There were a few moments in the Crawford-Beltran fight where I found myself thinking, “This is what boxing needs.” There's times when even the steadiest fight fan can begin to doubt their own commitment to the sport, and succumb to depressive sky-is-falling thinking about the present and future of the sport, always looking for some savior to come around. Boxing is no different that any other part of life, things can always be better. It's just that in boxing that something better sometimes walks into an arena and suddenly claims it in a star-making performance, as Terence Crawford did last June against Yuriorkis Gamboa.
So far 2014 has been a carefully orchestrated dud. We were sold a false bill of goods in Chris Algieri, we were given an unceremonious and sad beatdown of the legendary Bernard Hopkins, we saw Mayweather milk a few bad rounds in the spring into an overhyped and absurd rematch against Marcos Maidana. And we've seen fight after overmatched fight as the entire matchmaking business of the sport has come to a screeching halt, offering only sacrificial lambs like Rod Salka into the churning wheelhouse of real fighters who pocket diminished purses in the name of staying busy.
Not the man Omahans call Bud, who in with three fights in one year, has effectively cleaned out the lightweight division of serious competition. Crawford hit the scales before the fight at 153, so a move up in weight into a much more competitive division at 140 is a foregone conclusion. A newly-minted star in a Midwestern burg known mainly for its most illustrious citizen, Warren Buffet, fits the bill as a hard-working, thoroughly humble and normal dude. True to form for a man whose simple tastes reflect his modest Nebraskan sense of the world, Buffet attended the fight in the nosebleeds to watch the champion outbox the rugged Mexican, Ray Beltran.
Much is made in boxing match-ups about height and length discrepancies. Size dominated the story heading into Manny Pacquiao's fight against Chris Algieri, where Algieri fought with a substantial height and length advantage. But pro boxers are very well accustomed to fighting through their own disadvantages. Pacquiao was able to time Algieri's jab and counter with a right hook. Rare is the case when a guy with only a two inch reach advantage can effectively control a fight with a jab. Crawford composed a symphony of jabs upon Beltran's left eye on Saturday night.
The jab is where boxing fundamentals begin, and often where they end. It's the action that establishes the pace and rhythm of any boxer. Brawlers can't be bothered with jabs, but the stick-and-movers live and die by the jab. It's the safest punch, the one that extends furthest from the head over the lead foot. But it's not without risk: if it isn't snapped or if it's too easily timed, powerful counter rights fired over the top of a lazy jab are the punctuation with which many a boxer's undoing are written.
Learning and honing a solid jab is one thing, but being able to switch stance and do the same while keeping enough power in your non-dominant hand is another thing altogether. In the second round, Crawford did exactly that out of a southpaw stance and peppered Beltran with lightning-quick right-hand jabs for the rest of the night. Chalk it up to elite dexterity and speed with a dash of Midwestern discipline; there's not a fighter 135 and under that can match Crawford's current skill set.
Beltran, who has seen plenty of southpaw action as Pacquiao's sparring partner, was disrupted by Crawford's tactic all night. His corner implored him in between rounds to let his hands go, fire combinations. Maybe they weren't watching the same fight. There were rare moments where Beltran was able to sneak inside the jab and trade power punches with Bud, but Crawford was always able to get back on his jab upon the notice of a Beltran right hand to his chin. It seemed that Beltran could only get off when Crawford felt willing to trade with him.
Maybe it's not fair to label Crawford the Great Black Hope, the man who promises to represent America in the next ten years' pound for pound lists, but it sure is special to see a fighter connect with his hometown and basically invent a boxing presence where before stood only Ron “The Butcher” Stander some 40 years ago. Crawford, along with his trainer Brian McIntyre, fund their gym in North Omaha and have built a community around their efforts that translates perfectly to this observer in Buffalo who still wonders what could have been with Baby Joe Mesi over ten years ago.
Crawford will move up and fight someone bigger and tougher than Beltran. He has a 1-1 amateur record against Danny Garcia, but who knows when Garcia will be finished fighting his biannual collection of corncobs. The path is certainly cleared, for better or worse, for Bob Arum to hitch Crawford to his lead horse in Manny Pacquiao. Crawford at the very least is positioned to be a negotiation fall-back chip for whatever Arum is planning for Pacquaio's next.
For my part, I'll raise a Thanksgiving glass to Crawford's outstanding 2014 and ask the Bobfather and all powers that be to give us more fights of Crawford's ilk.
— Photo Credit : Chris Farina – Top Rank