By Jake Donovan
On a Saturday where college football saw seven Top 25 teams all suffer shocking upsets—including four in the Top 10—boxing needed to do a lot better than simply go chalk.
As an unbeaten prizefighter whose home base is deep in football country, Terence Crawford had to understand that better than anyone else. It took more than 11 rounds for Nebraska’s one man pro sports franchise to deliver, but in the end Crawford gave the hometown fans in Omaha plenty to cheer about and sports outlets something better to write about than a routine title defense.
An explosive stoppage finish of Jose Benavidez Jr. with 18 seconds to go in their ESPN-televised headliner sent the sold-out crowd at CHI Health Center Omaha into a frenzy, a reaction par for the course whenever Crawford fights at home.
Photo Credit: Top Rank Twitter Account
That it nearly went the full 12-round distance would not have been a good look for the sport’s reigning pound-for-pound king, or for boxing in general.
It was already a rough day in the industry, with the second week of World Boxing Super Series Season Two offering a pair of unwatchable quarterfinal matchups from Russia and with ESPN’s headlining act coming with Crawford as a 33-1 favorite by the opening bell.
Rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson did his part to break from the norm, exploding in a 1st round knockout over a normally durable Viorel Simion, who’d never previously been dropped. It set the stage for Crawford, and for much of the night proved to be a tough act to follow.
Crawford was never in any real danger of losing, although Benavidez Jr.—who’d traded harsh words with the unbeaten champ all week and nearly blows at Friday’s weigh-in—made things far too interesting through the first six rounds. In fact, the unbeaten challenger from Phoenix was ahead one card after five rounds and just one point down on another.
Much of the pre-fight talk around the industry focused less on this matchup and more on when Crawford would start facing welterweights “on the other side of the street” like Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia. To put it mildly, Crawford was expected to blow through Benavidez Jr.—who returned to the sport earlier this year after suffering a gun shot and came in to the bout with his right knee in a supporting brace—and send a message to the wolves starting to circle the corral.
The unbeaten switch-hitter finally began to pull away in the second half of the night, although still failing to manage any better than a solid boxing performance. It’s not enough when you are hailed as the best boxer in the world and defending against a perceived overmatched opponent.
Crawford sensed it as the bout wore on, perhaps never more than when his mother Debra shouted from ringside at the start of round 10 that he needed to end the fight. That moment wouldn’t come for another two rounds, and it even took for the 31-year old to ignore the theme of his corner’s instructions during the one-minute rest period, where he was told to play it safe and leave with the win—but to take his shot if he saw an opening.
The manner in which he fought the rounds suggested that Crawford wasn’t interested in waiting for an opening; he instead punched a hole through the wall.
After missing twice earlier in the round with right uppercuts, it was that very punch which functionally put an end to Benavidez’s brave stand. It produced the lone knockdown of the night, coming with less than a minute to go in the fight, but just enough time for Crawford to register his fight straight stoppage victory.
A flurry along the ropes left the normally elusive Benavidez Jr. out on his feet, leaving referee Celestine Ruiz no choice but to end the fight with 0:18 left on the clock.
Had Benavidez Jr. managed to bob and weave just long enough to hear the final bell, Crawford would’ve cruised to a landslide decision victory. He was up 107-102, 108-101 and an unacceptable 110-99 at the time of the stoppage, but on a night where—by his own admission—he had a hard time early on solving his opponent’s deceptively slick style.
Mind you, it’s not as if decision wins are commonplace for Crawford, who has now scored five straight stoppages and with nine of his 12 career title fights ending inside the distance. But going the full 12 rounds against a largely immobile opponent who’d never lived up to his full career promise wasn’t going to be good enough on this night.
It wasn’t going to be good enough for industry fans who continue to grow frustrated over the politics of the sport depriving the talent-rich welterweight division of the best fights.
It wasn’t going to be good enough in the eyes of the top PBC welterweights who—between lucrative network deals on Showtime and Fox prime—can continue to face each other, and now with former eight-division champ Manny Pacquiao sweetening the pot.
It certainly wasn’t going to be enough to sports fans in a crazed college football town are in dire need of a new hero, as the still winless Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-6) are off to their worst start in their 129-year history.
With that final offensive explosion, Crawford didn’t just do his job but showed off his ability to deviate from the norm. Serving as the hero to so many of those around him means everything, a feeling you can sense whenever he speaks to the outpouring of support he receives at home and every time he climbs the turnbuckle at fight’s end.
