LAS VEGAS -- Shakur Stevenson jogged around the ring with his hands held high as the seconds ticked away on the biggest night of his career.
For 12 rounds, he practically played with Oscar Valdez in what turned out to be an utter mismatch in the ESPN main event Saturday night before 10,102 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Stevenson is simply that good.
He used an excellent southpaw jab, one of the best weapons in boxing, to keep Valdez at range and set up his own powerful left hand to the body. The unanimous-decision victory by scores of 118-109, 117-110 and 118-109 handed Stevenson a second title at 130 pounds.
"I'm a superstar in this sport," said Stevenson, 24. "I want to collect all the belts at 130 and become undisputed. I deserve to be a superstar, so that's what I gotta do."
Stevenson (18-0, 9 KOs) floored Valdez in Round 6 with a cuffing right hook that sent him stumbling into the ropes before a second right hand knocked him to the canvas when he was already off-balance.
The defensive-minded Stevenson pressed forward and unloaded power shots in an attempt to finish the fight, but Valdez survived, just as he did when he suffered knockdowns in three previous bouts.
"I told myself, 'I'm gonna shut [Valdez's fans] up,' and as the fight went on I heard crickets," Stevenson said.
Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) simply couldn't find his way past Stevenson's jab. The hand speed and size disparity also made matters tough for Valdez, who usually threw one punch at a time, whereas Stevenson strung together combinations.
Valdez seemingly searched for one fight-ending haymaker, like the one he scored in February 2021 to knock out Miguel Berchelt and win the WBC junior lightweight title, but that sort of shot never came close to materializing.
"He was just the better fighter this night," said Valdez, 31. "He did what he had to do to win the fight. He's a great fighter. His speed is there, power is there."
Valdez lunged forward behind a high guard and caught many of Stevenson's shots on his gloves, but every time he inched closer, Stevenson took a step backward and unleashed a few more jabs. Stevenson often mixed in a straight left to the body, a punch that scored over and over.
Another left to the midsection stunned Valdez in Round 10, but Stevenson was far more patient this time, content to pile up rounds en route to the decision win.
The career-best performance followed Stevenson's win over Jamel Herring in October, which marked his first fight against a reigning titleholder. Against Herring, Stevenson used an aggressive attack that featured plenty of pressure on his way to a 10th-round TKO victory.
The win made Stevenson a two-division champion -- like Valdez, he also won a title at 126 pounds -- and established him as ESPN's No. 1 boxer at 130 pounds. Valdez previously was rated No. 1 but was removed from the rankings after he tested positive for the banned substance phentermine.
Despite the adverse finding in August, Valdez was allowed to defend his title against Robson Conceicao in September, a fight he won via unanimous decision.
"I'm not a cheater. Never have been. Never needed it," Valdez told ESPN's Mark Kriegel in September. "A lot of people saying, 'You're a cheater. You're using steroids. You came back positive.' It's just, it's heartbreaking for me."
Now, Valdez must contend with the first loss of his professional career, but he could find his way to another title shot soon. Stevenson holds two of the division's four belts and said he aims to become undisputed junior lightweight champion. It's also possible, Stevenson said, that he will move up to lightweight for his next fight.
At 135 pounds, he could find himself matched with Devin Haney in the future. Haney is set to fight George Kambosos for the undisputed lightweight championship June 4 in Australia. Haney was ringside in Las Vegas after signing a multifight deal with Top Rank, the company that promotes both Valdez and Stevenson.
"Devin is definitely a huge fight for me; Devin is a helluva fighter. We can line it up in the future," said Stevenson, an Olympic silver medalist from Newark, New Jersey.
He added: "You line 'em up, name 'em, I'm ready for whoever."