TERENCE CRAWFORD vs FELIX DIAZ — This weekend’s title bout between defending WBC/WBO and lineal junior-welterweight title holder Terence Crawford 30-0 (21) and the WBC’s third ranked contender Felix Diaz 19-1 (9) at Madison Square Garden, will not be automatic for Crawford but he is an overwhelming favorite to prevail. Terence is a complete fighter and based on his resume, physicality and versatility in the ring, he belongs among the top-3 pound-for-pound fighters in boxing and one of a select few who is legitimately undefeated – which cannot be said about light heavyweight champ Andre Ward and middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin. Yes, Ward and Golovkin still boast a pristine undefeated record, but many observers thought Sergey Kovalev beat Ward in his last bout and equally as many felt Daniel Jacobs shaded Golovkin in Gennady’s last fight.
“I will share a ring with one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and I tip my hat to Crawford for accepting me as an opponent on May 20 because I am no pushover. I’m coming to bring my A-game and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to showcase my skills on HBO and at Madison Square Garden, which is just 15 minutes from where I live. I will take full advantage of this opportunity. I respect Crawford and believe he is a great fighter, but every king can be dethroned” said Diaz when the fight was officially announced.
Diaz, 33, won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is getting his first title shot against Crawford. The only setback on his record was a disputed 12-round majority decision loss against two-division title holder Lamont Peterson back in 2015. The bout was contested at welterweight, seven pounds above the weight at which he will fight Crawford. Since losing to Peterson, Diaz has fought twice, winning by decision over previously undefeated Sammy Vasquez and stopping Levi Morales in the sixth round, both in 2016. Fighting a strong and tough welterweight in Peterson to a virtual standstill is a point in his favor. It’s enough to convince me that if Diaz loses to Crawford, it will be more due to his deficiency in boxing skill and versatility than it will be a matter of him being completely out-manned.
The problem Diaz is his short and stocky frame. For him to score or get anything going offensively, he’ll have to get inside. Normally, Diaz attempts to force the action, something that won’t be easy for him to do against Crawford who is so good at fighting on the move from different angles. To make things worse for Diaz, Crawford has the strength and punch to stand his ground and better him trading one-for-one….and in most exchanges, Crawford will most likely be dealing more than one punch at a time. Stylistically its plausible Crawford can win by trying to potshot his way to a win, but he’s also capable of backing Diaz up, thus forcing Felix to defend more than having a chance to score.
Diaz is a tricky guy but only a decent puncher. It’s impossible to envision him getting in on Crawford to mount any kind of a charge without paying a high price, and even if he were able to, trying to crowd Crawford to the point where he isn’t beaten to the punch inside and up the middle will be difficult. And if Diaz is forced to hook inside which is his only real choice, he’ll be vulnerable to Crawford’s under and over hooks and uppercuts…….and that’s what makes his task so monumental. For Diaz to win, he needs Crawford to show up disinterested. If Crawford isn’t properly motivated, Diaz may be able to bank a couple of rounds and perhaps steal the fight, but I wouldn’t count on that.
What makes Crawford such a handful is that he does everything exceptionally well. He’s not the fastest fighter around, but he’s very fast with his hands and gets off real good when he cuts loose. He’s also very accurate with his punch placement. He hits you clean when he makes contact, and they’re the punches that can hurt an opponent and get him out. He also has an inside-outside game and makes his opponents pay while they are trying to get in on him, and also makes them pay if they get inside. Another problem he presents for Diaz is that he is one of a select few fighters who is just as comfortable bringing the fight as the aggressor or moving away to create space to utilize his reach. Diaz, being short, really does have an uphill climb.
However, Diaz is a little unorthodox and that in itself is a weapon. He is also tough and stronger than he looks and I expect him to be more competitive with Crawford than were Crawford’s last few opponents. If somehow Diaz can get Crawford to punch down and miss, Terence will be vulnerable to counters. Then again, if that happens, look for Crawford to create a little more space and use his uppercut in order to get Diaz more upright. And that’s what makes Crawford an elite fighter; he will most likely have an answer for whatever Diaz attempts to do.
Sure, Diaz might go the distance and have a moment or two, but he’s just not good enough to win unless Crawford literally gives the fight away or by some fluke is injured during the encounter. As of this time it’s impossible to envision any junior welterweight beating Crawford, and I wouldn’t be surprised if later this year or early next year, we’ll be saying that about him as a welterweight. The real challenges for Crawford are probably awaiting him seven pounds north, and it just might be there that we truly see the best of him. But he simply has too many weapons at his disposal to lose at 140.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com