On a night when there was so much else to talk about in the sports world—the slew of college Football Top 25 upsets, Major League Baseball playoffs—Terence Crawford found a way in the end to once again keep boxing at the heart of discussion.
By: William Holmes
On Saturday night Top Rank Promotions will continue their relationship with ESPN by broadcasting a junior welterweight unification bout between one of their top stars, Terence Crawford, taking on fellow junior welterweight title holder Julius Indongo. This bout will take place at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Another bout to be televised will be in the light heavyweight division and will be between Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Craig Baker. The undercard will feature many familiar names, including Mike Alvarado, Bryant Jennings, Dillian Whyte, Shakur Stevenson, and Nicholas Walters. Don’t be surprised if some of these names make their way to the main broadcast.
The following is a preview of both televised bouts.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (13-0) vs. Craig Baker (17-1); Light Heavyweights
Oleksandr Gvozdyk is another Ukranian prospect with a high ceiling and a deep amateur background, though he doesn’t have the amateur accolades of fellow Ukranian Vasyl Lomachenko.
Gvozdyk won the bronze medal for the Ukraine in the 2012 Summer Olympics. He also competed in the World Series of Boxing before turning pro and was undefeated there. He’s thirty years old and three years younger than his opponent, Craig baker. Gvozdyk also stands at 6’2” and has a long reach of 76”.
Baker competed in the 2008 US National Amateur Championships and the 2008 National Golden Gloves but did not place. His amateur background pales in comparison to Gvozdyk.
Gvozdyk turned pro in 2014 and already has an impressive list of defeated opponents. He has defeated the likes of Nadjib Mohammedi, Tommy Karpency, Isaac Chilemba, and Yunieski Gonzalez. He’s currently riding a seven fight stoppage streak.
Baker’s only notable victory was against Umberto Savigne. The one time he took a step up in competition he got knocked out by Edwin Rodriguez. Fourteen of his seventeen wins have come against opponents with records of .500 or worse.
Gvozdyk has the edge in speed, defense, amateur background, and even power. Baker has thirteen knockouts in comparison to Gvozdyk’s eleven stoppages, but Baker’s stoppage victories have come against subpar competition.
It’s doubtful this fight will be competitive. Gvozdyk should won handedly.
Terence Crawford (31-0) vs. Julius Indongo (22-0); WBO/WBC/IBF and WBA Junior Welterweight Titles
It’s rare to see all four major world titles up for grabs in one unification bout, but this anomaly will occur on Saturday night and should be applauded.
Both boxers are undefeated but Crawford is the heavy favorite.
Crawford will be giving up about two and a half inches in height and one and a half inches in reach. However, Crawford is five years younger than Indongo and appears to be the quicker boxer with the harder punch.
Crawford has twenty two stoppages on his resume and five of his past six fights resulted in a stoppage victory. Indongo only has eleven stoppage wins, but three of his past four fights resulted in a KO/TKO.
Crawford has been fairly busy recently. He fought once in 2017 and three times in 2016. Indongo has matched his activity and also fought three times in 2016 and once in 2017.
Crawford’s list of defeated opponents shows he is deserving of his pound for pound ranking. He has defeated the likes of Felix Diaz, John Molina Jr., Viktor Postol, Henry Lundy, Dierry Jean, Thomas Dulorme, Raymundo Beltran, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Ricky Burns, and Andrey Klimov.
Indongo fought mainly in Africa early on in his career and has not faced the level of opposition that Crawford has faced. He has recently defeated the likes of Ricky Burns and Eduard Troyanovsky, but has not defeated any notable opponents before those wins.
The one edge that Indongo might arguably have is amateur experience. He competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics and Crawford failed to make the Olympic team of the United States. However, Crawford is a former National PAL Champion.
Indongo’s height and reach may give Crawford some issues early on. He was able to surprise many when he defeated Eduard Troyanovsky and he had little problems defeating Ricky Burns. However, Terence Crawford is an elite level boxer and he has enough experience to solve the height and reach of Indongo.
Crawford should win by a comfortable decision.
HBO World Championship Boxing Preview: Parker vs. Ruiz, Beltran vs. Menard, Terence Crawford vs. John Molina
By: William Holmes
On Saturday night HBO and Top Rank Promotions will team up to televise three bouts from two different locations.
Terence Crawford will defend his WBO and WBC Junior Welterweight titles in the main event of the evening against John Molina live from Omaha, Nebraska. Additionally, lightweight contender Raymundo Beltran will compete against rising prospect Mason Menard as the co-main event of the Nebraska card.
