Five years and one week ago Shakur Stevenson was making his professional bow on the undercard of Oscar Valdez’s WBO featherweight title defence against Miguel Marriaga in California.
Five years and one week later Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez will share the same ring as they put their respective WBO and WBC super featherweight world titles and undefeated records on the line in a clash of contrasting styles and a unification bout entrenched with pound-for-pound ambitions.
Even in 2017, Stevenson, not long out from winning silver at the Olympics, envisioned matching up with his Mexican counterpart one day down the line.
“Most definitely, I was focused on my fight but I see him fight and I definitely was thinking about me and him fighting later on at the same weight,” he said.
“It was always in my head we were going to fight.”
On that occasion Stevenson beat Edgar Brito in the first of 17 successive wins thus far in his career, while Valdez weathered a fiery mid-round response from Marriaga to clinch a unanimous decision victory, retaining his featherweight title for the second of six defences in total.
Valdez enters Saturday with a 30-0 record consisting of 23 knockouts as he seeks to emulate Mexican greats Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. Sharing the Las Vegas stage with the 2022 NFL Draft, it beckons as the front-page clash of superstars he always worked towards.
“I’m very excited for this. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of these kinds of opportunities, to be fighting for unified championships and to be fighting in Las Vegas.
“It’s the perfect time to have this fight now. Shakur Stevenson is a two-time world champion right now. I’m a two-time world champion, as well. It’s the perfect time. Let’s prove who is the best 130-pounder.”
Valdez has been the picture of composure throughout, snapping swimming pool selfies with his pet alligator Steve and brushing off thinly-veiled Stevenson jibes as a man uninterested in the mind games and seemingly unimpacted by a lacklustre performance against Robson Conceição last time out.
Some might say Stevenson is the opposite, embracing the theatre as the talker of the two that has previously accused Valdez of ‘ducking’ fights with him, and welcoming the opportunity to ring walk second courtesy of a coin toss on Thursday.
“I deserve it [to walk second], I gave him most of the share on the money, when you look at the numbers I feel like I’m a bigger star, a bigger draw than he is,” said Stevenson.
The showman in him does not shy from admitting the temptation to keep his man waiting in the ring, as a certain Floyd Mayweather Jr might have.
“It depends on how I feel,” said Stevenson. “I am so ready to fight sometimes I might not keep him waiting, but I watched Floyd do it for a couple of years, he would be having people waiting in the ring for a long time, I like that tactic!”
Valdez insisted this week he was prepared to ‘box or bang’, a claim Stevenson rubbished as he underlined expectations the 31-year-old would come out swinging.
If Valdez is the heavy-hitter then Stevenson is perhaps the technician, whose blistering start to his career has teased No 1 pound-for-pound potential.
“I just told him he’s got to crack the code, I feel like a lot of people when they get in the ring with me have got to crack the code and I had to let him know,” said Stevenson.
“There is no way Oscar Valdez can come in there and outbox me, I know he’s trying to trick me into thinking he’s boxing.”
In response Valdez challenged his opponent to go “toe to toe” with him, hinting at the front-foot approach Stevenson had alluded to.
“Hopefully he doesn’t just go out there and try to run the whole time,” said Valdez. “It is what it is, I’ll be ready for whatever, whatever he brings to the table.
“Maybe he brings it, maybe he’s saying he’s going to move around the ring and use his distance but what if sometimes he wants to step in the ring?”
Both come armed with different styles. Both feel they can implement each other’s styles. Both believe they can combat said styles.
Respect between the pair has been channelled through admissions from either man the other holds a potentially-defining key to the door to the pound-for-pound list.
“We all want to be the best, we all want to be on the top pound for pound list, but to be on that list you’ve got to beat fighters in this case, like Shakur Stevenson,” said Valdez.
“I said after this fight, once I get after Valdez I’ll be on the pound-for-pound list,” added Stevenson.
Friday’s weigh-in was one of boos for New Jersey-native Stevenson and a rapturous welcome for Valdez, the two engaging in an icy face-off to set the tone for fireworks come Saturday night.
Vegas is in for a show.
Watch the unification fight between WBO super-featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson and WBC king Oscar Valdez live on Sky Sports Main Event and Action from 2am, Sunday.