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Iron sharpens iron: Stevenson, Crawford share brotherly boxing bond

Updated November 15, 2023 - 8:29 pm

Shakur Stevenson expected Terence Crawford to demolish Errol Spence Jr. at T-Mobile Arena.

He didn’t expect Crawford to ask him how to do it.

But as Crawford readied in the dressing room, he calmly consulted with his protégé.

“How should I come out?” he asked.

Stevenson encouraged Crawford to box instead of brawl, and Crawford then flawlessly administered a brutal beating to Spence for the undisputed welterweight championship.

“It speaks to the respect level he’s got for me,” Stevenson said of Crawford on Tuesday, in the bowels of that same arena. “Being in the ring with me and all that, he just respects me a lot — and I appreciate his respect that he’s got for me.”

Stevenson (20-0, 10 knockouts) conversely will have Crawford’s support Thursday when he climbs into the squared circle inside T-Mobile Arena opposite Edwin De Los Santos (16-1, 14 KOs) for the vacant WBC lightweight title.

Their deep brotherly bond is mutually beneficial for Crawford, 36, an all-time great and boxing’s pound-for-pound king, and Stevenson, 26, a two-division champion as skillful and cerebral in the ring as his mentor.

His fight against De Los Santos is promoted by Top Rank and broadcast by ESPN in conjunction with Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix.

In attendance will be Crawford, who said of Stevenson in a phone interview: “(He’s) the next pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world, and he will be victorious this Thursday. There’s no doubt about it.”

Forging a friendship

Matching Crawford’s confidence in Stevenson is Stevenson’s confidence in himself, brimming this week through the infectious grin that complements his steely brown eyes.

“I’m going to beat him up,” Stevenson said of De Los Santos at the final promotional press conference.

“I’m whooping his ass,” the Newark, New Jersey, native added, shaking his head with anticipation.

It was indeed Stevenson’s cocksure charisma that first captured Crawford’s attention in 2014 at the Ringside World Tournament in Kansas City, where he was but another spectator inside the 5,800-seat Cable Dahmer Arena. Then 17, with unbridled ambition and the backing of USA Boxing, Stevenson eagerly approached Crawford, then the 26-year-old WBO lightweight champion whose fights he’d watched on television.

“I want to spar you. I’m going to beat you up,” he told Crawford.

Impressed by Stevenson’s poise and moxie, Crawford accepted an informal invitation to watch him fight his way to the tournament title. With Stevenson’s precocious mastery of distance, timing and punch selection came a curiosity that inspired Crawford, who shortly thereafter accepted his challenge to spar in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The catch, though: They would fight in four-minute spurts instead of the three-minute rounds to which Stevenson was accustomed. He held his ground at first before fatiguing in the final minute, allowing Crawford for the first time to take him to school.

“Right then and there was the first time somebody had really got off on me,” Stevenson said, his eyes widening in recollection. “Through the years, we’ve built a relationship outside of boxing, but inside of boxing he kind of pushed me to get to the highest level I could get to, too.”

Added Stevenson’s trainer and grandfather, Wali Moses: “It’s mean a lot to him in terms of his confidence and the things that (Crawford) has instilled in him that he hasn’t experienced yet. Every time Shakur spars him, he gets better and better. And it takes Terence’s game up a notch, too. It’s a match made in heaven.”

‘A big motivator’

Shared between Stevenson and Crawford — in addition to countless sparring sessions — is a devotion to their respective families and an investment in their inner circles. As Crawford’s “little brother,” Stevenson is entrenched firmly in his — joining his “big brother” during the most seminal moments of his career.

And vice versa.

When Stevenson captured his first world title — beating Joet Gonzalez for the WBO featherweight title in Reno in 2019 — Crawford watched from a ringside seat and joined him in the postfight celebration.

When Crawford paraded through his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, after beating Spence, Stevenson rode with him atop a float, beaming with pride.

“He’s a big motivator,” Crawford said, “just by being in the room with me, because I know he looks up to me. I don’t want to let him down. Him being there motivates me to show him the right things to do.”

In turn, Stevenson is almost protective of Crawford, patrolling his dressing room before fights, turning away trespassers and ensuring the last of his preparations are on point.

“Like a big brother role, but I’m not a big brother. But like a little-brother big-brother role.” he said, proudly. “(Doing) stuff to make sure he’s straight.”

Crawford can do on Thursday the same thing for Stevenson, who will vie for three-division supremacy.

Crawford’s legacy is secure. Stevenson’s is evolving, and championships aren’t the only spoils he seeks.

“I want to go down as a legend,” he said, akin to the all-time greats who transcend time — listing Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and, obviously, Crawford.

“I’m ready for these moments,” Stevenson added. “Just another day in the office for me.”

Iron sharpens iron.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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