HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney report in moments after the Crawford-Postol weigh-in at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
It has been a fairly quiet week in Las Vegas, without too much of the noise and fury that sometimes accompanies pay-per-view boxing events in Sin City. A lot of that, frankly, is likely due to the demeanors of the two men in the main event: neither Terence Crawford nor Viktor Postol is renowned for being brash or boastful; outside of some needle with Hank Lundy the last time he fought, Crawford has rarely flashed pre-fight anger toward his opponent, and Postol seems rarely to change the timbre of his voice, no matter what the subject of his conversation.
The Ukrainian did allow himself a hint of a smile when, after weighing on at 139.5 lbs., half a pound inside the junior lightweight limit, he discussed the fact that his wife gave birth to twin boys two days ago, relieving him of the concern of entering the biggest fight of his life while worrying about his pregnant wife. It also, he admitted, gave him extra motivation: each baby, he promised, would be receiving one of the two title belts at stake in his battle with Crawford.
But Crawford, who tipped the scales right on the weight limit of 140 lbs., flashed to life as he noted that this was a clash between two undefeated fighters in their prime, and he smiled as he told fans not to blink during the main event.
As he spoke, the crowd in the MGM Grand Garden Arena screamed and cheered. It seems that Crawford’s hometown Omaha, Nebraska fans have arrived in force. The volume in Vegas may be about to get a lot louder.
Weights from Las Vegas:
Terence Crawford 140 vs. Viktor Postol 139.5
Oscar Valdez 126 vs. Matias Rueda 125
Jose Benavidez, Jr 146.5 vs. Francisco Santana 148
Oleksandr Gvozdyk 175 vs. Tommy Karpency 174.5
Watch the official Crawford-Postol weigh-in live beginning at 5:30 PM ET.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Brian McIntyre is growing a little tired hearing about Viktor Postol’s jab. So too is Terence Crawford, the man McIntyre trains, who will be facing Postol at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on HBO PPV on Saturday night.
“You know what? I’m going to be honest with you,” McIntyre told a group of reporters on Thursday morning at the MGM. “Everything everyone talks about that Postol does that might be a hindrance to Terence, it’s just throwing fuel on the fire. In his mind, he wants to show that he has the better jab – which I believe he does. He can jab from both sides. Can Postol jab from both sides? No.”
That comment refers to Crawford’s famous ability to switch from fighting right-handed to left-handed and back again during the course of a fight; but McIntyre suspects his boxer is most likely to use one stance more than the other on Saturday night
“[Hank] Lundy turned [southpaw] on Postol [in March 2013], and he struggled with him. Don’t be surprised if Terence switches early, or comes out southpaw,” he predicted.
Defeat to Postol would of course upset the best laid plans, but McIntyre feels – and would likely find plenty of support for the notion – that his man is, at worst, one of the very best Americans in professional boxing right now.
“I really believe in my heart, he’s number 1, or number 2 next to Andre Ward,” he said. “Ward’s accomplished a lot of things in boxing: Olympic gold medalist, cleaned out his division, won the Super Six. You can’t ask for a better person to stand next to and compare yourself to.”
Ward, however, is closer to the peak of his career; Crawford, for all that he has achieved in the three years since catching the sport’s attention with a win over Breidis Prescott across the street at the Mandalay Bay, is still on an upward curve. As a consequence, McIntyre predicts, there will come a time, perhaps soon, when – particularly given the relative paucity of homegrown talent at the top of boxing’s ranks these days – the Omaha native will be the sport’s domestic standard bearer.
“He accepts the role” of being the next American boxing star, McIntyre said. “And I like the way he’s grasping on to it, because you can see the change in his training. He’s excelled in this camp. He’s pushed the coaches. He’s always pushed us, but he’s actually pushed us a little more.”
Anyone who has spoken with Crawford will appreciate that, unlike the outgoing and garrulous McIntyre, the boxer is calmness personified, polite but monotone in his speech, rarely talking smack and never overreacting to the prospect of future success. It’s an outward expression, said McIntyre, of a naturally grounded persona, one that benefits from his being surrounded by a team that has been with him since he was very young.
“Don’t think about it, just do it,” as McIntyre explained the philosophy. “Be relaxed at all times, be professional at all times, inside the ring and outside the ring. That helps with your demeanor, your character, and then you hope that the American fans can start grasping on to Terence. He doesn’t go out there and say, ‘Look at me, I’m a black American star.’ He just takes care of his business, takes care of his family, takes care of his gym, is a community activist, just lives his life.
“We prepare ourselves for days like this. The success Terence is having now, we’ve been preparing for since he was 12 years old. What we did, prepared him for what he’s doing right now.”
By Kieran Mulvaney
For many observers, one of the most notable and praiseworthy aspects of Terence Crawford’s performances in the ring is the way in which he is able to switch effortlessly and without warning between orthodox and southpaw stances in the middle of a fight.
