championships and 2014 Summer Youth Olympics. In 2015 he won the Senior U.S. Olympic Trials and qualified for the U.S. boxing team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In the heat of the moment, he fell short when a stinging split decision went in favor of his opponent, continuing the U.S. men’s historic gold medal drought. Stevenson, however, had the opportunity of signing up with Top Rank immediately after the Olympics. Shortly after signing with Top Rank, he easily became their marquee fighter: a promising boxer with a knack for giving an entertaining performance.
It was through Stevenson’s loss in the Olympics and Jajaira’s defeat in the Olympics qualification rounds that Stevenson and Jajaira began their relationship, which opened a rift in the Gonzalez family. The nub of this bad blood lies in the fact that, as an older brother, Joet, felt protective of his young, little sister and never approved of Stevenson.
“I never liked him as an amateur. I just thought he was loud, obnoxious, disrespectful,” said Gonzalez in an interview with ESPN.
A confounded amount of resentment, with an equal amount of disapproval from his father, suggested that this was no longer just a title fight.
Gonzalez and Stevenson despised each other from that moment on. “Boxing means, for … [our] family, [a] … future,” said Gonzalez’s father.
Stevenson attempted to repair the hostilities that were slowly leaking out to the public. He asked Jajaira to arrange a place and time in what can only be rooted in tradition and respect: a sparring session. Walking into the Gonzalez family’s territory, putting on his gloves, and stepping into their ring, aware of the resentment they had towards him, Stevenson hoped he could earn their approval, and, ultimately, their respect.
“On the sparring, I see, Joet was humiliating him. He was punishing him,” commented Gonzalez’s father when asked how each fighter performed.
Shakur never got the respect he sought. Instead, the simmering animosities they once kept under the rug, became public and ugly.
“ … I lost my daughter, that thing’s killing me, I lost something… What’s the point in having a title if you don’t have a family?” said Gonzalez’s father when asked if he will be able to talk to his daughter again like they used to.
Stevenson maintained his composure leading up to the last week before fight night in Reno and focused on winning his first world championship, as well as relieve some of the pain left from falling short of gold in Rio.
“All this has to do with is me and him and we’re fighting for the world title,” said Stevenson in an interview with The Post. “I’m glad I’m in the position that I’m in.”
In the first round, in what can most certainly be called a feel-out round, we saw Stevenson and Gonzalez foreshadow how the rest of the fight would unfold. Stevenson used his jab effectively, maintaining Gonzalez at a distance. Gonzalez maintained a high guard but constantly applied pressure, allowing Stevenson to go to the body or use that opening for feints to set up combinations. Gonzalez pushed the pressure in hopes of getting Stevenson against the ropes and unleash a surge of punches, knowing that this is where Stevenson is the most vulnerable, on the inside pocket. The audible power in Stevenson’s punches seemed to stunt Gonzalez’s reading of him. Patience was visible in both fighters. But in order to overcome the quickness of Stevenson’s punches, Gonzalez needed to try something different rather than simply marching forward. Stevenson excels at fighting outside the pocket, and can maintain that pace and style throughout the entirety of a fight.
In the second round, Gonzalez was visibly flustered. He needed to find another way of getting inside the pocket and failed to find one. By the 6th round, it was clear that Stevenson had won the first half of this match. His quickness and elusiveness was a riddle that Gonzalez could not crack. Gonzalez continued through with that offensive-minded approach and Stevenson made him pay with shots to the head or body whenever Gonzalez lunged forward, followed through with a cross to the body. A vicious one-two thump thump. However, he failed to close the exits and would get countered after throwing his punches. Eventually, Gonzalez would throw a straight punch and Stevenson would be a foot away, setting up his next punches. Stevenson found the confidence he needed in the later rounds to bully Gonzalez.
In the final rounds of the fight, in a projection of his desperation, Gonzalez began to throw wider punches, using his straight punches to set up with hooks in hopes of cleanly landing on Stevenson on the way out.
The judges unanimously scored the bout 119-109 in favor of Stevenson. At the end of the fight, Stevenson could be seen walking towards a disappointed Gonzalez to try and pay respect: sportsmanship in spite of bad blood. Gonzalez, however, was not ready to put the feud behind him.
What’s next for Stevenson?
He said, “I want Josh Warrington. Hey, Warrington, you don’t got no date. Me and you. You’re a champion. I’m a champion. You said you wouldn’t fight me until I got a title. I got a title now. Let’s work it.”