By Michael Rosenthal
Two upcoming fights featuring the Nos. 1 and 2 pound-for-pounders bring back memories of the old days, when great boxers picked on valiant, but limited British fighters and almost always (it seemed) emerged victorious.
Vasyl Lomachenko defends his lightweight titles against Anthony Crolla of Manchester on Friday in Los Angeles. The following Saturday, Terence Crawford defends his welterweight belt against Amir Khan of Bolton.
On paper, these aren’t great matchups. Oddsmakers reportedly have made Lomachenko a 100-1 favorite, which is like saying, “Why bother?” Crawford is “only” a 10-1 favorite.
I suspect the fights will go about as expected. Lomachenko probably will badly outbox and ultimately wear down Crolla to win by a middle- to late-round knockout or one-sided decision. Crawford will figure out how to get to Khan and take advantage of his fragile chin, which will lead to another stoppage.
That said, while Lomachenko vs. Crolla is a true mismatch, I think Crawford vs. Khan could be a real fight.
I respect Crolla. The well-schooled, tough former world titleholder gave the gifted Jorge Linares all he could handle before losing a close decision in their first meeting in 2016, which was followed by a more-one-sided rematch in Linares’ favor the following year.
And remember: Linares gave Lomachenko fits before he was stopped in the 10th round of their fight last May. Linares was leading on one card at the time of the stoppage.
Of course, I know that just because Crolla gave Linares problems and Linares did the same against Lomachenko that Crolla will be competitive with Lomachenko. It’s possible but not likely. Boxing often doesn’t work that way.
I think Crolla has only a small chance – a 100-1 chance – to beat Lomachenko for one reason: He doesn’t have a single advantage over the supremely talented Ukrainian, the only possible exception being Crolla is more established in the division. Lomachenko has fought at 135 pounds only twice.
Again, Crolla is very good, durable fighter. Lomachenko is one of the best of his generation. That sort of matchup doesn’t usually end well for the former.
The Crawford vs. Khan fight is different, at least potentially. Crawford is a better all-around boxer than Khan, which is why I believe he’ll win the fight, but Khan brings formidable tools to the ring, tools Crolla doesn’t have.
Khan has impressive boxing skills, which were built on an outstanding amateur foundation. He won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. He has plenty of experience in high-profile fights. And, perhaps most obviously, he has among the fastest hands in the sport – probably faster than Crawford’s.
He had an excellent year in 2014, when he dominated Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander en route to one-sided decision victories at 147 pounds. And while things didn’t end well against Canelo Alvarez at 155, he fought on even terms with the Mexican star for five-plus rounds.
Khan’s problem has been his chin, which was exposed by Breidis Prescott in 2008 and resulted in two more brutal knockouts, against Danny Garcia and Alvarez. The man simply can’t take a big shot.
His mission against Crawford will be to employ his impressive skill set and that speed to outbox the champion and win rounds. At the same time, he’ll have to use his vast experience to protect his chin with the knowledge that Crawford can’t punch anywhere near as hard as Alvarez can.
Can Khan pull that off to score one of the bigger upsets in recent years? Probably not. Crawford is simply too good, too smart. He’ll find ways to punish Khan while avoiding most of the challenger’s biggest shots. And, at some point, you have to think he’ll land a hard punch that will turn Khan’s legs into overcooked spaghetti one more time.
If I had to guess, I would say that Crawford will stop Khan around the ninth round. And even if Khan somehow survives the 12 rounds, I doubt he can outpoint a better fighter.
Here’s the thing, though: I just can’t, in my gut, count out Khan. He’s too good when he’s at his best. I think it’s possible that he’ll gather all his talents and experience and put together a performance that will surprise a lot of people.
“I feel I'm better now than I've ever been,” said Khan, who at 32 is a year older than Crawford. “I'm more experienced and smarter as a fighter, and the speed is still there; people say the speed disappears as you get older but the speed is there. I've got stronger as well and I'm more professional; I can't take the shortcuts I took when I was younger.”
Sounds good. We’ll see if it has any substance on April 20.
Michael Rosenthal is the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.