Freddie Roach does not agree.
Roach, the Hall-of-Fame trainer who will be in the corner of Crawford’s opponent Viktor Postol in the main event of Saturday’s HBO pay-per-view card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, even goes so far as to argue that switching stances confuses Crawford in the ring.
When a reporter suggested to him on Thursday morning that Crawford’s stance-switching was “seamless,” Roach countered that, “It might seem that way to you, but not to me. I don’t see it. I see he’s weak in the right hand stance and he’s strong in the southpaw stance, and that’s it. And when he’s in the middle and switching, he’s square. I think Crawford loops his punches a little bit, because he’s getting confused with the switching between stances. I don’t really believe it’s a good thing to do in boxing.”
In the unbeaten Postol, with whom he will be working for the fourth time on Saturday night, Roach has a boxer he clearly likes and in whom he believes, which is how it has been since he and the Ukrainian first came together in 2014.
“He showed up at the Wild Card Gym,” Roach recalled when talking to a group of journalists at the MGM Grand. “Manny was training for a tall opponent [Chris Algieri] at that time, and I needed some sparring partners to go to the Philippines with me, so I brought him over. He worked every day, he’s a very good worker. Being in the corner by himself while I was working with Many, he made adjustments on his own, and I saw that and I liked that. He’s a very nice guy. He’s never late. He shows up on time, he’s great to work with.”
Their first fight together saw Postol stop Selcuk Aydin at The Forum in Inglewood, California; but the fighter really raised eyebrows when he knocked out Lucas Matthysse at the StubHub Center last October – a finish that Roach admitted slightly surprised him.
“I didn’t expect that,” he acknowledged. “I thought [Matthysse] would get up. Everyone else was celebrating and I was waiting for him to get up. But when he didn’t get up, I was very surprised. I think he’s still suffering from that eye injury because he had to cancel a fight recently.
“I told him the round before he took him out, ‘OK, time to pick it up.’ When I tell him to pick it up, Postol knows what I mean. It means it’s time.”
The winner of Saturday’s bout may be in line for a November date with the returning Manny Pacquiao – a situation that, Roach admits, would mean he would have to find another trainer for Postol, should he be the one to emerge victorious, as Roach would have to remain loyal to his longtime charge. But, he said, the Filipino would not be watching the contest on television to eye up his potential next opponent.
“Manny’s not a TV guy,” he explained. “Manny took a picture the other month with [middleweight champion Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin] at the gym. GGG came to visit; he’s a very nice guy, very respectful. He waited for Manny to come out of the dressing room and take the picture. He took the picture, and later I’m working the mitts with Manny and he said, ‘Freddie, who was that guy I took a picture with?’ So I said, ‘Manny, don’t you watch TV?’ He said, ‘Not much.’”
Nobody would ever confuse the lanky, jab-heavy Postol with the explosive Pacquiao; but, Roach says, Saturday’s bout with Crawford reminds him a little of the first time he and Pacquiao worked together, when the then-unknown Filipino took on South African junior featherweight champ Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001.
“I come to Vegas and I tell everyone that my guy’s going to win and they all say no and shake their heads,” he said. “It was like when I brought Manny in to face Ledwaba, and when I went to the sports book to put money on Manny beating Ledwaba, they wouldn’t take the bet. And now the odds here are like 6-1, and nobody’s giving my guy a shot. And I feel good about that, because I know my guy does have a shot and we’ve done everything possible to get ready for this fight. I feel good about where we’re out right now.”
So did that mean he’d be laying a bet on Postol?
Photos: Will Hart
By Nat Gottlieb
The Crawford-Postol supporting card features four unbeaten boxers and three potentially explosive fights with boxers that could impact the light heavyweight, welterweight, and featherweight divisions.
The 175-pound bout is headlined by power puncher Oleksandr Gvozdyk, an undefeated Olympic bronze medalist from Ukraine, who will be taking an important step up against Tommy Karpency, an experienced world title challenger.
Fast-rising featherweight Oscar Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian with superb boxer-puncher skills, will be fighting for a vacant title against another unbeaten fighter, Matias Rueda, a heavy-fisted Argentine who has knocked out 23 of the 26 opponents he has faced.
In another intriguing matchup, welterweight Jose Benavidez puts his unblemished record on the line against an all-action fighter, Francisco Santana. Both boxers are hoping to use this fight to move closer to a 147-pound championship bout.
Gvozdyk (10-0, 8 KOs), whose power is being compared to light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, is being moved up the ladder fast by Top Rank. The promoter did the same thing with Gvozdyk’s fellow Ukrainian and Olympian, Vasyl Lomachenko, the exciting featherweight champion and pound-for-pound contender.
Putting Gvozdyk in the ring with Karpency (26-5-1, 15 KOs) in just his eleventh professional bout is an ambitious bit of matchmaking, but not unusual for a boxer with a standout amateur pedigree.
