Efe Ajagba vs Stephen Shaw fight preview and prediction
On January 14, once-beaten heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba (16-1, 13KO) will face undefeated contender Stephan Shaw (18-0, 13KO) in the headlining act of a Top Rank event in New York.
Last week’s Gervonta Davis vs Hector Luis Garcia fight was the first world title fight of 2023, but this will be the first real pick ‘em fight of the year.
Known as ‘The Silent Roller’, Efe Ajagba first rose to recognition for reasons he wouldn’t have wished for when he made history with the fastest victory in boxing after his opponent was disqualified for leaving the ring one second after the opening bell.
However, UK fight fans were already familiar with the Nigerian after he collected bronze at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The 28-year-old Nigerian, in his first title fight and major test, came up short against Frank Sanchez Faure (21-0, 14KO). The heavyweights clashed on the Fury-Wilder trilogy and Ajagba just couldn’t handle the superior speed and skill of ‘The Cuban Flash’, who knocked him down in the seventh with a single right hand to win unanimously on points. There’s no shame in this solitary professional career defeat because the Cuban won 214 from 220 amateur bouts and is ranked WBC #3 and WBO #2, so is now within touching distance of a world title shot.
In his comeback fight against an Hungarian cruiserweight champion, he looked technically improved, throwing uppercuts, looking composed, and winning via second-round TKO without barely taking a punch back, aside from a couple to the body only.
Having bounced back with a confidence-building victory, he now faces Missouri’s ‘Big Shot’ Stephan Shaw, who was a four-time national amateur champion, winning 51 from 60 bouts, and currently an unbeaten pro ranked in the top 30 with the WBC and IBO.
He has won all 18 bouts, but his opposition hasn’t been nearly as competitive as Agagba’s, who possesses scalps over recognisable names Amir Mansour (23-4-1, 16KO), Ali Eren Demirezen (17-1, 12KO), Michael Wallisch (23-6, 16KO), Razvan Cojanu (17-7, 9KO), and even Jonathan Rice (15-6-1, 10KO) and Brian Howard (15-5, 12KO) are decent mentions too.
Lyubomyr Pinchuk (14-4-1, 8KO) and Rydell Booker (27-7-1, 14KO) are the biggest names on Shaw’s record to date, but victory over Ajagba will become his greatest triumph if he can succeed in his biggest, most important fight of his career.
Shaw possesses a good jab, uses it plenty, and he’s always looking to land the big right hand. He mixes straight shots with hooks to come around the guard.
Both boxers have decent footwork and can shuffle their feet quick enough to get out of range. They each have 13 KOs in almost-equal bouts, but neither are seen as dangerous punchers really. They are busy punchers, but not concussive.
Ajagba punches a little like Joe Joyce does, with his guard usually lowered under his chin and his shots coming from his elbows as opposed to higher up from his shoulders, which makes things awkward for his opponents.
This should make for an interesting fight, between two top contenders, where spectators should see quite a few rounds and not an early blow-out, with plently of technical skill on display.
This is a great heavyweight fight to kick the year off with!
It’s been good to see Ajagba return improved and ready to go headfirst into another big fight, undeterred by his defeat.
However, I think Frank Sanchez showed that speed kills and may have laid down the blueprint for his sparring partner Stephan Shaw to follow, who has quick hands too.
Shaw hasn’t shared the ring with a big name until now, perhaps because he is an avoided fighter and considered a risk, so this is the first real acid test for the ‘Big Shot’ and, despite having one more fight than Efe, he will be the lesser experienced in there. That experience and amateur pedigree should stand Ajagba in good stead to make this fight very competitive and enduring. I couldn't see either man blowing the other one away early, so this should have several good rounds in it.
But I think Shaw’s superior speed will see him dominate Ajagba, like Sanchez did, to win unanimously on points.