Shakur is back, but there are 5 title fights on the same night worth watching; here’s why

Shakur Stevenson, one of boxing’s fastest-rising stars, makes his entrance into the star-studded lightweight division on Saturday in his native Newark, New Jersey, when he takes on Japan’s Shuichiro Yoshino in a WBC title eliminator fight.

The bout headlines a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN tripleheader (10 p.m. ET) flanked by top prospects Jared Anderson, in a step-up heavyweight bout vs. George Arias, and Keyshawn Davis in a lightweight fight against former title challenger Anthony Yigit.

Stevenson, ESPN’s No. 10 pound-for-pound boxer, is currently one of the game’s best defensive fighters. Armed with both an excellent jab and impressive ring IQ, Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) is prepared to become a three-division champion following title reigns at 126 and 130 pounds.

At 135 pounds, Devin Haney rules as the division’s undisputed lightweight champion. He’ll defend all four titles against Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 20 on ESPN+ PPV, but already, Top Rank founder Bob Arum is lining up Stevenson for a possible shot at the winner later this year.

“A lot of people are sleeping on Yoshino, but he’s the guy that stepped up to the plate when a few other guys turned the fight down,” Stevenson, 25, told ESPN on Wednesday. “So, I give him all the respect in the world for traveling from Japan to my hometown. He proved himself against [Masayoshi] Nakatani and [Masayuki] Ito, and he deserves the opportunity to fight [in] a world title eliminator.

“I’m looking to become the top fighter at lightweight. The division is loaded right now, and I’m coming to knock off anyone who’s in my way.”

In Yoshino (16-0, 12 KOs), Stevenson will face a rugged puncher coming off a sixth-round KO of lightweight gatekeeper Nakatani, a career-best win. The 31-year-old, who has shown off his power recently, accepted the assignment after George Kambosos and Isaac Cruz passed up the WBC title eliminator.

Besides Stevenson-Yoshino, there are five other fights with title implications to check out Saturday across various platforms. Here’s a take on why you should watch these fights and what to expect:

Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez vs. Cristian Gonzalez for the vacant WBO flyweight title

Rodriguez, 23, broke out last year with dazzling victories over former champions Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Rodriguez held the WBC title at 115 pounds, but he was truly the secondary champion with Juan Francisco Estrada, the owner of the franchise title.

“Bam” now returns to 112 pounds, where he’ll chase his first full-fledged world title Saturday in San Antonio against Gonzalez, of Mexico. With an expected victory — “Bam” is a -2200 favorite according to Caesars Sportsbook– Rodriguez will be lined up for a potential flyweight title unification fight against IBF champ Sunny Edwards.

Rodriguez and Edwards are both aligned with Eddie Hearn after Matchroom Boxing announced the signing of the Englishman on Friday. There’s also a potential fight against Julio Cesar Martinez, the WBC champion, also promoted by Matchroom.

Kenshiro Teraji vs. Anthony Olascuaga for Teraji’s WBC and WBA junior flyweight titles

If you really want to consume as much boxing as possible on this stacked Saturday, start your day at 3 a.m. (ET) with some fights from Japan.

Teraji, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 108 pounds, was slated to fight WBO titleholder Jonathan Gonzalez in a three-belt unification before the Puerto Rican boxer withdrew last week because of an illness. Olascuaga, who has fought only five times in the pros, accepted the title fight on short notice.

Japan’s Teraji scored a career-best victory in November when he stopped Hiroto Kyoguchi in a title unification.

The Teraji-Olascuaga fight will be streamed at 3 a.m. ET on ESPN+ from Tokyo. Teraji is ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 108 pounds. Olascuaga, who fights out of Los Angeles, is a 112-pounder who has never competed at 108.

And while Olascuaga might seem to be in over his head, Teraji has quickly become a must-see fighter.

Murodjon Akhmadaliev vs. Marlon Tapales for Akhmadaliev’s WBA and IBF junior featherweight titles

Akhmadaliev, an Olympic bronze medalist from Uzbekistan, will defend his two 122-pound titles for the fourth time against the Philippines’ Tapales on the DAZN undercard of Rodriguez-Gonzalez. Like every other fight on this list, there’s a long-shot underdog fighting against an established name, creating intrigue.

Akhmadaliev is ESPN’s No. 2 boxer at 122 pounds and is poised to meet the winner of the July 25 bout between Stephen Fulton and Naoya Inoue. That matchup would crown an undisputed junior featherweight champion. Will Akhmadaliev take Tapales seriously or be distracted by looking ahead at the bigger fight?

Akhmadaliev is coming off a 12th-round TKO win over Ronny Rios in June. He’s one of the biggest punchers in the lower divisions. His career-best win came in 2020 when he outpointed Daniel Roman to win his two belts.

Sebastian Fundora vs. Brian Mendoza for Fundora’s WBC interim junior middleweight title

Fundora, known as “The Towering Inferno” for his 6-foot-6 frame at 154 pounds, possesses one of the biggest size advantages in boxing.

The 25-year-old delivers punches from awkward angles and proved his mettle in a fight-of-the-year candidate victory over Erickson Lubin last April. Fundora survived a knockdown in that contest to stop Lubin in Round 9 in a career-best victory.

Now rated No. 2 at junior middleweight, Fundora isn’t yet a champion. But with his interim title, he’s lined up for a future shot at the winner of the rescheduled bout between Jermell Charlo and Tim Tszyu for the undisputed junior middleweight championship.

Mendoza is a major underdog, but he is coming off the biggest win of his career, a spectacular fifth-round KO of former champion Jeison Rosario in November.

Takuma Inoue vs. Liborio Solis for the vacant WBA bantamweight title

On the undercard of Teraji-Olascuaga, Takuma Inoue will vie for one of the four titles vacated by his older brother, Japanese star Naoya Inoue. And no, Takuma isn’t remotely in the realm of “The Monster,” his brother who is ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer, but he is a capable bantamweight just outside the top 10.

In his lone previous title bid, Inoue, 27, was routed by Nordine Oubaali in 2019 in what remains the only loss of his career. That was also Inoue’s only fight on the world-class level.

Now, Takuma will have another opportunity to add himself and Naoya to the short list of world-champion brothers, joining the Ruelas, Klitschkos, Marquezes and Charlos, among others.

Solis, a Venezuelan, was unsuccessful in three previous title challenges. At 41, this fourth title crack is likely his last.

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