ATLANTA -- Shakur Stevenson has heard the criticism loud and clear: not entertaining enough, not aggressive enough, not mean enough.
So Stevenson peeked his head through the ropes at perhaps his loudest skeptic, former champion Timothy Bradley, with the knowledge the narrative can now be laid to rest for good.
In a star-making performance, Stevenson finally displayed the kind of violence boxing fans were dying to see from the ultra-talented boxer.
He came through with a two-fisted beating of Jamel Herring to capture the WBO 130-pound championship via 10th-round TKO on Saturday at State Farm Arena in the ESPN main event -- an utterly one-sided victory.
"I wanted a fun fight: show my skills, my boxing, my power. I wanted to show everything tonight," said Stevenson, ESPN's No. 1 boxer at 130 pounds. "I want to be a superstar in the sport; I'm here to last."
The Newark, New Jersey, native won all nine rounds on two cards, with one judge somehow finding a single round for Herring. ESPN scored it a shutout, 90-81.
Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) opened up a nasty cut over Herring's right eye in Round 9, and the gash immediately bled profusely. The challenger, a former champion at 126 pounds, continued to march forward and turned up the pressure in Round 10. The crisp, clean shots rarely missed their mark. Finally, the referee saw enough and waved the bout off at 1:30. Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) protested the referee's decision, but he wasn't punching back.
"I smelled blood," said Stevenson, who earned a career-high $1.7 million, sources told ESPN. "I saw he was bleeding and was like, 'OK, I have to attack the cut.' I was trying to touch the cut to make the doctor try and stop it."
The outcome was never in doubt from the opening bell. Stevenson outlanded Herring 164-87, with 99 of them power punches. It was a stark departure from Stevenson's most recent performance, a June decision victory over the unheralded Jeremiah Nakathila.
But against his best opposition yet, the Olympic silver medalist stepped up and proved there is far more potential to realize. The one-sided victory was comprehensive, as Stevenson outboxed Herring, outfought him and flat out bested him.
Over the first few rounds, Herring tentatively boxed off the back foot and ate punches; but even when Herring started to assert himself more, Stevenson seized the counterpunching opportunities.
"I couldn't be in that chess match with him, so I had to bite down and move forward," said Herring, who earned a career-high $1.5 million, per sources. "He's sharp and slick. His hand-eye coordination is very good. No excuses. He was just the better man tonight."
In a tweet later Saturday, Herring congratulated Stevenson and wrote, "He was the better man, and even when I knew I was down I [tried] my hardest to push forward, no matter what. There was no quit in me, but overall I wish Shakur the best!"
Herring, the 35-year-old native of Long Island, New York, was making the fourth defense of the junior lightweight title he won from Masayuki Ito in December 2018. ESPN's No. 2 130-pounder, Herring had plenty of reason to exude confidence entering the bout. After all, he delivered a career-best performance in April, a sixth-round TKO of former champion Carl Frampton in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Frampton was at the end of his career and retired after the loss. Stevenson, though, is just getting started.
"There's only one fight left, the biggest fight in the division," Stevenson said. "Oscar [Valdez] can't keep ducking. There's nothing else to look forward to."
But the sport of boxing can look forward to perhaps another star. The 135-pound division is loaded with talent and name recognition, and it's a division Stevenson plans to conquer in the near future. But first, there's more to accomplish at 130 pounds, the division he now reigns supreme over.
And he can do so without the dreaded "boring" label accompanying him. It turns out that he is plenty mean, a new side of Stevenson that will serve him well as the competition stiffens.