By Michael Rosenthal
Terence Crawford: Triple Crown winner Justify wasn’t the only thoroughbred in action on Saturday.
The result of Crawford’s fight against then-WBO welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn was predictable and brutal yet beautiful to watch, as Crawford coped well with Horn’s rough tactics, used his legs to stay out of Horn’s punching range and darted in-and-out to pummel the Australian whenever opportunities presented themselves.
Referee Robert Byrd saved Horn from unnecessary punishment by stopping the fight at 2:33 of the ninth round, with Horn having lost all rounds on all three cards.
I hesitate to call Crawford’s performance a masterpiece because of Horn’s physical limitations but the pound-for-pounder once again dazzled the fans, which precious few fighters are able to do.
Crawford (33-0, 24 knockouts) chose the perfect opponent in his first fight at 147 pounds. Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) never stood a chance in spite of his perceived size and strength advantages and held a major belt, the WBO version, which gives Crawford titles in three divisions.
The serious challenges lie ahead if promotional loyalties can be overcome, much to the delight of everyone who follows the sport. The winner of Danny Garcia-Shawn Porter? Keith Thurman? And the greatest prize: Errol Spence, assuming Spence beats Carlos Ocampo on Saturday night on Showtime.
Crawford has already demonstrated that he’s one of the best fighters of his generation but he’s still on the rise. If he can do to the best 147-pounders what he did to those at 140 – especially the gifted, naturally bigger Spence – then Crawford will have to be seen as a truly great fighter.
I know I’m not alone when I say I can’t wait to see how this plays out.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Leo Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz’s secret to success is really no secret: Hard work.
That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have unusual ability. He does. He is a good boxer and a better, quicker athlete than some people realize. That isn’t his calling hard, though. He’s primarily a fit, durable guy with long arms who will throw – and land – more punches than his opponents.
The WBA featherweight titleholder did that a second time against Los Angeles-area rival Abner Mares in a high-energy rematch Saturday night at Staples Center in downtown L.A.
I don’t know what would happen if Santa Cruz and Mares fought again but it seems the winner has the loser’s number. He’s a bit more active, a bit more accurate, a bit better. The scorecards in the two fights bear that out: Santa Cruz has a 48-24 edge in rounds won on the six cards (three in each fight). Their battles were competitive but those numbers are telling.
Almost all other 126-pounders would suffer a fate similar to that of Mares. Almost. Santa Cruz called out WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr. immediately after he beat Mares.
A rubber match with Carl Frampton and a showdown with Russell are Santa Cruz’s obvious challenges. Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) proved he could beat his only his only conqueror, Frampton; he did so in their rematch. Russell could be much more difficult to take down because of his physical gifts, meaning his unusual hand and foot speed to go with polished skills.
A swarming fighter can give a particularly quick opponent problems – see Mayweather vs. Castillo or Maidana – but Santa Cruz has never faced anyone like Russell. If Santa Cruz can get and win that fight, he’s better than I think he is at the moment.
Abner Mares: I feel for Mares. And I know I’m not alone.
The former three-division titleholder demonstrated over 24 hard-fought rounds that he is almost as good as one of the best fighters in the world and has nothing to show for it except frustration.
My advice to the 32-year-old veteran simple: Fight anyone not named Santa Cruz or Russell at this stage of the game.
Someone suggested a fight with another fellow Angeleno, Joseph Diaz Jr. Love it. A victory over Diaz would give him the momentum that has eluded him. And I think Mares is a legitmate opponent for titleholders Josh Warrington and Oscar Valdez, both of whom are more beatable than Santa Cruz.
Mares told me before the Santa Cruz rematch that he would continue fighting regardless of the outcome. He said he plans to fight two more years, “three tops.”
That would mean no more than four or five fights.
I think he demonstrated in defeat that he can a lot more done – perhaps even win one more major title – in that time. He is still a good, determined fighter.
Return of Tyson Fury: Mission accomplished for the former heavyweight champ in front of his home town fans in Manchester.
Fury, fighting for the first time in 2½ years, got in some rounds against the profoundly overmatched Sefer Seferi, won easily and had some fun in the process.
Not a bad first step back into the lucrative heavyweight boxing business.
Fury weighed in at a career-high 276 pounds – evidence that he still has work to do on his body – but he looked spry, a good sign after such a long layoff. Of course, Fury at his worst would’ve beaten Seferi in what some labeled a farce.
The Swiss-based Albanian is a cruiserweight. He’s 39. He had never beaten anyone of note. In short, he had no business in the ring with Fury. And it showed.
Fury played to the crowd early in the fight, as he obviously was tickled to be back in the ring for the first time since he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. And when he got down to work, he had no issues. He outboxed Seferi but also put muscle behind his punches, which quickly wore down his foe.
