Stevenson steps back into the ring against Caraballo

Q+A: Both Fighters are ready to get it on tomorrow night

By The Sports Pulse Staff

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

GREENBELT – Boxing is back with a premier card that will kick things off tomorrow night (June 9) from the MGM Grand Conference Center Grand Ballroom with one of the sport’s most dynamic young stars, WBO featherweight world champion Shakur Stevenson, who is testing the waters in a 10-round super featherweight bout against Puerto Rican contender Felix “La Sombra” Caraballo.

The June 9 and June 11 events —June 11 being headlined by Jessie Magdaleno vs. Yenifel Vicente — will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Deportes starting at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. It will be a four-hour block of programming both evenings.

Here are opening statements from the Founder and Chairman of Top Rank, Mr. Bob Arum, Evan Korn of Top Rank Media Relations and the fighters.

Arum: Well, it looks like we’re back, you know. This is a momentous occasion. Boxing is back after a three-month lapse. I’m really proud that Top Rank is the first promoter out of the box. We have a great fight on a great show on June 9, then we continue on {with} virtually two and three boxing events a week. Boxing is going to come back — believe me — bigger and more important than ever. 

And in this two-month period in June or July, where it looks like there won’t be any NBA, any Major League Baseball, the spotlight will be on the sport of boxing, and with bouts that we’ve lined up, I believe that the public will once again be enthused about the competitive level in the sport.
Korn: We have Felix Caraballo with us now. So, first, before we get to the questions, Felix, what can you tell us about this opportunity in front of you fighting a world champion like Shakur Stevenson as boxing makes its big return?

Caraballo: Fighting with Shakur is going to be interesting. I can’t let this opportunity go, I’ve trained hard, and I’m going to give it my all, I’m going to give everything. I’m going to do my work and try to get that ‘W.’

Q: Felix, I’ve got two questions for you: First one is, can you just tell me a little bit about your feelings about having your first fight outside of Puerto Rico, and it would be in somewhat unusual circumstances given there wouldn’t be any fans in attendance? 

Caraballo: Well, I feel great, I feel emotional. My last fight was in January and knowing that I’m going to fight now in June with Shakur Stevenson, knowing that he’s one of the best boxers right now, and he’s the {featherweight} champion. I’m a 126, too, but they gave me this opportunity at 130, and I’m going to go and give it my all.

I want to fight, and it’s not going to have the public {in attendance}, but I don’t have no problem with that. I just want to go to that ring and do my job. 

Q: You’ve basically fought your whole career at featherweight, Shakur has done the same. I know you’re excited about the fight, getting back in the ring, but is there any small part that it’s disappointing that you’re getting a chance to fight against the world champion, but yet it’s not going to be for that title?

Caraballo: From a business point, it’s not about that title; I think it’s every boxer’s dream {to earn a title shot}.

So, I’m going to get this great opportunity and I’m going to give it my all, and I know that if we win, we could open all the doors, we could have more fights and better fights.

Q: Bob, can you just briefly explain the process of how went about bringing these fights back? And I sort of get it that these initial bouts are not for titles that you have world champions, but can you just explain the thought behind that? 

Arum: Yes. I mean, this is not an easy job. It seems like it’s easy but my people, {Top Rank COO} Brad Jacobs and {Top Rank President} Todd duBoef, they have all really been working for months on this getting the protocols in shape, the testing, working with the Nevada Commission and its medical staff. I mean, this is something that nobody — at least on our end — had any experience with. So, it’s really been a work in progress, and it continues to be a work in progress.

Imagine guys come into Vegas to get into the bubble, which is a special floor at the MGM. They got to be tested there in the bubble, they’ve got to be escorted to a place to shake out and train, a place to eat. We have a special dining room set up in the convention center. All of this is something that none of us are used to.

Now, we are not starting out with title fights, but we’re going to have them before long, by the third week, start doing some world title fights because there are other issues with the organizations, which we’re working out.

So, it’s one step at a time. It’s not easy and it’s not inexpensive. For example, testing — just the testing — for coronavirus for each event will cost us in excess of $25,000. Just the testing. Plus, the rooms, the special security, the meals in the convention area. This is a very, very large undertaking, but obviously, it has to be done. We’ve got to get boxing started up. We’re going to probably be doing this perhaps for three months, for June, July, definitely, and then in August. And hopefully, by September, we’re going to start getting back to doing events with spectators with a limited capacity. That’s the second phase that we’re working on.

And the third phase, hopefully, by the end of the year, we’ll be doing events with virtually full capacity. But that’s down the line. So, I mean, this is a really big responsibility on our part to start this up, start it up on the right foot. As I said, our protocols, which we’ve been working on for months, are available to all promoters all over the world. There’s no competition here. We want to get everybody to do the right things necessary to get started in boxing as big as possible.

Q: I was wondering if you could tell us what type of fight you expect Caraballo to give Shakur Stevenson and maybe a little bit about Caraballo as a fighter. 

