By Tris Dixon
In the end it was a story of two right hands, one that missed and one that did not.
Terence Crawford was making the initial defence of his WBO welterweight title and for the first time in four fights he was back home in Omaha, Nebraska.
His challenger, the once-highly regarded prospect Jose Benavidez, 27-0 going into the weekend, cut a stubborn figure all week, obstinately standing firm and defiantly not accepting a walk-on part of The Crawford Show.
It was his weekend as much as ‘Bud’s’, he believed.
He talked smack. He got personal. And at Friday’s weigh-in a shove into the champion’s chest prompted Terence to swing an uncouth right hand in his direction.
In a split second Benavidez tipped backwards, his chin inches from impact. That was the first right hand.
The challenger was a moral victor but it counted for absolutely nothing, not when a piercing right uppercut, picked the same way someone may pick an apple from a tree, detonated on his chin a day later.
That was the second right hand, and it was the one that mattered.
Benavidez, who had spent 11 rounds telling the audience that shots that had landed had not hurt him could not avoid this blow, nor could he disguise the impact. His right leg buckled, his knee suddenly sunk to the canvas. He pitched onto his side and rolled onto his back.
The raucous crowd in the CHI Health Center celebrated as though it was all over, and while that was not the moment the fight was called, it was now academic. Benavidez, a quality operator, could not pretend that it had not damaged him. His senses seemed scrambled. His eyes looked weary, his legs echoed that sentiment. He hit reverse but only found the ropes and it was the invitation for the exclamation point that Crawford did not need. With less than 30 seconds remaining, he bashed away with left and right hooks. The rights were as crude as the press conference swing but this time Benavidez could not get out of the way.
Like a rower abandoning technique at the end of a race and just going for it, Crawford – a sweet and skilful mover – clubbed away in his own sprint finish. Benavidez sagged into the ropes and referee Celestino Ruiz came between the rivals and waved it off.
It was impressive. Benavidez’s bad intentions and resoluteness evaporated and Crawford was the imperious pound-for-pounder we knew.
He is now 34-0 (25), 31-years-old and he has stopped nine of his last 11 victims.
And he is getting better.
He demonstrates a different kind of poise, the type of a assuredness only greats have, where it looks as if their pulse has all but stopped in the ring and their expressionless eyes focus in front of them as though they’re about to punch numbers on a computer rather than punch someone else.
He is content boxing orthodox or southpaw and will use whichever stance his opponent’s struggle with more. It is all the same to him. Benavidez may have been able to outreach Crawford as they traded orthodox jabs but when Crawford switched portside the champion moved clockwise he often slid in his right jab and inside the challenger’s probing left glove.
When Benavidez wore his guard high, Crawford simply saw it as an opportunity to harpoon the gaps behind his elbows.
Round four may have been the best of the fight. Crawford was finding a groove, going up a gear if you will, but Jose landed his finest punch of the evening, a right hand on the beltline that may have folded lesser fighters. Sadly for him, it only caused ‘Bud’ to fall short with his own shot.
Whenever Crawford found a home for clusters of punches he was met with either a shrug of the shoulders or the challenger pulling a nonchalant expression, indicating it had not hurt – though it was a reoccurring acknowledgement that showed Crawford was finding his mark.
As the fight wore on, the gap in class between them widened. Benavidez was still pitching, needing a Hail Mary to back up his pre-fight boasts and silence the crowd. But Crawford’s a sophisticated operator and he won’t allow a lucky shot. He keeps his concentration and fights with the same emotion you can see in his dead eyes. He is mechanical in that respect.
He put a week of taunts behind him and outboxed his antagonist. Then took him out.
Where does he sit in the pound-for-pound rankings? That debate enters another cycle.
After Vasyl Lomachenko fights he goes top. When Saul Alvarez wins he is in the mix. After an imperious Mikey Garcia win, he’s in the conversation and then Crawford fights again, elbowing his way into the crowd. Maybe even to the top. That, of course, all depends on what you like. Do you rate Canelo’s close win over Gennady Golovkin ahead of Crawford’s bamboozling of Benavidez? What do you want, a more clinical or majestic display, an emphatic finish or a greater degree of difficulty? Do you prefer successive title defences or triumphs in different weight classes?
Ultimately there are several brilliant fighters active as 2018 winds down. Factor in Oleksander Usyk, Errol Spence, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Naoya Inoue and Golovkin and you have 10 superb fighters capable of hanging in any era that we are fortunate to have in ours.