HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Terence Crawford's thrilling ninth round TKO victory over Yuriorkis Gamboa and hand out the mid-year HBO Boxing Podcast awards.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
If there was any doubt that Terence 'Bud' Crawford just might be a special talent, he surely obliterated it with a sensational performance in front of an adoring hometown crowd in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday night. This was the coming-out party it was advertised as being, as Crawford took everything Yuriorkis Gamboa could throw at him, and came back to drop his opponent four times en route to a commanding ninth-round stoppage that saw him retain his lightweight crown.
Barely a year ago, Crawford was all but unknown in the wider boxing world. He announced his arrival with a skilful win over the larger, more experienced Breidis Prescott, and underscored his resolve as well as his skill by going to Glasgow to take the belt from Scotland's Ricky Burns in his last outing. But this was something different. Given the lead role on a brightly lit stage, Crawford proved he is more than a skillful boxer. This was the night that Terence Crawford became boxing's newest star.
Initially, it appeared that the evening might not unfold according to script. Despite a lay-off of just over a year, Gamboa was sharp from the outset, stabbing Crawford with a stiff jab, slipping underneath the Nebraskan's punches with his mongoose-like movement, and firing off a variety of punches from a multitude of angles. By rounds 2 and 3, Crawford was beginning to find his range with his long left jab, but was unable to pull the trigger on a follow-up right because of Gamboa's elusiveness.
But Crawford maintained his composure, watched Gamboa's every move and began to compute what he needed to do to neutralize his foe. He was aided by a preternatural calm and the fact that he is the rarest of boxers: a genuine switch hitter, one who can fight with equal effectiveness from either stance. In the fourth, he turned southpaw and the fight almost instantly changed.
An exchange in the center of the ring -- as Gamboa responded to Crawford's increased success with growing aggression -- had the crowd of 10,943 on its feet, but the best was yet to come. In the fifth, a short right hook wobbled Gamboa and a cuffing left hand put him down. Gamboa bounced back firing, but another Crawford combination hurt him again, and he was holding on to his foe at the bell.
The pace slowed in the sixth and seventh, Crawford content to spear an increasingly confused and flat-footed Gamboa with his jab and wait for the opportunity to steer the shorter man onto a more damaging punch. That opportunity came in the eighth, when Gamboa, unleashing a combination that backed Crawford to the ropes, walked into a short hook and a left hand that dropped him to his knees.
It seemed as if the clock was beginning to run out on Gamboa's chances, but a right hand from nowhere had Crawford on unsteady legs early in the ninth, and now the Nebraskan was the one who had to clear his head. He did so rapidly, however, tagging Gamboa with a right and a left and another left that dropped him along the ropes. This was a harder knockdown than those that preceded it, and carried with it a sense of impending finality. A few seconds later, that sense was confirmed, as another combination dropped Gamboa to his back and the referee waved off the contest at 2:53 of the round.
"People talk about pressure," said former longtime HBO boxing analyst and resident sage Larry Merchant in the fight's aftermath, as he surveyed the hugely enthused and lingering crowd, which had been desperate to see Crawford score a win. "But pressure is opportunity when you're good."
Crawford is certainly good. He's very good indeed.
Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa weigh-in ahead of their title fight taking place Saturday, June 28 on HBO beginning at 10pm ET/PT.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
At a Thursday press conference in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, it was noted that lightweight titleholder Terence Crawford is the first Nebraskan world champion since Perry “Kid” Graves claimed the welterweight crown 100 years ago.
“Yeah,” said Crawford, “but he wasn’t from Omaha.” (Graves hailed from Plattsmouth, in neighboring Cass County; interestingly, Max Baer – who held the world heavyweight title from 1934-35 - was born in Omaha, but his family had decamped to Colorado and thence California long before falling to the future ‘Cinderella Man’ Jimmy Braddock.)
Crawford, however, was born and raised here in the Cornhusker State’s largest city, and his determination to defend his newly-won crown in his hometown is why boxing’s traveling circus has pitched its collective tent on the banks of the Missouri River.
The occasion has provided an opportunity to look back – not just at Graves, but also Ron Stander, who challenged Joe Frazier for the heavyweight crown in 1972, the last time Omaha hosted a world title bout. Stander is 69 now, but although his speech and movements are conducted at the pace that one would expect from a near-septuagenarian ex-pugilist, he retains the same defiance of younger prizefighters.
“Joe Frazier never beat me,” he said to cheers from the press conference crowd. “The doctors won it for him, when they stopped it because I had a few little cuts.” That those little cuts turned his face crimson and required 32 stitches to heal is of little consequence; for Stander, Crawford’s emergence has provided an opportunity to be bathed anew in a spotlight that he must have thought had passed him by forever.
But the week is also an opportunity to look forward, to consider the prospect that a homecoming may also be a coming-out party for a singular talent. There is no shortage of observers who think that Crawford could be very special indeed, that his fluid combination punching and tight defense mark him as a premier practitioner of the sweet science.
Of course, there was a long spell when Yuriorkis Gamboa was considered pretty special, too, and if he is an underdog here it is largely because the conventional wisdom is that age, inactivity and out-of-the-ring problems have dimmed his once bright light. But he remains undefeated, and if the Gamboa who shows up to challenge Crawford on Saturday is even close to the one who has destroyed previous high-profile foes, this could be a mouth-watering contest indeed.
If there is a criticism to be made of Crawford thus far, it’s that his cerebral fighting style and sotto voce interview answers pigeonhole him for fight aficionado status and may prevent him from ever becoming the breakout star his talents deserve. But his native Nebraska niceness wasn’t much on evidence at Friday’s weigh-in, as he resolutely refused to break his gaze when handlers attempted to separate the two men after the traditional stare-down; even as those handlers had managed to angle Crawford’s body away from Gamboa’s, his head refused to follow. Gamboa, to his credit, stood his ground, the two men peering into each other’s souls in search of some small psychological opening that might provide an edge in a battle of supreme physical talents.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one on one with Yuriorkis Gamboa. Crawford vs. Gamboa happens Sat., June 28 live on HBO at 10pm ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one on one with Terence Crawford. Crawford vs. Gamboa happens Sat., June 28 live on HBO at 10pm ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney reports from the Crawford vs. Gamboa final press conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Crawford vs. Gamboa happens Sat., June 28 live on HBO at 10pm ET/PT.