Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Terence Crawford’s Star Continues To Rise

One of the appeals of the sport of Boxing is that it is always a sport where both fan and expert alike are on a consistent search for the next big star of the sport. A star that has been on the rise in recent times is that of undefeated WBO Lightweight world champion Terence Crawford. Crawford, compiled a record of 22-0, with 17 Knockouts prior to challenging two-division world champion Ricky Burns in March of this year for Burns’ WBO Lightweight world title.

Crawford, who was seen by some to be an underdog against the more experienced Burns outworked and out boxed the champion in Burns’ home country of Scotland to earn his first world title in a convincing twelve round unanimous decision. What was particularly impressive about Crawford’s performance in that fight was how he consistently beat Burns to the punch with his hand speed and did not allow the champion to get off consistently with his offense.

After what was an impressive performance by Crawford, the newly crowned champion would make the first defense of his world title against former Olympic gold medalist and former Featherweight world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa on June 28th at the Centurylink Center in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. A concern that some might have when a champion prepares to defend a world championship in their hometown is a potential for distractions. Crawford however, was very confident leading up to this fight and was very focused.

Under circumstances where some fighters have not performed well defending world championships in their hometown, Crawford would not only defend his title, but would do so against a fighter in Yuriorkis Gamboa who is highly skilled and has been considered one of the best fighters in the world. Quite frankly, Gamboa, who walked into this fight with identical record to that of the champion of 23-0, with 16 Knockouts should have been viewed as a dangerous option for a champion making his first title defense.

The fight between Crawford and Gamboa would have a little bit of everything. Tactical Boxing, both fighters having periods of effectiveness, and both fighters showing their mettle. An old adage that Boxing fans will hear from time to time is that a good big man will always beat a good little man. In this fight Crawford was the naturally bigger man who had a near three-inch height advantage over the challenger. Gamboa however, did not look as though Crawford’s physical advantages would have an effect on him early in the fight.

The fight began at a tactical pace. Although both fighters were able to be effective early on, it seemed that it was Gamboa who was dictating how the fight was being fought. The challenger consistently get his punches off first with short crisp combinations and won the early rounds in my opinion.

This presented an interesting situation for the champion, who much like Gamboa, is known for his quick hands and ability to time his opponents. It was very competitive between the two early on, but it seemed that Gamboa’s combinations and counter punching gave the challenger a slight edge.

The momentum of the fight gradually shifted toward the champion, who began to impose his will on Gamboa as the rounds went on. A flush counter right hook from Crawford sent Gamboa to the canvas in the final minute of the fifth round. Gamboa showed his heart by getting up from the knockdown and choosing to attempt to return offense instead of being on the defensive. Although no one can take away from Gamboa’s courage, I felt that it would have been in his best interest to be somewhat defensive and give himself some time to recover.

Despite being knocked down and badly staggered in the final seconds of round five, Gamboa was able to survive the round. At this point the fight went from a tactical Boxing match to more of a fire fight with both fighters coming forward in looking to engage. It was Crawford’s ability however, to mix up his attack to the body and head of Gamboa as well as his ability to switch between the southpaw and orthodox stances that turned this fight in his favor.

At this stage of the fight Crawford’s natural size and strength advantage, as well as his precision counter punches became the focal point. Although very “Game” in his willingness to come forward and engage the champion after being knocked down and badly hurt in the fifth round, Gamboa was not able to get his punches off first as he was able to do in the early rounds. Gamboa’s punches also did not seem to have much sting to them after the knockdown. The champion would continue to impose his will on the challenger as the rounds went on.

Gamboa would be caught by a counter combination by Crawford as he pressed forward on the attack knocking the former Featherweight world champion down for the second time in round eight. Despite going down for the second time, Gamboa continued to press forward and briefly staggered the champion in round nine. The champion however, would respond by dropping Gamboa for the third time later in the round with a left hook. A right uppercut by the champion would close the show seconds later as it dropped Gamboa for the fourth time, causing Referee Genaro Rodriguez to stop the fight at 2:53 of round nine.

Although some may say that it was this fight that made Terence Crawford Boxing’s newest star, I believe this was a fight where his star continued to rise after defeating Ricky Burns earlier this year. Crawford, now 24-0, with 17 knockouts does have some interesting options that could be available to him coming off his first title defense.

Contenders such as Ray Beltran, Hank Lundy, Darley Perez, and former world champions Juan Diaz and Jorge Linares all pose an interesting challenge to Crawford. There is also of course the possibility of potential unification bouts with the likes of WBA champion Richard Abril, WBC champion Omar Figueroa, and IBF champion Miguel Vazquez that should also be viewed as potential options. Which option Crawford decides to take is only a question that he can answer, but I do believe the possibility exists that Crawford will make a mandatory defense of his WBO world title before any potential unification bout with any of the three other champions in the division takes place. In terms of a mandatory challenger Ray Beltran is currently ranked number one in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) ratings. We will have to wait and see what the future holds for Crawford.

Although suffering the first defeat of his professional career, Yuriorkis Gamboa has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. He fought his heart out and proved he is a warrior and should hold his head high. No matter what Gamboa does next, I believe that he will continue to be a player in any weight class that he chooses to compete. It should not be overlooked that Gamboa was able to dictate the early rounds of this fight and even after the momentum clearly shifted toward Crawford, continued to press forward looking to turn the fight back around in his favor. An argument could be made that the loss for Gamboa may have done more for him in the long-term than a victory would have. Yuriorkis Gamboa is still a highly skilled and dangerous fighter who will give anyone in the Lightweight division or neighboring weight classes all they can handle.

As Terence Crawford’s star continues to rise, one thing that could very well rise up along with it is a popular destination for the sport of Boxing. The Crawford-Gamboa world Lightweight championship fight was the first world title fight to take place in Omaha, Nebraska since 1972 when the late great Joe Frazier scored a fifth round stoppage of contender Ron Stander to retain the Heavyweight championship of the world.

It goes without saying that many of the sport’s more prominent fights over the years have been staged in major cities such as Las Vegas. After forty-two years a world championship fight returned to Omaha drawing nearly 11,000 spectators. A scenario that could present itself for Crawford is one that is not all that unlike that of former world champion Tony Lopez who fought many of his fights in his hometown of Sacramento, California and not unlike former Heavyweight contender Joe Mesi, who fought many fights in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.

Each of these boxers established a fan base and in the process generated significant attention for each respective city.  Whether or not Terence Crawford will continue to defend his world title in his hometown is anyone’s guess, but why not?

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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