Shakur Stevenson wins Olympic silver medal

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Shakur Stevenson wins Olympic silver medal
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By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

When Shakur Stevenson returns from Brazil to train at the Alexandria Boxing Club, he can add another accolade to the club’s storied history: a silver medal at the Olympic Games.

The bantamweight’s second-place finish in Rio de Janeiro was the best result for a male boxer from the United States since Andre Ward won gold in the light heavyweight division in 2004. He was denied gold in the final bout Saturday by Cuban Robeisy Ramirez, who won gold in the 2012 London Olympics as a flyweight and moved up a weight division for Rio.

After the fight, which he lost on a split decision, an emotional Stevenson broke down in tears. It was his first loss in 26 international bouts.

“I’m hurt,” Stevenson told NBC. “I felt like the Cuban won, much respect to him. I just don’t like to lose, so I’m hurt.”

The bantamweight final was one of the closest fights at this year’s Olympics. All three of the judges deemed Ramirez to be the winner in the first round and agreed that Stevenson won the second, so the third round was the decider. One judge felt Stevenson won the third round while two had Ramirez as the winner, and the Cuban triumphed overall, 29-28 on two judges’ scorecards.

“I had to make it clear; I like all my fights to be clear victories,” Stevenson told NBC. “I felt he got his victory, and much respect to him.”

It had been an easy road to the final for the 19-year-old native of Newark, N.J., who has trained at the Charles Houston Recreation Center gym for three years. Handed a high seed in the tournament, Stevenson earned a bye through the first round, send- ing him straight to the round of 16.

In his first fight on Au- gust 14, Stevenson earned up against Brazilian Robenilson Vieira de Jesus and was booed vigorously by a raucous home crowd at the Riocentro convention center. But Stevenson would not be denied as he pummeled his opponent and took a unanimous decision to secure his berth in the quarterfinals.

Two days later, Stevenson was in action in his quarterfinal bout, and again emerged victorious on a unanimous decision over Mongolian bantamweight Erdenebat Tsendbaatar. Stevenson was slated to fight August 18 in the semifinals, but progressed by walkover after his Russian opponent Vladimir Nikitin withdrew due to injury.

Stevenson was gathering significant national attention even before his run in the Olympic tournament, having 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 2015 U.S. national trials, and was named that tournament’s most outstanding boxer for winning all of his bouts on unanimous decisions. Stevenson also won gold at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, and competed at the youth world championships that same year in Sofia, Bulgaria.

After the final, renowned former professional boxer and 1976 Olympic light welterweight champion “Sugar” Ray Leonard had some words of encouragement for the talented youngster.

“Shakur, I saw your fight,” Leonard said in a video posted on his Twitter page. “I know it feels bad and I know you’re hurting because you wanted to bring back the gold medal. But it was a very close fight. You’re a young man and you have so much to learn and to create. Listen, I lost a couple of fights and lost some big ones. But I want to just tell you that I’m proud of you, the USA is proud of you and to keep going.”

It has already been quite a journey for Stevenson, who was introduced to the sport of boxing as a 5-year-old by his grandfather Wali Moses, who still coaches Stevenson alongside Kay Koroma of the Alexandria Boxing Club.

In an interview with the Times before the Games, Stevenson said he likely will enter the sport’s professional ranks, and that dream appears to have come a little closer to reality, although nothing concrete has been confirmed.

Former boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., who competed at the 1996 Olympics for the U.S. before fighting in five weight divisions in the professional ranks, was spotted at Stevenson’s quarterfinal match. Mayweather said afterwards that he has signed Stevenson to “The Money Team,” Mayweather’s organization that promotes fights and has its own clothing line.

Stevenson has yet to confirm the signing, but his fellow fighters at the Alexandria Boxing Club know there is something special about him.

“A lot of boxers, they say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the best, I can beat anyone,’ but they’re say- ing that for show,” said Dara Shen, a fellow fighter at the Alexandria Boxing Club, in an interview before the Games. “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.”

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