by Cliff Rold
In a sport where love for the underdog is never in short supply, boxing delivered wins from the favorites on Saturday night.
But boxing delivered and that’s what counted.
It delivered in different ways.
Terence Crawford added a belt in his third weight class (welterweight) in a fight largely seen as a foregone conclusion at its announcement. Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world. Jeff Horn isn’t. For Crawford to impress, it wasn’t enough to win. Style points mattered.
He handled that burden. As is the case in almost all his fights, Crawford took a round or two to really size up his foe and then settled into a punishing mode. Manny Pacquiao had Horn ready to go in the ninth round of their controversial fight last year. Horn’s corner might have done better by their man not even letting him out for the fateful ninth against Crawford. It was no contest, but the finishing ability and offensive mindset of Crawford kept it entertaining.
On a separate card, Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares II looked like a better fight on paper but one had to wonder if it could be as good as their first clash. The two featherweights proved they could top it. In a year full of good action at 126 lbs., this reset the bar for the rest of the field. Santa Cruz, the WBA titlist, again proved a little too long, a little more active, and a little more accurate but Mares had nothing to be ashamed of. He summoned a monster effort and gave the fan’s every cent worth on the dollar.
Now the page turns to tomorrows.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz said exactly what fans should have wanted to hear him say after the fight. He’s ready for a unification clash with WBC titlist Gary Russell Jr. While a rubber match with Carl Frampton could always intercede, and that would be just fine considering the quality of their first two clashes, Santa Cruz-Russell would be better. Russell had his hands full with Joseph Diaz in his last fight and does a lot of work on the inside. Santa Cruz can be vulnerable to shorter armed fighters who can get off in bunches. The style clash of Russell’s speed and Santa Cruz’s length and volume is mouth watering and Santa Cruz should want it sooner than later. Russell fights less and stays preserved while Santa Cruz rarely has an easy night. The wars will add up at some point. His time to reach as far as he can is now.
The Future for Mares: Mares keeps himself viable for anyone in the division and if Santa Cruz-Russell doesn’t develop right away he could always go after Russell instead. Mares could also be a dangerous, solid challenger for new IBF titlist Josh Warrington. Regardless, the loss hurts. He has to wait and see what openings come to him versus the driver’s seat he might have had with a win. At 32, it’s worth wondering how many of these battles he has in him. Mares has had a long run and faced a who’s who of his classes. On Saturday, he reminded fans one more time why the sport has been better with him in it.
The Future for Crawford: Crawford is in a tricky position. The newly minted WBO titlist might be the best fighter in the world pound for pound but that’s not a tangible thing. He’s a welterweight now and beating Horn doesn’t make one the best at 147 lbs. At welterweight, Crawford is in a division where most of the best talent can make plenty of good fights without him. At welterweight, a clash with IBF titlist Errol Spence might be the best, if not biggest, fight in the sport right now. A showdown with WBA titlist Keith Thurman or the winner of Shawn Porter-Danny Garcia (fighting in August for the vacant WBC belt) would also be great. Crawford is with Top Rank and they do business with ESPN. The others are on Showtime fighting under Al Haymon and can fight each other in fresh or sequel pairs in good fights for another year or two. Something will have to give for Crawford to get the fights he needs. For now, the best thing that could happen for him is a fight with Manny Pacquiao if Pacquiao beats Lucas Matthysse. Most would see that as a prime tiger against an old man but those fights are part of boxing. They elevate new faces, as Pacquiao knows from his win over Oscar De La Hoya. It would elevate Crawford.
The Future for Horn: Horn is a tough guy and an honest prizefighter but he was a fortunate titlist and another belt would be a bit of a surprise. Horn could, and probably should, get the most out of his name back home in Australia. With his frame he could move to Jr. middleweight but in a field with men like Jermell Charlo and Jarrett Hurd, life doesn’t look any easier there. Horn is going to be a good, solid test for plenty of guys as his career progresses but the heights of it probably ended Saturday night.
Rold Picks 2018: 21-9 (Including Charlo-Trout)
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]