Seferi (23-2, 21 KOs) retired after only four rounds, a merciful ending to one of the most-anticipated comebacks in recent years.
Fury proved next to nothing on Saturday night but, in my opinion, he should have no regrets. Everyone knew he’d face a pushover in his first fight after gaining and then losing so much weight over his long layoff. Seferi fit that bill.
The important thing is that Fury is officially back. That makes a heavyweight division dominated at the moment by Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder much more interesting than it was before.
And you can bet that Fury’s next opponent will be better than Seferi.
IBHOF CLASS OF 2018
Erik Morales: One of the best compliments you can pay a fighter is to say he or she was one of your favorites. Morales was one of mine.
“El Terrible,” one of three contemporary fighters inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday, was a skillful boxer but others were better. Some had fighting spirit comparable to his. Very, very few combined both ability and ferocity at the level the fearless Mexican did for almost two decades.
The same goes for countryman Marco Antonio Barrera, Morales’ dance partner in a three-fight series that was one of the most exciting in history and defined both fighters. Morales and Barrera were well-trained technicians but warriors by instinct, which is why both of them were so beloved.
Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward gave us three unforgettable wars. Morales and Barrera gave us similar excitement but at a much higher skill level. That made their battles more compelling to me.
And Barrera, who won two of three fights, was only one on a long list of dangerous opponents against whom Morales lifted fans out of their seats, including a prime Manny Pacquiao three times. Pacman went 28-1-2 against high-end opposition between 1999 and 2011, one of the greatest runs in recent history.
The Filipino’s only loss during those years? A unanimous decision against Morales in 2005. That’s how good the Mexican was.
Morales (52-9, 36 KOs) faded late in his career, going only 5-7 in his last 12 fights. All the wars obviously had taken a toll on his body. He accomplished a great deal before it gave out, though. Most notably, he became the first Mexican-born fighter to win major titles in four divisions, which is saying something given the number of great fighters his country produced.
More important, he won the respect of fans. When Erik Morales fought, everyone wanted to watch. Win or lose, it was going to be tighten-your-seatbelts fun.
Vitali Klitschko: I have to admit that I initially saw the elder Klitschko brother as a slow, plodding behemoth, similar to other Eastern European heavyweights of that time. I didn’t expect him to amount to much.
And then he fought a still-capable Lennox Lewis, who was fortunate that gruesome cuts on Klitschko’s face rendered him unable to continue in their tightly contested 2003 title fight.
Vitali Klitschko was better than I thought he was. More important, he was much tougher than I ever imagined. I got the feeling he would’ve chosen to die rather than quit in that memorable fight.
Fans always wondered who would’ve won had the Klitschkos fought one another. I would’ve picked Vitali. Wladimir was more accomplished and a better athlete but big brother was more of a fighter at heart, one who stopped 41 of 47 opponents with an overwhelming combination of size, skill and will.
Wladimir lost five times in his career, four times by knockout. Vitali (45-2, 41 KOs) might’ve finished his career undefeated had he been more fortunate, as both of his setbacks – against Lewis and Chris Byrd – were the result of injuries.
Injuries also forced him to “retire” in 2004. He came back almost four years later, won a major heavyweight title and retired with the belt around his waist. Special accomplishment.
I can’t put the Klitschkos in the Top 10 greatest heavyweights of all time because they campaigned in a weak era. How can we call them great heavyweights when they never even fought another great heavyweight, the only exception being Lewis in the Englishman’s final fight and possibly Joshua when all is said and done?
That being said, they beat the opponents placed in front of them with chilling consistency over an extended period of time. That’s all they could’ve done. Indeed, the Klitschkos were without question the Nos. 1 and 2 heavyweights of their era – Vitali No. 1, Wladimir No. 2.
Winky Wright: Wright wasn’t fun to watch. And he wasn’t fun to fight.
“Winky” wasn’t fun to watch because he was strictly a technician. He fought as if there was no one in the stands, focused only on neutralizing his opponent and winning the fight without regard to any entertainment factor.
He wasn’t fun to fight because he was so good. Even if you beat him – and few did in his prime – you weren’t going to look good doing it.
Wright was a road warrior early in his career, as he found more opportunities overseas than he did at home. His first high-profile fight in the U.S. was against a prime Fernando Vargas in 1999. I was there. Wright lost a majority decision but many believed Vargas, the bigger-name fighter, received a gift.
Wright then went on an impressive run that established him as one of the best – and most avoided – of his era. He seemed to be unbeatable between 2000 and 2006, when he went 12-0-1 and beat Bronco McKart (twice), Keith Mullings, Shane Mosley (twice) and Felix Trinidad.
