Shakur Stevenson might be better than we even thought

Shakur Stevenson successfully unifies titles with defeat of Oscar Valdez (1:47)

Shakur Stevenson dominates his fight vs. Oscar Valdez and unifies a pair of junior lightweight titles in the process. (1:47)

LAS VEGAS -- The outcome was never in doubt.

The summit meeting at 130 pounds turned out to be a total mismatch as Shakur Stevenson used a superb southpaw jab and ring smarts beyond his years to dominate Oscar Valdez in the title unification matchup Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

While Stevenson (18-0, 9 KOs) didn't answer questions about his chin, toughness or ability to handle adversity, and it's unclear when he'll be forced to, through 18 pro fights he clearly is one of the 10 best boxers in the world pound-for-pound.

The uncanny blend of precision punching, along with the ability to measure distance with his jab and effectively mix in shots to the body, will be a tall task for any opponent. At 130 pounds, he's peerless.

Top Rank, Stevenson's promoter since his pro debut in 2017, strategically placed him in one of its biggest shows of the year, an event preceded by Day 3 of the NFL draft. And he delivered with a performance that showed off his incredible jab and boxing acumen. Stevenson even scored a knockdown in Round 8 after a cuffing right hook sent Valdez stumbling into the ropes before a second right hand knocked him to the canvas.

If Stevenson is going to find a challenge, he'll need to move up to 135 pounds and chase a third division title. One possible future opponent: Devin Haney, who was ringside. Haney meets George Kambosos Jr. for the undisputed lightweight championship on June 4 in Melbourne, Australia, on ESPN.

"Devin is definitely a huge fight for me; Devin is a hell of a fighter," said Stevenson, a 24-year-old from Newark, New Jersey. "We can line it up in the future. ... I'm a superstar in this sport. You line 'em up, name 'em, I'm ready for whoever. ... I might go collect all the belts at 130, become undisputed. I deserve to be a superstar so this is what I got to do."

Since Stevenson claimed silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro -- a second-place accomplishment accompanied by the tears of disappointment -- he has been tracked for stardom.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, where drafted players often are inserted into starring roles on day one, plenty of patience is required to see if a boxer lives up to the hype. The first dozen or so fights of a boxer's pro career are typically reserved for building the buzz while gradually increasing the competition.

The art of matchmaking is a delicate balance. The modus operandi is to not only maintain the fighter's undefeated record but also develop his or her skills along the way. If the recipe is executed just right, the boxer is eventually ready for a genuine challenge at the same time his star profile is budding.

The process can take years. For Stevenson, the journey from pro debut to that first measuring-stick fight lasted five years and 18 bouts. There's no doubt now that Stevenson is a bona fide elite boxer following the victory over Valdez.

During the process, as Stevenson feasted on journeyman opponents from the Midwest -- a rite of passage for any top prospect -- it was clear he was bound for greatness. It's one thing, of course, to shine against foes handpicked to make you look good. It's another to put it all together against proven champions.

Besides, those early-development fights rarely afford the opportunity to answer some important questions. Does the boxer have a chin? What about toughness? How does he handle adversity?

At some point, Stevenson will have to answer those questions, but he didn't have to Saturday.

The stage is now set for him to crash the pound-for-pound list and vault to true stardom. More than 10,000 fans attended the fight in Las Vegas, and the majority of those were supporters of Valdez. Stevenson didn't mind the crowd rooting against him.

He fights a lot like a southpaw version of Floyd Mayweather and already possesses one of the best defenses in the sport. Now Stevenson needs tougher opposition to reach new heights.

Mayweather proved that defensive-minded boxers can rise to stardom. Stevenson made Valdez look silly at times, and he was in control from the opening bell.

Stevenson is no longer next up. Finally, he has arrived.