Arum: Well, I’m the wrong guy. I mean, Carl Moretti and our matchmakers are familiar with Caraballo. They think it’s a very competitive fight; that’s good enough for me. I’ve never seen the young man fight, but he comes highly recommended by Moretti and our matchmakers. 

Q:  What are you expecting from Shakur at 130 pounds, Bob? 

Arum: Shakur is — I said it when we did our first fight — a future star in the sport of boxing, a future superstar. I look at him as the southpaw version of Floyd Mayweather, and I think he will exceed the performances by Floyd. I just think he’s a rare, rare talent, and I think that he’s a young man who’s growing in size and so I think 130 pounds will be a brief stop in his career because he’s growing into a welterweight and maybe even a junior middleweight. 

Q: Felix, my first question is obviously, not a lot of people know a lot about you given that there’s not a lot of video and you’ve primarily fought in Puerto Rico. But what does it mean to you to sort of kind of coming into this position, not just an underdog, but someone who the general audience in the United States really has no idea of how you are at the fighter? Is that going to help with motivation or with potentially coming up and surprising everyone?

Caraballo: Well, it’s hard because I know there’s not a lot of videos on me, nobody knows about me a lot. I’ve been {under the radar}, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I think when we get to a fight, we’re just going to do our job. 

Q: Right now, you are 13-1-2 with 9 KOs. Now, the first thing that comes to mind is a fighter by the name of Jeison Rosario, and I’m wondering if you look at how he came to into the fight as an underdog, meaning we really didn’t know who he was and in the situation that you have right now, you’re fighting in an unprecedented time. So, my question is, is there any extra pressure or do you feel that this is what you need or something like this to actually get you to where you’ve always wanted to be in boxing?

Caraballo: Well, actually, I don’t got no pressure. I feel that this moment, I have to give it all, and this is a great opportunity, like I always say. And I’m going to fight, I’m going to give it all on June 9.

And I know that I’m going with a great boxer. He’s got speed, he’s got technique, but I’m going to work. He’s going to make me work and I’m going to make him work. I know it’s going to be a great fight, and I get motivated because I know that this opportunity doesn’t happen twice. 

Q: How is it for you to be featured in the first large-scale boxing event in the US after the whole COVID-19 thing? 

Caraballo: Well, it’s great for me. I never thought I was going to fight this year again because of this whole pandemic. I thought I wasn’t going to fight this year. And when I got the call, well, I was excited, I just got ready and started training harder because I never stopped training. But I got excited, and I started training hard for this fight. I started training more. 

Q: Shakur, I know this is a non-title fight at 130. Is it your intention to go back down to 126 after this fight?

Stevenson: I don’t know yet. I got to see how I feel at 130, at making the 130 weight. That’d be a question I can answer better for you after the fight. So, right now, no, I can’t really give you a spot-on answer.

Q: Shakur, I remember talking to you on that Friday after your fight and your whole card got canceled. What was that weekend like for you? 

Stevenson: It was really bad because of the fact that I trained eight weeks, spent a lot of money on training camp, and then to find out that I wasn’t getting paid, that kind of made me mad. To find out that I wasn’t fighting made me mad because I felt like I put a lot of work in, I felt like I was gonna perform really good. I was mad at that.

So, it wasn’t a good week, but being around my family and friends kind of made it a lot better. 

Q: Bob, I’ve got a question for you. Should Shakur indicate to you that he does have a couple of fights left at 126, would you try to revisit the Josh Warrington situation for him? 

Arum: Absolutely. You know, let’s see what’s happening. Again, we’re in uncertain times… who knows when we’ll be able to do events with spectators? That’s a fight that needs spectators and I know that the promoters over in the UK are working towards that. We’re working towards that, absolutely, whether it’s going to be in the States or in the UK, we want that fight —the Warrington fight — to happen. I promised that to Shakur.

Now, if, on the other hand, he feels that he’s better off going to 130, we’ll go along with that. In other words, I’m not going to force a fighter to fight at a weight which he shouldn’t be fighting at because it takes too much out of them to make the weight. 

So, Shakur has great people with him, great technical people, his corner people, his manager, James Prince. They’ll discuss it with him and discuss it with us. But certainly, if he decides to stay at 126, I’m going to, one way or the other, make the Warrington fight happen. 

Q: Shakur. I was just wondering did you have any familiarity at all with Felix Caraballo before you knew he was your opponent? 

Stevenson: No, I ain’t never heard of him before.

Q: But since you found out he was your opponent —I know there’s not a lot of videos available of him- — what have you been able to find out and how much footage have you been able to find on him to study? 

Stevenson: I watched like one round. I see everything I needed to see in that one round, and I see a lot of holding in his game, so I’m going to expose it.

Q: The one round that you saw — I mean, without giving away your game plan or anything — what did you notice?

Stevenson: I noticed that he’s nowhere near on my level.

Q:  Do you expect him to come forward–like what are you expecting from him?

Stevenson: I expect him to come out loud and try to land a big shot. 

Q: What was it like for you, Shakur, to have the extra four pounds? I know you haven’t made weight yet, of course, but what has it been like for you two to try to make 130 as opposed to 126, how much more comfortable? 

