With Miguel Vazquez's highly debatable decision loss to Mickey Bey, WBO lightweight titlist Terence Crawford became the best 135-pound boxer on earth. This culminates an improbable rise to prominence that began 20 months ago when Crawford shocked the heavily favored Breidis Prescott as a late sub, then knocked off Alejandro Sanabria, Andrey Klimov, WBO title-holder Ricky Burns and, most recently, Yuriorkis Gamboa in a Fight of the Year contender before an electric home crowd in Omaha.
Beltran, on the other hand, has been the division's "nearly man." Time after time he fought his heart out only to have his dreams snuffed out by heartbreaking decisions. In May 2011 many thought he had done enough to hand Sharif Bogere his first loss but it was not to be. Many thought he had done more than enough to dethrone Burns, especially after breaking the champ's jaw in round two and decking him in the eighth. But the fight was staged in Scotland and Burns escaped with a draw. Burns, in turn, wouldn't be so lucky against Crawford.
Beltran has thirsted for another chance to become a major titlist while Crawford wants very much to become a star. Saturday's fight will determine whose dreams will become reality.
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Showing Off His Wild Side: Against the explosive Gamboa, Crawford was forced to dig deep after falling behind early. In the first four rounds Gamboa out-landed the champ 41-30 overall and 36-20 power but starting in round five Crawford found his groove by out-landing the challenger 23-10 overall and connecting on 59% of his total punches and a mind-boggling 78% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. He scored the first of what would be four knockdowns -- one in the fifth, one in the eighth and two more in the climactic ninth. From round five onward, Crawford out-landed Gamboa 116-41 overall and 80-38 power. His accuracy continued to be off the charts and the evidence could be seen in the power accuracy numbers from round five onward: 78%, 53%, 71%, 73% and 67%. That's Mayweather-esque precision.
Crawford's comeback was truly a star-making moment and the volatile Gamboa provided the perfect canvas for the champion to apply the final touches. Will he do the same against the wily veteran Beltran?
Steady as He Goes: Beltran is a well-rounded campaigner who knows of all the tricks and can execute the ones he knows pretty well. Beltran earned this second chance at glory in April when he out-pointed volume specialist Arash Usmanee on the Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard. Although Usmanee cranked out 62.3 punches per round that total was actually below his usual standard. That's because Beltran easily deciphered Usmanee's attack and seized on most of the openings he spotted.
Averaging a comfortable 50.6 punches per round, Beltran prevailed 255-215 overall and 210-154 power by being far more precise with his punches -- 42% overall, 31% jabs and 45% power to Usmanee's 29%, 18% and 37% respectively. That Usmanee managed to land 37% of his hardest blows should be a point of concern for Beltran, for Crawford showed against Gamboa that he is an excellent sharp-shooter.
Beltran can't take anything for granted, for when he fought Burns he prevailed 214-173 overall and 174-106 power, plus he was more accurate (30%-25% overall, 39%-30% power). Fighting in Crawford's hometown he will have to create enough momentum early to keep the raucous pro-Crawford Omaha crowd quiet.
Prediction: Unfortunately for Beltran, seizing the day is not in Beltran's nature. He's a smart, solid campaigner who is worthy of respect but while his fighting style is technically sound it is not fueled by outward passion. He does his business the best way he can but he has a way of stringing together rounds that need to be judged with tweezers. Beltran knows from hard experience that fighting "tweezer rounds" won't get the job done in a champion's hometown.
Meanwhile, Crawford is hitting his stride as a fighter and the atmosphere in Omaha will challenge his ability to keep his cool rather than fight with passion. Crawford not only is powerful, he's versatile and skillful. Those assets will combine to a solid, strong decision victory.