by Cliff Rold
One week after UFC went about a 4 on the Bowe-Golota fight riot Richter scale, a building tide of trash talk and animosity ended with a highlight worthy hard sell in the boxing world on Friday.
A shove from the challenger, a just missing right hand haymaker from the defending titlist…tune in Saturday to see what happens next (ESPN, 10:30 PM EST).
It seems like the dislike is genuine between Terence Crawford and Jose Benavidez. Even if it isn’t, it’s close enough in appearance to make a fight few were asking for at least a little more anticipated.
This is the dilemma for Crawford. He might be the best welterweight, maybe even the best fighter period, in the world. The problem for the time being is whom he has to prove it against. With the signing of Manny Pacquiao onto the Al Haymon side of the block, Crawford remains at a shortage of realistic name welterweight opponents.
Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and Errol Spence hold the other three major titles. Pacquiao, even if he has ultimately crossed the street for a looming Floyd Mayweather rematch, and Danny Garcia round out the biggest available names at welterweight. They can all do a lot of business in tough, competitive fights without him, ESPN, or promoter Top Rank.
That leaves Crawford in a position where the best he can do, for the time being, is not just win but continue to dominate everyone put in front of him and hope the ESPN microphone works in his favor. He has to continue toward making himself valuable enough to render it impossible for everyone not to sit down and do business because that’s where business will be best.
Will Saturday be such an opportunity?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBO welterweight (2018-Present, 1stattempted defense)
Previous Titles: WBO Lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring Lightweight (2014-15); WBO Light Welterweight (2015-17, 6 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring/WBC Jr. welterweight (2016-17, 3 Defenses); WBA Super Lightweight (2017); IBF Jr. Welterweight (2017)
Weight: 145 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Omaha, Nebraska
Record: 33-0, 24 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 11-0, 8 KO
Last Five Opponents: 116-7-1 (.940)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Ricky Burns UD12; Yuriorkis Gamboa TKO9; Rey Beltran UD12; Viktor Postol UD12; Julius Indongo KO3; Jeff Horn TKO9
Jose Benavidez Jr.
Previous Titles: None (held interim WBA belt at 140 lbs.)
Weight: 145 lbs.
Hails from: Phoenix, Arizona
Record: 27-0, 18 KO
Press Rankings: Unrated
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st major title opportunity (2-0, 1 KO in interim title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 134-26-4 (.829)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 0
The Pick: The promotion of this fight might have added to its allure but it’s hard to shake the idea that this really won’t be all that close. Benavidez has faced one truly world-class fighter to date. He walked away with a controversial decision over Mauricio Herrera and hasn’t been matched near that level since. Instead, one could argue that he’s been protected based on his matchmaking.
The challenger has some pop, a height advantage, and quick hands. Crawford has the edge in almost every category besides height. He appears quicker, is more fluid, more experienced, and while listed as orthodox has shown he can go almost an entire fight as capably from the southpaw stance. He also carries the sort of old school mean streak that would make a James Toney proud. Benavidez did his part to help sell the fight. Crawford will do the rest. Stranger upsets have happened but this feels like an easy Crawford pick with Benavidez perhaps sticking around to hear his fate on points.
This Weekend in the WBSS
The quarterfinals of the World Boxing Super Series continue with the second fight in the bantamweight tournament and first at cruiserweight…Color this corner intrigued by the bantamweight clash. WBO titlist Zolani Tete (27-3, 21 KO) is an obvious favorite but challenger Mikhail Aloyan (4-0) is hard to handicap. The former World Amateur champion and Olympic medalist has a deep pedigree in the unpaid ranks and home field advantage in Russia. This could go the way it looks on paper but Aloyan has the potential to surprise…At cruiserweight, we have the only battle of unbeaten fighters in the field. Andrew Tabiti (16-0, 13 KO) and Ruslan Fayfer (23-0, 16 KO) could produce a dark horse to win out in their field of eight.
Additional Weekend Picks
Zolani Tete TKO Mikhail Aloyan
Andrew Tabiti TKO Ruslan Fayfer
Angel Acosta KO Abraham Rodriguez
Rold Picks 2018: 37-15
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]