Newark mayor backs Stevenson in homecoming

Featherweight Shakur Stevenson, one of boxing's top prospects, is all set for his first professional fight in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, and when he and opponent Alberto Guevara came face to face Thursday at the final prefight news conference, they were joined by a special guest, who made no secret about whom he was pulling for.

It was Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who was there in support of Stevenson, who brought attention to their city when he claimed a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.

It's taken some time for promoter Top Rank to organize a homecoming fight for Stevenson, but now it is at hand, and the mayor sounded as pumped up as anyone.

"We are extremely proud of Shakur Stevenson here in the city of Newark. I got an opportunity to see him with the young people [on Wednesday]," Baraka said of Stevenson's appearance at a city youth center for a community outreach event. "That was an incredible, incredible scene. You should've been there.

"The young people love him in this city. The city loves him. The kind of discipline, commitment to his craft -- all of those things are amazing. Not just for him growing up from the city of Newark, but all of these young people get an opportunity to see what it takes to be a professional, what it takes to be a champion, to stand out and do the things that he's doing."

Stevenson and Guevara will square off in a 10-round bout that will headline the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card Saturday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10:30 p.m. ET, with preliminaries streaming on ESPN+ beginning at 7 p.m. ET). Stevenson is the mandatory challenger for the 126-pound world title belt held by Top Rank stablemate Oscar Valdez, and a victory over Guevara could set him up for the title shot later in the year, be it against Valdez or for a vacant title if Valdez moves up in weight, as he has talked about possibly doing next.

That's for the future, however. For now, Stevenson said he is thrilled to finally fight at home.

"It means everything to me, being that this was a dream of mine to come here to the Prudential Center and fight in front of the hometown, in front of my home crowd, family, friends," he said. "I'm happy to be here, and it means everything to me."

Guevara is the third opponent Stevenson (11-0, 6 KOs), 22, has been slated to fight Saturday. He was originally scheduled to face Hairon Socarras (22-0-3, 13 KOs), but he dropped out over various unspecified issues. He was replaced by Franklin Manzanilla (18-5, 17 KOs), a former junior featherweight world title challenger, who withdrew last week claiming he had flu-like symptoms.

Guevara (27-4, 12 KOs), 28, of Mexico, had been in training and close to weight, so he took the fight in a deal that was closed quickly, which was a big relief to Top Rank.

"Alberto stepped up, took one day to make it. He had been in training," said Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, who ran Thursday's proceedings because Top Rank big boss Bob Arum is in Osaka, Japan, for Friday's Rob Brant-Ryota Murata middleweight title rematch. "He's that type of professional who knows to always stay ready, and out of the three fighters he's probably the best fighter of the three. So while it's a great thing to have a homecoming fight, you still have to present a worthy main event, and I'm sure this young man and Shakur will put on a worthy main event."

Guevara, who twice challenged for bantamweight world titles, has ample experience, which he believes will be the key for him to win.

"I know Shakur is a tough fighter, but I want to prove that I can do more in boxing. All of my experience will show on Saturday night," Guevara said through an interpreter. "I have a lot of experience as an amateur and a pro. My experience will be important in this fight."

Stevenson said whatever Guevara has in store for him, it won't be enough. He plans to dazzle the hometown fans.

"I'm definitely not overlooking him, [but] I feel like I'm going to go in there, box my fight and have fun. I'm going to let everything take care of itself," Stevenson said. "I'm going to put on a show. Saturday night he's going to sleep."