By Chris Teale (Photo/U.S. Olympic Committee)
Just over two weeks remain until the start of the boxing tournament at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and one boxer in the bantamweight division will carry the flag for the Alexandria Boxing Club as well as for the United States.
Shakur Stevenson, 19, secured his berth with the U.S. team in March with a semifinal victory against Jose Vicente Diaz Azocar of Venezuela at the AIBA American Olympic Qualification Tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He previously won the U.S. national trials last year, and was named that tournament’s most outstanding boxer for winning all of his bouts on unanimous decisions.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, Stevenson spent time training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. with fighters from five other countries. The tournament begins August 6 at Pavilion 6 of the Riocentro, a convention and exhibition center in Rio. It has already been quite a journey for the Newark, N.J. native, who trains at the Alexandria gym at the Charles Houston Recreation Center.
“A lot of boxers, they say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the best, I can beat anyone,’ but they’re saying that for show,” said Dara Shen, a fellow fighter at the Alexandria Boxing Club. “You can tell that deep down, they don’t really believe that. But Shakur, when you see that, you see something that’s pure. You see something that you know is destined for greatness.”
Stevenson became involved in the fighting game at the age of 5, when his grandfather,Wali Moses, introduced him to the sport. A boxing coach and baseball player, Moses gave Stevenson an early initiation, and he was hooked.
“[Moses] took me to one of his baseball games and he also took some of his fighters,” Stevenson said. “He introduced me to some of his fighters and I felt like it was cool that they boxed. The next day he took me to the boxing gym to go see what it was like and everything — and I was only 5 at the time — and I just fell in love with the environment.”
Moses still coaches Steven- son to this day, sharing duties with coach Kay Koroma of the Alexandria Boxing Club, who has been with Stevenson for six years. Undefeated with a 23-0 record in international competition, Stevenson already has significant experience representing his country. In 2014, he won gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, and competed at the youth world championships that same year in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“It feels good representing my country,” Stevenson said. “…I like the fact that I get the opportunity to be that person who brings the Olympic gold medal back to the country. I can’t wait.”
Stevenson trains almost every day at the Alexandria Boxing Club when he is not traveling to competitions, one of a litany of fighters who call the Port City gym their home base. Antoine Douglas has made waves in the professional arena, while Shen, Iesha Kenney, Kavon Robertson and Troy Isley have all impressed in amateur and youth fights and won numerous championships.
Some of those fighters travel long distances to train in Alexandria, including Burke resident Stevenson, but club members said it all contributes to a strong feeling of community and encourages more people to get involved. Each evening, the gym is filled with people of all ages interested in learning more about the sport and improving their skills.
“Shakur did not grow up in Alexandria, he’s not a city resident, but he trains at Alexandria Boxing Club,” said Shen. “That brings people there. People want to be a part of that. People drive from far distances just to watch him. That’s great for the city of Alexandria.”
As for the Olympic tournament itself, Stevenson is aiming for gold, and to be the first American male boxer since light heavyweight Andre Ward in 2004 to take the top prize. Stevenson said he knows it will be a tough test, but others involved with the Alexandria Boxing Club said he will be just fine in the ring, even as one of the youngest fighters in a weight division where the average age is 23.
“I don’t think it; I know he’s going to get [gold],” said the club’s head coach Dennis Porter. “He’s put the work in to get it. The only thing that’s going to stop him from getting a gold medal is if he stops himself by not showing up. But he’s going to show up every day, every time he’s fighting.”
“Shakur has got a very special personality,” said Shen. “He’s got a smile that lights up the room, and just his presence alone can be commanding because his personality is so strong. Both in and out of the ring, you can tell that what he says, what he does, he truly believes in.”