For his first defense of the welterweight title that Terence Crawford had annexed from Jeff Horn last June, the budding superstar from Omaha took on Jose Benavidez Jr., who, at 6’2’’, was an imposing but largely unproven opponent. And despite being undefeated in 27 fights, he had done little to convince Vegas bookies he was a legitimate threat, as he came into the fight an eye-popping 24-to-1 underdog.
Benavidez’s most noteworthy win took place nearly four years ago when he was awarded a very controversial decision over Mauricio Herrera, who had in fact out-hustled and out-punched Benavidez in that bout. “Merciless” has never really made up for that off-performance against Herrera, thus most considered him to be in way over his head as he set to go up against arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport in Terence “Bud” Crawford.
From Crawford’s perspective, this bout served to mark time as he looked ahead to bigger and better things, including potential unification matches with Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, and Errol Spence. Crawford vs Benavidez may not have been a match anyone was demanding to see, but it was certainly one of the easier fights to make, since both Crawford and Benavidez are promoted by Top Rank in a division top-heavy with Al Haymon fighters. But considering the fact that Crawford is presumably still acclimatizing himself to the welterweight division, taking on an unproven prospect like Benavidez made sense at this juncture.
There was, at least outside of Omaha, a distinct lack of pre-fight buzz for this match, but a dramatic weigh-in confrontation may have inspired a bit more interest in the affair. During their stare-down, Benavidez embarrassed the champion by shoving him and then eluding Bud’s attempt at retaliation, a vicious right hand which whizzed by the challenger’s head. Had the shot landed, Crawford would, at the very least, be facing a significant fine.
But Crawford is unique in that he thrives off this type of pre-fight animosity, as it often leads to some serious maliciousness, if not cruelty, inside the ring. And in this case, no doubt Crawford was looking to make a statement in front of some 13 000 adoring hometown fans in Omaha, the largest crowd Bud has drawn to date.
Early on it was apparent that the 24-1 odds hadn’t discouraged Benavidez, as he came out looking to impose his size on the champion. Scoring well behind a stiff left jab, it appeared “Merciless” stole the first round, a bit of a surprise in itself. But, as Crawford stated after the fight, he was using much of the early going as a means to find his distance against the taller and longer challenger.
After another strong round by Benavidez in the fourth, Crawford began to take over. He had fought much of the early rounds on his toes, but now he began to set himself and Benavidez had progressively less to offer in return. That isn’t to imply that Benavidez was giving up, more that Crawford’s technical brilliance was draining the younger challenger’s stamina, his mind unable to compute the countless ways in which Crawford was setting up his diverse attack.
That said, it wasn’t until round ten that Crawford the technician became Crawford the sadist, battering Benavidez against the ropes and taunting his man as he poured it on. The champion continued to control the action until, with just a minute left in the match, he finally connected with a beautifully timed right uppercut which sent Benavidez flopping to the deck. The challenger gamely got to his feet, but it was only a matter of time as Crawford smelled blood and an opportunity to give the thousands of Omaha fans the knockout they had been waiting for. The champion let his hands go and seconds later referee Celestino Ruiz mercifully jumped in to save a helpless Benavidez.
Crawford vs Benavidez was an unexpected pleasure in that it wasn’t the gross mismatch that many fans were expecting. Benavidez clearly came to give his all, actually won a few rounds, and landed his fair share of punches, which in turn gave Crawford a chance to show his class as a fighter. One of Crawford’s best attributes is his ability to selectively take the kind of risks needed to entertain his fan base and expand his reputation as one of the most exciting talents in the game. Unlike Floyd Mayweather before him, Crawford never forgets to close the show when he senses the opportunity, and he appears to fight to entertain as much as he fights to win.
WHAT AN ENDING!
Here's the moment Terence "Bud" Crawford removed all doubt. pic.twitter.com/qYalKYXEqq
— ESPN (@espn) October 14, 2018
As for Bud’s future, his promoter Bob Arum remarked that the goal is for Crawford to compete three times in 2019. Arum also stated that he is willing to sit down with Al Haymon to make a deal for a Spence vs Crawford unification, although it’s fair to say that both parties have plenty of work ahead of them in order to make that match happen. If Top Rank is serious about Crawford fighting three times next year, it is realistically going to have to happen by placing him against guys like Carlos Adames while he waits for Arum, Haymon, ESPN, and Showtime to get on the same page.
All that said, it was a fitting year-end performance for “Bud” as Crawford concluded 2018 with a win that reinforces his position near the very top of the welterweight division and with many options ahead of him next year. But the question remains: will the same kind of politics that delayed Mayweather vs Pacquiao for an interminable five year stretch be able to give us Crawford vs Spence in a more timely manner? My gut says yes, but asking for it in 2019 is likely wishful thinking for boxing fans. — Alden Chodash