Tonight, live from the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, Shakur Stevenson and Edwin De Los Santos will battle for the vacant WBC lightweight championship of the world.
The stakes are high as both fighters are fighting for more than just a world title.
Stevenson, 26, is attempting to become a three-division champion and preserve his unblemished record while furthering his status as one of boxing’s global icons.
For De Lo Santos, 24, winning his first world title is fulfilling a lifelong dream and making a statement by beating one of the best, if not the best, boxer in the world today.
With so much on the line, each fighter must be their best version to be victorious.
I've outlined what each fighter must do to best his rival, followed by my prediction for this Top Rank/ESPN showdown in Las Vegas.
Edwin De Los Santos (16-1, 14KOs):
Edwin de Los Santos couldn’t go up against a more difficult opponent than Shakur Stevenson in his first world title match.
In seventeen outings as a professional, the Dominican native hasn't faced a fighter that comes remotely close to Stevenson’s talent and skill set.
However, De Los Santos isn’t completely helpless. He, too, possesses some excellent weapons in his boxing armory that he can employ to be competitive and possibly win this match.
De Los Santos's biggest asset is his power. The hard-hitting southpaw has knocked all but three of his seventeen opponents. De Los
Santos has a quick, snappy jab that breaks through most of his opponents’ guards. That jab is followed by an equally fast and powerful straight left that lands with bad intentions every time.
De Los Santos is a pressure fighter who fires off quick combinations once inside an opponent's guard.
De Los Santos is versed in varying his attacks to the head and body of his opponents.
De Los Santos is a straightforward fighter who uses little to no angles when attacking or evading.
De Los Santos usually moves straight back after throwing his combinations, whether they land or not.
Shakur Stevenson Can Target That Chin
And if that wasn't taboo enough, he does so while keeping his head high and right hand down. Therefore, he exposes his chin, as he did when he fought Jose Valenzuela.
In the second round of their fight, Valenzuela was able to drop and hurt the Dominican contender.
Although De Los Santos has a solid jab, he usually only throws one jab followed by a straight left, making it easy to time for counterattacks.
Keys to Victory:
For De Los Santos to beat Shakur Stevenson, the hard-hitting Dominican will have to put himself in a position to land a shot that will knock out the Jersey native.
Hopefully, in training camp, De Los Santos changed the predictability of his attacks. De Los Santos should double up and even triple up his jabs before he commits to shooting his straight left.
De Los Santos must also move in angles and make himself less easy to hit. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to attack Stevenson’s body and not allow him to get comfortable.
If he can effectively do this, Edwin can land punches that can damage or even knockout Stevenson; he certainly has the power to do so.
Shakur Stevenson (20-0, 10 KOs):
Shakur Stevenson is a generational talent who quickly established himself as an elite boxer and is well on his way to becoming a global superstar.
There isn't much that Stevenson can’t do inside a boxing ring.
The 26-year-old New Jersey native is already an Olympic silver medalist and a two-division world champion. I don't doubt that he will become a three-division world champ this Thursday night.
The scary thing is that Shakur Stevenson has yet to show signs that he's peaked. If anything, he keeps getting better with each outing.
While most believe that Stevenson will beat Edwin De Los Santos, it would be foolish for us to think that De Los Santos doesn’t pose a threat to Stevenson's pristine record.
The Dominican southpaw is arguably the hardest-hitting opponent Stevenson has faced.
Therefore, the young champion must always be on guard for the stiff, straight lefts and looping lead hooks De Los Santos has become accustomed to throwing and landing on opponents.
Shakur Stevenson is a well-rounded boxer who is defensively and offensively sound. Stevenson does everything exceptionally well inside the ring and has a boxing IQ surpassing most boxers.
Shakur Stevenson Now Has Man Strength
Although Stevenson doesn't have an exceptional knockout percentage, that doesn't mean he doesn't possess knockout power.
Shakur Stevenson is a boxer who lets the knockout develop after dismantling his opponents throughout the fight.
Stevenson has demonstrated few weaknesses. If I had to point one out, I think that on rare occasions, Stevenson gets bored with his fighters and lingers on the ropes a little too long.
But that is usually a short-lived mishap and not typical of the young champion.
Keys to victory:
There is nothing Shakur Stevenson has to do differently against De Los Santos that he hasn't done against his previous opponents. Stevenson can choose to fight De Los Santos whichever way he wants to.
He can wait to time De Los Santos's one-two combinations while testing Edwin’s’ power and then counter.
Or he can walk De Los Santos down the way he did Oscar Valdez. Either way, I don't think De Los Santos can do anything to stop any attack Stevenson chooses to deploy.
Most power punchers are creatures of habit. They do what they do well, nothing more, nothing less.
I expect Edwin De Los Santos to be his usual self and employ the same tactics that have gotten him this far.
However, more than that will be needed for De Los Santos to defeat Shakur Stevenson. De Los Santos has to land the most accurate and well-timed punch of his career and knockout Stevenson if he wants to win this fight.
Unfortunately, that is a feat that exceeds the limits of De Los Santos's talents. For that to happen, Shakur Stevenson would have to make a mental mistake that puts De Los Santos in a perfect position to land that punch, and I don’t see that happening.
I expect Shakur Stevenson to systematically dismantle Edwin De Los Santos and knock out the Dominican contender in the 9th round.