LAS VEGAS — Shakur Stevenson stopped Felix Caraballo with a body-punch knockdown in the sixth round Tuesday night in the first major boxing event held in North America since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs), the WBO featherweight champion, dominated his non-title bout against the Puerto Rican veteran, capping the sport’s return to the world’s fight capital. After a three-month break in major boxing competition, Top Rank staged five fights for ESPN in a fan-free room in the MGM Grand casino complex’s conference center.
Although every bout was a mismatch of varying degrees, the favorites still provided entertaining performances for the sport’s starved audience. Stevenson knocked Caraballo to one knee in the first round, and the U.S. Olympic silver medalist’s brutally accurate power continued to hurt Caraballo. Stevenson finished with precision midway through the sixth, opening up Caraballo’s defenses with a right hand to the side before putting a left hand directly into Caraballo’s solar plexus.
Stevenson, who turns 23 years old later this month, and heavyweight Jared Anderson both wore T-shirts reading “Black Lives Matter” in the ring. Stevenson also walked out to “Changes,” the Grammy-nominated anthem of social change written by Tupac Shakur, after whom the boxer is named.
The 20-year-old Anderson easily improved to 4-0 with a stoppage of Johnny Langston in the penultimate bout. Mikaela Mayer was scheduled for a showcase in the co-main event, but the U.S. Olympian was pulled from her scheduled fight with Helen Joseph on Sunday when she tested positive for COVID-19.
Mayer is asymptomatic, but she remained in quarantine — and her positive test forced Stevenson to fight without coach Kay Koroma, who works with both fighters due to their shared Olympic background. Koroma’s COVID-19 tests are negative, but he stayed away in accordance with the health protocols set up for the return of combat sports in Nevada. Koroma also was scheduled to work in Anderson’s corner. Top Rank’s precautions also included no face-offs at the weigh-in, ample social distancing for everyone from judges to the ring announcer, and masks on nearly everyone involved.
The card opened with an impressive victory for Robeisy Ramirez, the Cuban two-time Olympic gold medalist. In his fourth pro fight, Ramirez (3-1, 3 KOs) dropped Dominican opponent Yeuri Andujar twice in the first 48 seconds. Ramirez is the last man to beat Stevenson, winning a decision over the then-teenager in the Rio bantamweight final in August 2016.
Ramirez defected from the Cuban team in July 2018 and signed with Top Rank, and he has rebounded from a surprising split-decision loss in his pro debut last year with three straight stoppages. Ramirez said he intends to get a professional fight with Stevenson, but he doesn’t expect it to happen immediately, given Stevenson’s two-year head start on him in the pro game.
Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello stopped Donald Haynesworth with 44 seconds left in the first round after a one-punch knockdown. Haynesworth had a 65-pound weight advantage on Vianello (7-0, 7 KOs), a Rio Olympic super heavyweight, but got up shakily after Vianello flattened him with a chopping right hand to the balance center behind the ear.