That being said, there are potentially a couple pitfalls for Gvozdyk in this fight.
While he possesses a tremendous skill set, Gvozdyk still appears to be a bit raw at times. In contrast, Karpency is a finished product who’s been in two title fights – though he lost both, first to then unbeaten Nathan Cleverly in 2012, and last year to knockout artist Adonis Stevenson.
Based on Gvozdyk’s last fight in April, there appears to be some question of just how sound his defense is. Facing former title contender Nadjib Mohammedi, Gvozdyk took four clean punches to the head in the first round. None, however, seemed to faze him, and in the next round he knocked out Mohammedi with a right hand that hit so hard, the Frenchman was unable to stand for over a minute.
There’s no denying, however, that like most top-tier European amateurs who turn pro, Gvozdyk’s offensive skills are as technically sound as they come. With his long reach of 75½ inches, the Ukrainian boxes behind a crisp jab that he often doubles up on. He is well-balanced at all times, his footwork is excellent, and he fights out of a compact stance, throwing short, crisp punches with power in both hands.
Karpency’s signature win was a split-decision victory over former elite champion, Chad Dawson, who was, however, past his prime. An American who fights out of Pennsylvania, Karpency has a simple but often effective style. He is a plodder who boxes flat-footed and likes to keep the fight at a distance. His offense consists of sudden lunges inside with his jab leading the way. While inside, he’ll land a couple of quick punches and then jump back out. For a fighter with a high-boxing IQ like Gvozdyk, Karpency’s style won’t be hard to figure out, and a convincing victory would bump the Ukrainian up the ladder toward a title fight.
Two-time Mexican Olympian Valdez (19-0, 17 KOs), who has future superstar stamped all over him, is also taking something of chance by facing fellow-unbeaten featherweight Rueda (26-0, 23 KOs), who has fought all but one of his bouts in his native Argentina. The welterweight division over the years has seen quite a few relatively unknown boxers from Argentina come to the U.S. and score major upsets, including Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse. The common denominator in the Argentinean fighters who come to the U.S. is power to the extreme.
Valdez also possesses plenty of power himself, in addition to a polished boxing-skill set. The 25-year-old Mexican is managed by Frank Espinoza and his son, Frank Jr., who’ve handled several lower weight class world champions, including Martin Castillo, Daniel Ponce De Leon, Abner Mares, and Israel Vasquez.
“This is not an easy fight for Valdez,” Espinoza says. “But I felt the timing was right. Valdez is at a point in his career that I feel he is ready for a world title shot. Rueda has earned his opportunity and this is not an easy task. But world title opportunities are usually not considered easy.”
Rueda enters this bout having won his last 10 fights by way of knockout. Besides his power, the Argentinean appears to be a well-schooled boxer-puncher. He fights with a high-glove defense, is patient, and doesn’t waste his punches.
Valdez took his first step up in April when he faced former world title holder Evgeny Gradovich. The Mexican easily handled him with a combination of quickness and accuracy, eventually knocking him out in the fourth round. It was the first time in 23 career fights that Gradovich had been knocked out.
“Valdez was very poised during his fight against Gradovich,” Espinoza says. “He proved to the boxing world he can box as well take a punch, and he keeps getting better. I have no doubt when the time comes Valdez will be ready for Lomachenko.”
Espinoza also manages Francisco Santana (24-4-1, 12 KOs), whom he took on in February. Santana will be facing undefeated Jose Benavidez (24-0, 16 KOs) in a fight which could put either boxer in line for a welterweight title fight.
Although Santana, a crowd-pleasing, aggressive fighter, has four losses on his record, Espinoza feels those defeats came as a result of being overmatched too early in his career. “Santana was thrown to the wolves early on, but he gave those boxers a run for their money,” Espinoza says. “But he has learned from those fights. There are some things you can learn in the gym, and some things you have to learn in that square circle on your own. It’s called experience.”
Espinoza say that since he signed the 30-year-old Santana the boxer seems rejuvenated. “As you know, boxing is not just physical but mental,” the manager says. “And I see Santana as a different fighter now mentally. He’s very motivated and he has that will to win, which is something people easily overlook.”
This is not the first time the manager has taken on a fighter later in his career. “I would say I compare him to Daniel Ponce De Leon,” Espinoza says. “At the time I signed him people thought he was done. But I helped him capture another world title.”
Although unbeaten, the 24-year-old Benavidez, who fights out of Phoenix, has yet to live up to the potential he displayed as a standout amateur. He’s in need of a signature win and is hoping Santana is it. “This fight is very important,” Benavidez says, “because I want to show everyone that I’m ready to beat world-class fighters in the welterweight division. I know Santana is a good fighter, but I have what it takes to outclass and beat him.”
Photos: Will Hart
Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol hosted their final press conference Wednesday afternoon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Crawford and Postol face off Saturday night at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV.