Drama in Omaha: Crawford vs Beltran

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, legendary investor Warren Buffet has the most impressive investing record of anyone alive. And the main virtue that has allowed him to outpace every single investment alternative available out there is a simple one: patience. Of course, the “Sage of Omaha” relies on ample diligence and analysis before deciding where to place his chips, but once the decision is made, he always makes sure to think about the long term above everything else. While short-term volatility or unforeseen events may temporarily bring down his returns, thanks to his patience and to the confidence in his decisions Mr. Buffet is able to keep from changing tacks in the middle of the race, with time usually proving him right in the long run.

Lightweight champion Terence Crawford also hails from Omaha, and like Mr. Buffet, has also shown he possesses the necessary patience to see his decisions pay off in the long run, even if his boat may get rocked a few times before reaching the final destination. This was entirely evident during his first defense of the WBO title against Yuriorkis Gamboa, which occurred in front of his hometown last June. During that fight, the Cuban got off to a great start, surprising the hometown hero with his hand-speed and accurate power-punching. But realizing that an adjustment was needed to secure a favourable outcome, Crawford counter-intuitively switched from his preferred orthodox stance to southpaw and began the process of dismantling Gamboa.

Soon after Crawford switched stances in the third round, Gamboa began landing sharp right-hands on Crawford’s visage. But the Omahan, convinced of the suitability of his new tactic, refused to give up using it. With every passing moment, Crawford continued adjusting his timing and balance, and eventually began finding openings for his right-hand jabs and hooks on top of Gamboa’s leading hand. A big payoff came in round five, when a crushing right hook sent Gamboa to the canvas. Even though the Cuban got up and went on to survive the round, the punch changed the whole dynamic of the fight.

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In their fight this June, Crawford switched to southpaw and beat up Gamboa.

From there on, it was a matter of time before Crawford reaped the rewards of his decision; the end came a few rounds later, after the champion had dropped Gamboa three more times. The Cuban fought gamely until the very end, but the damage inflicted by Crawford’s leading right hand had accumulated to the point that it robbed Gamboa of his senses. When the referee finally waived off the fight in the dying seconds of the ninth, it officially validated Crawford’s decision to switch to southpaw.

This Saturday night, Crawford will return to Omaha’s CenturyLink Center to attempt a second defense of his title belt against Raymundo Beltran, who hails from Los Mochis, Mexico. The bout will also serve to crown a new undisputed champion in the lightweight division, since most boxing publications rank the Omahan and the Mexican as the first- and second-ranked 135-pounders in the world. Fans should expect an intriguing clash of styles: the boxer-puncher Beltran bringing the fight to the savvy and patient Crawford.

There’s also something of a grudge underlying Crawford vs. Beltran, thanks to a common opponent in Ricky Burns. Back in September of 2013, Beltran made the trip to Glasgow to challenge the then-WBO champion in front of his home crowd. Despite throwing and landing more punches than the local favourite, despite breaking his jaw since the second round, and despite sending Burns to the canvas with a tremendous left hook in the eighth round, the judges awarded a split decision to Ricky, with many observers declaring this outcome a plain robbery.

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Many think Beltran was robbed in his decision loss to Burns in Glasgow.

Crawford also made the trek to Glasgow to challenge Burns, but with much better luck. Last March, The Omahan clearly demonstrated his superiority over the Scot and his ring intellect. After taking a few rounds to figure out his opponent, Crawford upped his work rate in the middle rounds, scoring with fast, sharp punches and then smothering Burns to disallow him from doing any work of his own. The tactic worked brilliantly, and rewarded Crawford with a unanimous decision and his first championship belt.

Ray Beltran is the kind of working-man in boxing for whom things never come easily. His record of 29-6-1 confirms this assertion, as does his unsuccessful outing against Burns. Moreover, the fact that this weekend he enters the ring as the second-best lightweight in the world and will be challenging Crawford for top-dog status has everything to do with his hard work ethic and his refusal to bow to adversity. Following his loss to Burns, Beltran went up against the flashy, fast-handed Hank Lundy, in a contest where he was a six-to-one underdog. In full contradiction of the odds, Beltran scored a huge upset, relying on heavy body work, a high work rate, and a never give up attitude, despite getting cut over the left eye as early as the third round.

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Will Crawford’s wits and athleticism win out over Beltran’s toughness?

So Crawford, in front of his hometown this weekend, will have a relentless, highly motivated opponent in front of him, someone who is unlikely to be intimidated by the champion’s undefeated status or star potential. Beltran has been in there with all kinds of fighters, lost some, won most, but he always shows up to fight. It remains to be seen, of course, whether that will be enough to compete with Crawford’s ring intelligence and patience, which complemented by his athleticism and technical precision represent a hell of a challenge to anyone in the lightweight vicinity.

What is clear is that fans shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see this fight play out. While we’re tempted to regard Crawford as the favourite thanks to his ring smarts and his adaptability, Beltran poses the kind of test that young stars on the rise must get past on their way to the top. The fact Crawford has shown vulnerability early in his fights, as it usually takes him a few rounds to figure out his opponents, tells us Beltran may draw him into a fight at some point. Given all these ingredients, there’s potential for drama and excitement this weekend in Omaha, with the two best lightweights in the world duking it out for the undisputed title. Even the notoriously frugal Mr. Buffet may be moved to buy tickets for this one.

— Rafael García

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