It was also recently announced that Top Rank will promote Joseph Parker in the United States; and HBO has decided to show the WBO Heavyweight Title Bout between Parker and Ruiz on a same day tape delay from Auckland, New Zealand.
The following is a preview of all three televised bouts.
Joseph Parker (21-0) vs. Andy Ruiz (29-0); WBO Heavyweight Title
Joseph Parker will be fighting in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand and will be the favorite coming into this bout.
He has already fought four times in 2016, and four of his past five fights have been by TKO/KO. He is twenty four years old and is three years younger than his opponent. He will also have a two inch height advantage and a two inch reach advantage on Ruiz. Ruiz has also been fairly active and has fought three times in 2016.
Joseph Parker has the heavier hands of the two boxers. He has stopped eighteen of his opponents, and four of his past five fights have ended by TKO/KO. Ruiz has stopped nineteen of his opponents, but only two of his past five opponents failed to go the distance.
They both have had moderate success as an amateur. Ruiz was a Mexican National Amateur Champion and Parker medaled in several international competitions as an amateur.
Parker has a slight edge in quality of opposition. He has defeated the likes of Alexander Dimitrenko, Carlos Takam, and Bowie Tupou. Ruiz has defeated the likes of an aged Ray Austin and Siarhei Liakhovich.
Ruiz is a good enough of a boxer to last all twelve rounds, but it will be extremely difficult for him to pull out a victory in Parker’s home country of New Zealand.
Raymundo Beltran (31-7-1) vs. Mason Menard (32-1); Lightweights
The opening bout of the night in Omaha, Nebraska will be between Ray Beltran and Mason Menard in the lightweight division.
Beltran is a former sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao and is a rugged, tough, durable opponent. He’s much better than his record suggests and is known for having excellent stamina.
However, Beltran is thirty five years old and will be seven years older than his opponent, Mason Menard. Beltran will have about a two inch height advantage and a one inch reach advantage.
Menard does have a slight edge in power. He has twenty four knockouts on his record while Beltran only has nineteen.
Menard became well known with some upset victories on national television, including wins over Bahodir Mamadjonov and Eudy Bernardo. But prior to those wins he faced mainly non-descript opponents and most of his bouts were in his home state of Louisiana.
Beltran has defeated the likes of Ivan Najera, Arash Usmanee, Ji-Hoon Kim, and Henry Lundy. He also has several losses, but most of them have come against good opposition. He has lost to the likes of Terence Crawford, Luis Ramos Jr., and Sharif Bogere.
Neither boxer was very active in the past two years. They both fought twice in 2016 and once in 2015. Neither boxer experienced a great deal of success on the international stage as an amateur.
Menard has surprised many with his two latest victories, but Beltran is a big step up in competition for him and isn’t past his prime yet. This should be a fight that Beltran wins through a hard fought decision.
Terence Crawford (29-0) vs. John Molina (29-6); WBO/WBC Junior Welterweight Titles
Terence Crawford is one of Top Rank Promotions’ biggest stars and has been a rumored opponent for Manny Pacquiao in the future.
Crawford regularly fights in Omaha and will have a nearly sold out venue cheering him on.
He’s twenty nine years old and is in the middle of his athletic prime. He’s four years younger than Molina, but will be giving up about two and a half inches in height as well as an inch in reach.
Crawford has been fairly active for a champion and fought twice in 2016 and twice in 2015. Molina has only fought once in 2016 and twice in 2015.
Crawford has twenty stoppage victories and three of his past five fights did not go the distance. Molina has twenty three stoppage wins, but has gone 3-3 in his past six fights.
Molina is always a dangerous fighter, and this was evident in his last upset victory over the hard hitting Provodnikov. He has also defeated the likes of Mickey Bey, Dannie Williams, and Henry Lundy. However, Molina also has an impressive list of opponents that he has lost to. These fighters include Antonio DeMarco, Andrey Klimov, Lucas Matthysse, Humberto Soto, and Adrien Broner.
Crawford has never been defeated and has been slowly increasing the level of competition that he faces in the ring. He has defeated the likes of Viktor Postol, Henry Lundy, Dierry Jean, Thomas Dulorme, Raymondo Beltran, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Ricky Burns, and Andre Klimov.
Crawford was also very successful as an amateur on the national level, and has even won a Police Athletic League Boxing Championship.
This is a fight that very few expect Crawford to lose. He’s a more technically skilled boxer than the last man that Molina beat and should be able to stop Molina.
Molina has been known for upsetting the apple cart from time to time, but Saturday is unlikely.