Stevenson: I’d say it’s a little bit more comfortable, but I think that I’m really a 130-pounder, honestly what I’ve been feeling like, for sure. 

Q: The last time you had to make 126 — I know you didn’t get to the scale because the fight got canceled — but how was it for you the last time you were training to make 126? 

Stevenson: It actually was better than I thought it was gonna go, but it’s still work to get there. It’s not easy. I’m a really big 126.  

Q: Obviously, the world is going through a large amount of turmoil with the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. How have the problems surrounding our country and the world impacted you mentally and emotionally and how have you been dealing with those emotions?

Stevenson: Honestly, I’ve been more focused on my fight. I understand everything that’s going on and I’m with my people in everything that’s going on, but I got a fight coming up so I’ve been in the gym every day, {and then} going home. When I go home, I’m watching boxing. I’ve been in camp so I’m not really too focused on anything that’s going on outside. I’m more locked in on what’s going on the inside as far as boxing.

Q: Talking about the boxing, your last fight was eight months ago. As far as you know, having that kind of distance between fights, do you think that time off will impact you either positively or negatively, and what goals you have to yourself physically and what you hope to see from yourself in this fight?

Stevenson: No, I don’t think time off is going to do anything because I’m a gym rat and I’m always in the gym. So, me being a gym rat and in the gym, I probably got to get off a little rust in the first to two rounds, but other than that, I’m ready to go. I’m in the gym every day, ain’t no way I’m having rust just from being off for eight months and not been sparring. I did a full training camp on March 14 and then got right back in the gym, took like a month off, and then got in the gym. So, I’m a gym rat. I don’t think it’s going to affect me.

Q:  Bob, you’ve been very transparent and very open with how you see things going in the future. Looking at the UFC, what are the large or significant missteps you saw in the way they handled the opening of sporting life combat sports and what have you done, would you say, maybe the one or two things that you’ve done differently than them?

Arum: Oh, we didn’t feel the protocols that the UFC had when they opened up Florida were adequate. But again, you have to understand that they were the first out of the box, and so the fact that they made mistakes, you know that’s understandable. They now have done an event in Nevada and they’re under the same type of protocols that we are, and I think it’s all good because the Nevada Commission has cleared everything, whether it’s a UFC event or a Top Rank event, and their interest in the safety of the participants are the same for us and now for UFC. 

So, I have to commend the State of Nevada, the governor, and the athletic commission in the type of effort and work that they’ve done to enable us to do these events on a basis of as much safety as humanly possible.

Q: Given that you don’t have the WBO featherweight championship and there was talk about you potentially have a reunification match with Josh Warrington, there is one fighter that has said that you are basically the only one that has the courage to step up to him and that’s the WBC champ, Gary Russell Jr. How would you feel about a potential match-up with Gary Russell, Jr.? 

Stevenson: That’d be a hell of a fight with me and Gary. I think we really are the best two featherweights, skill-wise, in the division, so I think that’d be a hell of a fight. 

Right, Gary knows I’m the only one that… I see how he talks about everybody else, he doesn’t respect a lot of the other fighters, but he respects me a lot because he’s been around me, he knows I’m a boxer, he knows what I’m about. So, I understand Gary when he said that.

Q: And how is it like working with the team around you with Andre Ward being by your side and also sometimes working with Terence Crawford? 

Stevenson: It’s good to have them people around me, and I appreciate having them. Andre Ward is a big blessing to me. He helps me out in a lot of ways inside and outside the ring. So, Terence is also like… Terence keeps me competitive, like keeps my mindset competitive because I’m just as competitive as him, but he’s so competitive, it makes me be even more competitive. So, like those guys in my life and in my career, it helps me a lot. 

Q: You’ve mentioned that you’re not sure of what your future is going to be in terms of staying at 130 or going back to 126 after this fight. But is there a part of you that’s kind of already thinking of how you would fare against any of the other champions at 130 in anticipation for what I presume is an eventual move up to 130? 

Stevenson: Of course. Of course, I think that the champions at 130 are all decent fighters. I’ve already pictured myself in the ring with all of them already, so I’ve already been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about being in the ring with Oscar Valdez, with Russell, {Leo} Santa Cruz, JoJo {Diaz}, even Jamel {Herring}, if I have to. 

Q:  Do you feel that with those potential fights, do you feel that it may be easier to get them done down the road than it is for, say, a fight against Josh Warrington because I know that’s been a fight you’ve been wanting for well over a year now at this point? 

Stevenson: Yeah, I think that’d definitely be an easier fight with Josh Warrington. With Josh Warrington, there comes a lot of business and politics with that like…. as far as the money being made for the fight and stuff like that. So, I think them fights would be a lot easier, because like Valdez and Berchelt and them guys, they’re with Top Rank. JoJo is with Golden Boy. I just fought a Golden Boy fight in my last fight {Joet Gonzalez}, so I think them fights would be lot easier than a Warrington fight. 

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