The Trinidad victory, nearly a shutout, remains one of the most one-sided high-profile fights I’ve ever seen.
Wright (51-6-1, 25 KOs) finally lost when he agreed to face Bernard Hopkins at a catch weight of 170 pounds in 2007, an ill-advised move that backfired. He then ended his career with comeback losses against Paul Williams and Peter Quillin.
The fact he fought Hopkins, Williams and Quillin underscored Wright’s philosophy: He would fight anyone, anywhere and sometimes at a disadvantage.
Wright was underappreciated for much of his career. That makes his induction all the more gratifying both for him and for those who understood how good he was. He earned this honor.
More Hall of Fame: I always wonder what a long-dead fighter would think if he knew he was being inducted into the hall of fame. Sid Terris, who was inducted on Sunday, was a lightweight from New York City who fought between 1922 and 1931 and died in 1974. He was one of the best boxers of his time, based on everything I’ve read. He wasn’t a big puncher but he was skillful and blessed with uncommon hand and foot speed, which made him an heir apparent to his great contemporary Benny Leonard. Alas, Terris (93-13-4, 12 KOs) never received a shot at the world title in an era when such opportunities came along less frequently than today. Terris’ induction is the boxing world’s way of saying he was a championship-caliber fighter. He would be delighted. Mazel tov, Sid. … I had a personal relationship with one inductee, promoter Lorraine Chargin. Don “War A Week” Chargin was inducted in 2001 but something was always amiss because Lorraine, both his wife and partner, was an integral part of Don’s great success. She should’ve been inducted years ago. And if you knew Lorraine, you’d be ecstatic for her. She was clever and tough as a promoter but warm and engaging on a personal level. I’ll never forget our philosophical and political talks whenever we ran into one another. I couldn’t be more pleased for Lorraine, Don and the family. … The late ring announcer Johnny Addie also was inducted. I’m not sure what took so long. The “voice of boxing” was an institution at Madison Square Garden and beyond.
The Jermell Charlo-Austin Trout fight – on the Santa Cruz-Mares card – was a bit of a dud given Charlo’s exciting style. Trout made sure of that. The clever veteran jabbed and moved most of the fight, making it difficult for Charlo (31-0, 15 KOs) to build a consistent offense, and got just enough done himself to be moderately competitive. I thought Charlo won easily – I had it 116-110 in his favor – in spite of disturbing official scoring: 118-108 for Charlo, 115-111 for Charlo and a baffling 113-113 (or seven rounds to five for Trout) from judge Fernando Villarreal. Trout (31-5, 17 KOs) didn’t do enough to deserve that. It wasn’t Charlo’s finest hour but he walked away with two things: his WBC junior middleweight belt and a terrific learning experience. Trout? I’m not sure where he goes from here in spite of a decent performance. He can give most 154-pounders trouble but he has lost three of his last four fights and five of his last 10. He might be finished as an elite fighter. … Maurice Hooker and Terry Flanagan gave us a good show on the Fury-Seferi card. Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KOs) is listed as 5-foot-11 but looked as if his arms could reach from corner to corner, which gave Flanagan (33-1, 13 KOs) problems in a fight for the vacant WBO junior welterweight title. The more-experienced Englishman, who was moving up in weight, persevered through that disadvantage and some gruesome cuts to make the fight entertaining and close. The scorecards were all over the place – 115-113 and 117-111 for Hooker, and 117-111 for Flanagan – but I thought the right man won. I had it 115-113 for Hooker. The fact Texan beat Flanagan in his home country to win his first title was a significant accomplishment.
Errol Spence vs. Carlos Ocampo: This matchup is more of a hometown showcase for the IBF welterweight titleholder than a legitimate challenge. Spence (23-0, 20 KOs) has been as dominating as any fighter in the world, including a seventh-round stoppage of Lamont Peterson in his most-recent fight. Some believe he is as gifted as anyone in the business, which makes Ocampo’s mission next to impossible. Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) has never fought outside of his native Mexico and has no important victories on his record. This one probably won’t last long. … Another fight to watch on Saturday is Angel Acosta vs. Carlos Buitrago for the WBO junior flyweight title Acosta won by stopping Juan Alejo in his most-recent fight. Acosta has an interesting record: 17 wins, 17 knockouts, as well as a one-sided decision loss to Kosei Tanaka in his first shot at the WBO belt. Buitrago (30-3-1, 17 KOs) is 0-3-1 in four previous shots at one title or another. I’m not sure why Buitrago is getting this opportunity. He’s coming off a KO loss to Hiroto Kyoguchi in his last fight. The fight will take place in Puerto Rico, Acosta’s home country.
Michael Rosenthal is the most-recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing for almost three decades.