Photo Credits: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Boxing
OMAHA — The bad blood between Terence Crawford and Joe Benavidez Jr. was settled the best way possible last night at the CHI Health Center. One man had to eat his words after a week of venomous trash talk. That fighter was Jose Benavidez, who was dropped in the final minute with a right uppercut and subsequently stopped with 15 seconds left to give Crawford the first successful defense of his WBO welterweight title.
The speculation coming in was that Benavidez would be massively outgunned and take a beating. Someone forgot to impart that narrative on the challenger, who not only caused Crawford problems but fought on even terms through the first half of the fight. Some observations:
FIGHTING TALL AND FORCING RISK-TAKING: At 6’2 with a 73″ reach, Benavidez had the physical edge over the champion, who measures out at 5’8 with a 70″ reach. They jockeyed for position with their front feet and parried each other’s jab. But it was Benavidez who laid back and made Crawford come to him. When the champion would lunge in, Benavidez would make him pay with counter straight rights and left hooks.
The crowd would gasp in surprise at Benavidez’s accuracy, particularly in rounds two and four. In the latter stanza, his right hook downstairs knocked Crawford off-balance twice. Still, after six rounds Crawford had a 58-56 lead on my card as his superior athleticism had him taking rounds 1, 3, 5 and 6 with a higher workrate, consistent attack to the body and getting off first with his offense.
If you were a Benavidez supporter, you were encouraged by the fact he was getting the better of most exchanges.
I told Benavidez he was going to get his ass kicked. And that’s what Bud did. – Brian “Bomac” McIntyre, Crawford’s trainer
SECOND HALF TAKEOVER: Crawford prides himself on making adjustments and he did just that from round seven on. Although Benavidez had isolated moments where his right-hand counters landed, his jab disappeared as Crawford took it away with double jabs and a better handle on the distance. This allowed the champion to slide in with 3-4 punch combos and dart out before Benavidez could fire a counter. Too often, Benavidez was left waiting for openings that never came.
By the championship rounds, Benavidez was deliberately going to the ropes in hopes Crawford would make a mistake. The champ was too smart for this and continually worked his way in behind the jab. Furthermore, the targeted hooks downstairs were causing more openings for Crawford to land sweeping hooks upstairs.
Nonetheless, Benavidez didn’t look in any serious distress of being stopped headed into the 12th. Crawford’s corner echoed that point in telling their man to fight smart and not get reckless.
THE FINISH: A few rounds earlier, Benavidez tried to land a right uppercut when Crawford lunged inside. It was a punch neither man had much use for in this fight. With a little less than a minute left in the 12th, Benavidez gambled with it again. This time, so did Crawford.
The accuracy was with Crawford’s southpaw stance. His uppercut landed flush and sent Benavidez toppling head-first to the canvas.
The champion then lived up to his rep as a ruthless finisher. Benavidez was trapped on the ropes and hammered with several hooks to force the referee stoppage with 15 seconds left.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) October 14, 2018
NO FRIENDS AND FUTURE BUSINESS: There would be no post-fight handshakes afterward. Promoter Bob Arum tried to get Crawford to go over to Crawford’s corner, but the champion could be seen shaking his head and mouthing “This is personal.”
You can’t blame him. Both sides had their share of over the line trash talk this week. Crawford came to Benavidez’s media workout and told him he was going to beat the burritos out of him. Benavidez called the mother of Crawford’s five kids a “fat bitch” among other colorful descriptions. If you listened closely in the early rounds, you could hear her yell out “Who’s the fat bitch now?”
While there were no post-fight hugs, you could tell each side had newfound respect. Crawford acknowledged Benavidez’s style gave him problems. And the challenger gave Crawford his just due as the “best fighter in the world.”
The discussions on social media then turned to Crawford taking on Errol Spence which would be a money fight and unify the WBO and IBF titles. The problems remain of each side having rival promoters and competing on opposite networks.
The public wants it, but neither man is acting like they have control over their careers. Crawford said last night that he wants “everyone” but it’s up to Top Rank and Bob Arum to work that out. Spence was reduced to begging on Twitter earlier this month that he “needs a fight” after Mikey Garcia decided to remain at lightweight.
This hurts Crawford more as Spence has an abundance of PBC-signed welterweights he can potentially fight. The Top Rank cupboard is bare at 147 and there’s only so many unheralded mandatories the public will accept.
Unfortunately, this cat and mouse game likely continues throughout 2019 and we won’t see any serious inter-promotional talks until 2020.
As for Benavidez, he accounted himself well. He proved that while he’s not an elite fighter, he’s definitely a formidable contender. Expect Top Rank to match him with the comebacking Mike Alvarado, who scored another vicious KO on the undercard. That would be a fun bout filled with fireworks.
SHAKUR STEVENSON BOMBS OUT SIMION: In the opener, 21-year-old Shakur Stevenson improved to 9-0 with a first-round TKO of veteran Viorel Simion.
Although the prospect didn’t get much ring time, you could see the improvement in his punch technique. He sat down more on his shots and showed an aggressiveness that’s lacked in some of his recent bouts.
With that said, this fight says more about Top Rank’s exceptional matchmaking than anything else. Simion is indeed a veteran who was never previously stopped, but he’s also been out of the ring over a year since getting beat by the bruising Scott Quigg. This fight was the perfect setup for Stevenson to get a spectacular win.
The youngster claims he’s ready for the world champs like Lee Selby and Josh Warrington. His handlers know better than that and Andre Ward said as much on commentary. Personally, I feel it’s a stretch to say that Stevenson is even ready for a Top 20 guy, which includes rugged vets like Kiko Martinez.
Keep Stevenson fighting lower Top 30-level competition for two more fights. If he continues to steamroll that opposition, then we can see how he looks against the Top 15-20 talent by the second half of 2019. He’s only in his second year at 21 years old so there’s no need to rush a kid still developing physically and style-wise.