Top Rank signs Shakur Stevenson -- 'a major, major boxing talent'

Shakur Stevenson, the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and easily the most sought-after American amateur, signed on Thursday with powerhouse promoter Top Rank, which will try to build him into its newest superstar.

Terms of the multiyear promotional deal were not disclosed, but the 19-year-old Stevenson, who will fight professionally in the 126-pound featherweight division, took less guaranteed money in terms of a signing bonus and minimum purses than he was offered elsewhere because he wanted to be with Top Rank, which in 50 years of business has helped developed many of the biggest stars in boxing.

"I love the kid. The kid is a delight to be with," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN shortly after Stevenson signed his contract at the company's Las Vegas offices. "He's charming, he's got charisma, he's intelligent. And we know he's talented. He's the whole package, and he's extraordinarily mature for a 19-year-old kid. My matchmakers say he's a major, major boxing talent, and I feel I can judge whether he has charisma and marketability and I believe he does.

"I think this kid can be the next American superstar. He's still learning and he's still growing, but he's got everything. His power will develop. He's already very fast. This kid has the ability to be like another Sugar Ray Leonard."

Arum, of course, promoted many Leonard fights and also developed superstars such as Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, to name just a few of the successful Olympians he signed.

"I just wanted to work with some of the best in business and I know Top Rank creates superstars, from Oscar to Floyd to Cotto. They've created a bunch of superstars," Stevenson told ESPN. "I wanted the route where I am made into a superstar and take over the sport of boxing. I signed with Top Rank because of what they've done in the business. They have a proven track record.

"I am super excited and can't wait to get a date for my debut and get moving. I'm ready to take over the world."

Also assisting the deal was that Arum has a longstanding relationship with James Prince, who co-manages Stevenson along with attorney Josh Dubin and unified light heavyweight titleholder Andre Ward.

"He's a nice, polite kid and we're going to market him the way he is -- as a good kid, the way Sugar Ray Leonard was marketed," said Arum, who will co-promote Stevenson with the low-profile Antonio Leonard. "James is a smart person and they realized nobody could develop this kid into a superstar like we can."

Arum said Stevenson's professional debut will take place in April. He would like to have his debut take place on the undercard of the junior lightweight title fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Jason Sosa, which is scheduled for April 8 at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. It would make sense because Stevenson, who is from Newark, New Jersey, lives and trains in Burke, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb, where he has many ties and which is only about a half-hour from the venue. But Arum said he would do that only if HBO, which is televising Lomachenko-Sosa, would agree to televise Stevenson's bout.

"It's so obvious," Arum said. "It would make terrific programming. If HBO is interested, they can ask us."

Arum said besides developing Stevenson in the Washington, D.C., region, he also would like to have him fight at the Prudential Center in Newark. Regardless of where he fights, Stevenson, with his ubiquitous dimples and smile, is just anxious to get going.

"I could get in the ring tomorrow. I feel ready to go tomorrow if I have to," he said. "I want the fans to enjoy my style. I got a style where I box smart, I can punch, I got real good defense. I just want them to be excited when I get in the ring. I want to be the Michael Jackson of boxing. I want to sell out arenas."

He has aspirations to win titles in several weight classes, perhaps as heavy as welterweight.

"I'm only 19. I don't turn 20 until June 28 and I'm still growing, so I can probably get up to 140 or 147 pounds eventually," Stevenson said. "First, I'm taking over 126 and then I'll move up from there. But I'm not in a rush to be in a world title fight in my second or third fight like Lomachenko. I don't want to move too slow but not too fast, but I'm ready for anything they come up with. They tell me they want me to fight 12 rounds in my pro debut, I'm with it. I am in good hands."

Stevenson's finish in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in August was the best by an American male boxer since Ward, his idol, won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Named after the late rap star Tupac Shakur, Stevenson advanced to the gold-medal final in the 123-pound bantamweight division but lost a split decision to Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez, who won his second gold medal in a row after claiming flyweight gold in 2012.

The loss capped Stevenson's record in international competition at 23-1. Several promoters were interested in signing him, including Mayweather, who traveled to Rio to watch him fight and whom Stevenson appeared to verbally commit to in a joint television interview. But six months later Stevenson signed with Top Rank, the same company that signed Mayweather out of the 1996 Olympics and promoted him for most of his career.

The oldest brother of eight siblings, Stevenson is trained by Kay Koroma and his grandfather, Wali Moses, who introduced him to boxing at age 5. Besides the Olympic silver medal, Stevenson won gold medals at seven major national championships (including the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials), the 2014 Youth World Championships and the 2013 Junior World Championships, among other accolades.

Stevenson is the sixth 2016 Rio Olympian to sign with Top Rank, which also has signed lightweight gold medalist Robson Conceicao of Brazil; bantamweight Michael Conlan of Ireland; American flyweight representative Antonio Vargas; lightweight Teofimo Lopez, who is American but represented his parents' home country of Honduras; and flyweight Jeyvier Cintron, the only two-time Olympic boxer from Puerto Rico.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef said that with the signing of Stevenson, the company inked all three of its top targets from Rio.

"I rely on my matchmakers' eyes for ability, and Stevenson was at the tippy, tippy top of their list," he said. "He was the special fighter. Ability-wise he was in a class almost of his own. A brilliant fighter. I can go back to my emails to my matchmakers (Bruce Trampler and Brad 'Abdul' Goodman) during the Olympics. There were three guys -- Shakur, Conlan and Conceicao -- we wanted the most. These were the big targets on our list and we're very happy we were able to secure all of them."

Conlan may prove to be Stevenson's rival in a major fight down the road. Conlan lost an extremely controversial decision to Russia's Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinals. It was one of the most controversial of the boxing tournament and partly responsible for the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which oversees amateur boxing, sending several judges and referees home from the tournament for failure to perform up to the expected standard. Had Conlan been awarded the decision virtually everybody thought he deserved, he would have faced Stevenson for the right to fight for gold. Instead, Stevenson got a walkover to the final because Nikitin dropped out of the competition after being so badly busted up by Conlan.

Arum envisions an eventual showdown between Stevenson and Conlan, who turns pro on March 17, as a huge fight in a few years.

"My goal five years from now is to have this era's Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight when Stevenson fights Conlan," Arum said. "Conlan got robbed in the Olympics and didn't fight Stevenson. Now they'll fight as pros and make real money. I love thinking about fights like that. Here I am at 85, I'm an old fart. But I sign these young kids and they'll keep me ticking for a long time. I'm not going to die until I develop these kids."