The 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division was largely put on the main stage of the sport of Boxing in this observer's eyes by the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who served as the division's central figure from the late 1980’s through most of the 1990’s. Since Chavez began periodically competing as a 147lb. Welterweight on through his eventual retirement in 2005 after an incredible career of one hundred fifteen professional fights and having won world championships in three weight divisions, I have periodically wondered who could be the next fighter that may be able to dominate the Jr. Welterweight division, the weight class Chavez competed in the longest throughout his illustrious career.
Of course, many great fighters have competed in the Jr. Welterweight division and had successful reigns at the top of the weight class. Opinion however, can be split as to which was truly dominant due to often a fighter setting his sights on more lucrative opportunities in the Welterweight division and beyond. Some could make an argument that a fighter who could hold claim to being a dominant Jr. Welterweight champion would be former kingpin Kostya Tszyu, who had two reigns as world champion in the division from the mid-1990s through June of 2005. A fighter who could in time also belong in the discussion of the truly dominant Jr. Welterweights along with fighters such as Chavez and Tszyu is undefeated current WBO/WBC world champion Terence Crawford.
Crawford, a native of Omaha, NE is a two-division world champion who won the WBO Jr. Welterweight world championship in April 2015 with a sixth round stoppage of Thomas Dulorme, has in two short years become the division's central figure compiling four successful title defenses and successfully unifying the WBO and WBC Jr. Welterweight crowns along the way. After a successful title defense in December of last year over John Molina, the twenty-nine year old Crawford now prepares to for his fifth title defense as he will square off against top contender Felix Diaz on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.
Diaz, who is currently rated number three in the world by the World Boxing Council (WBC) and number ten in the world by the World Boxing Organization (WBO), has won nineteen of his twenty professional fights and will be making his first attempt at a world championship. Although some might feel Diaz is an underdog going into this fight, what should not be overlooked is Diaz’ pedigree as he became an Olympic Gold medalist in 2008 as a Jr. Welterweight. In his lone professional loss, Diaz lost a razor thin twelve round majority decision to former unified Jr. Welterweight world champion Lamont Peterson in October 2015.
Since the loss to Peterson, Diaz has won two straight fights including an impressive performance in scoring a ten round unanimous decision over previously undefeated prospect Sammy Vasquez in July of last year. Despite Diaz’ credentials and his standing as a top ten contender, some may view this fight as a “Tune Up” for Crawford, who has been a potential opponent in recent times for current WBO Welterweight world champion Manny Pacquiao.
A possible scenario that might exist for Crawford providing he is successful in this fight against Diaz could be for him to face the winner of the July 2nd fight between Pacquiao and undefeated contender Jeff Horn in a fight where Pacquiao’s world championship will be at stake. Based on this possible scenario one might question if Crawford might be looking past Diaz and toward a lucrative opportunity in a potential move up to Welterweight.
Diaz has shown however, that he is a fighter one should not overlook as the previous two times he was cast in the role of an underdog opponent against a former world champion and a highly touted prospect, he surprised not only the fighters he faced, but also Boxing fans who may have also underestimated him. One could also make a case given how close his battle with Lemont Peterson was that Diaz could have walked into this fight with Crawford as an undefeated challenger.
The challenge for Diaz in this observer's eyes will be to find a way to negate Crawford’s hand speed. Crawford is a fighter who has demonstrated devastating power throughout his career, but what sets up that power is his timing, his ability to execute his offense in combination, and finally his counter punching ability. Several world class fighters such as Dierry Jean, John Molina, and Victor Postol all had problems with Crawford because of these attributes and it will be interesting to see how Diaz will attempt to combat the champion.
In his fight with Lamont Peterson, Diaz was able to have success when he was able to keep the fight on the inside where he did some effective work to Peterson’s body as well as success in landing short combinations. Where I felt Diaz gave ground to Peterson in that fight was when he would either allow Peterson to push him back to the ropes or when Diaz himself would go on the ropes and it was this that gave cause for Peterson to get the nod in what was a fight that could have gone either way.
Diaz was more effective in that fight when he was able to keep the combat in close, but doing so away from the ropes and I am curious to see if he will look to implement a similar approach in this fight against Crawford. For the champion meanwhile, it could be to his advantage to allow Diaz to take the initiative by coming forward and thus allow the champion to create opportunities to counter and move before Diaz can get into position to throw punches on the inside.
Although Crawford seems to be approaching a likely move up in weight to the Welterweight division, this observer feels that the definition of a champion is one that takes on all comers, fulfills their obligations in regard to facing number one contenders, but most importantly whether that champion can remain consistent both in terms of being active in competition as well as in regard to their performance in the ring. Crawford has shown thus far that he is certainly a fighting champion and to his credit has faced and defeated whomever has been put in front of him, but with a potential lucrative payday possibly ahead outside of the Jr. Welterweight division it may be all too tempting to regard this title defense against Felix Diaz as a mere formality.
Boxing fans may indeed regard this as a “Tune Up” fight for Crawford, but if Crawford can remain consistent, his name may very well be added to the list of truly dominant Jr. Welterweights of all-time even if Crawford's ultimate destiny is in the Welterweight division or beyond. We will see what happens on Saturday night.
“And That's The Boxing Truth.”
Crawford vs. Diaz takes place Saturday, May 20th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. The bout can be seen in the United States on HBO Sports beginning at 10:15 PM ET/PT. Check your cable or satellite provider for time and channel in your area. For more information about HBO, HBO Sports, and HBO Boxing please visit: www.hbo.com/Boxing. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the bout can be seen on BoxNation beginning at 2AM (Sunday, May 21st Local UK Time.) For more information about BoxNation please visit: www.boxnation.com. Check your listings internationally.
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