Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
NEW YORK -- There’s being able to fight. And there’s being able to fight Terence Crawford. Not for the first time, an opponent entered the ring against the junior welterweight champion with a decent reputation and a solid résumé, only to exit it after suffering a shellacking at the fists of the marvelously talented boxer from Omaha, Nebraska.
Felix Diaz has an Olympic gold medal and began the evening having suffered a lone, disputed defeat in an eight-year professional career. He ended it as Crawford’s chew toy, a plaything being batted helplessly around the ring until his trainer Joel Diaz mercifully withdrew him from the firing line at the end of round 10 in the main event at Madison Square Garden.
Diaz (19-2, 9 KOs) is something of an unconventional stylist, his relatively short frame leading him to eschew the jab and focus on power punches. He is nominally a southpaw, but he fires his punches from a variety of angles with his body squared up to his opponent, making any kind of stance difficult to discern. Crawford is officially an orthodox boxer, but he switches between his right and left hands at will; he began this contest left-handed and continued all the way through. When HBO’s Max Kellerman asked him why he did so, he smiled and said, “Because I wanted to. I do what I want in there.”
The Diaz approach requires him to be close to his foe. Crawford accordingly spent the first round mostly keeping him at distance, peppering him with a tap-tap-tapping right hand jab. Diaz began swinging for the fences late in that round and again in the second, actually landing a right hand in that second frame that snapped back Crawford’s head and might just have earned the Dominican the round. Indeed, it did so on the score card of one judge, Julie Lederman; it was the only round that any of the three ringside officials saw in Diaz’s favor. But although that right hand was eye-catching, it did little to disrupt Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs), who returned fire with a sharp combination at the bell and stood face to face with his opponent, smiling, as the round ended.
Diaz’s mauling offense meant the fight had its ugly phases early on, but already Crawford was beginning to time his onward rushes and dial in his combinations. A left uppercut that landed through Diaz’s high guard near the end of the third was followed swiftly by another, and it was clear that Crawford had found what would be his money punch. By the fifth, Crawford was clearly dialed in, his task made increasingly easy by the fact that the Diaz right eye was swelling shut. Diaz stalked forward, trying to close the distance; Crawford glided away, keeping him at range.
The pace slowed over six, seven and eight as Crawford relaxed, comfortable in the knowledge that there was nothing now that Diaz could do to him. He was clowning him, one moment beckoning Diaz on, the next shaking his head as Diaz urged him to come closer. At one point, Crawford stuck out his tongue at his opponent, and at another, he tap-tap-tapped on Diaz’s head like an annoying older brother. The Dominican did have a brief moment when an overly-relaxed Crawford walked into a sweeping left in the seventh, which prompted Diaz to launch an attack, but Crawford responded with a series of flurries of his own.
A big sweeping left from Crawford at the beginning of the ninth marked the beginning of the end. Diaz now was retreating, bouncing forward only occasionally, only to be met by incoming Crawford artillery. Crawford backed him into the corner, landed two big lefts and anther uppercut, and at the end of that round both the Olympian’s eyes were now all but closed. The ringside physicians examined him during the minute’s break, and appeared to be considering ending the fight; they allowed it to continue, but Diaz might have wished they hadn’t. He tried his best, but whenever he threw punches, Crawford threw more in return, and the American’s landed with greater authority, including a sequence that rocked Diaz and all but had him out on his feet at the end of the tenth, a series of blows that brought about the stoppage.
The co-main event was short and explosive, and its ending was sudden and concussive. Lightweight Jonathan Maicelo (25-3, 12 KOs) wasted no time showing aggressive intent toward veteran Ray Beltran (33-7-1, 21 KOs), and had him on the canvas halfway through the first round. Beltran protested that the blow that had knocked him backward was in fact a head butt, and replays bore him out. Indeed, seconds after the action resumed, referee David Fields escorted Maicelo to a neutral corner so that ringside physicians could examine a cut that the butt had opened up on the Peruvian’s scalp line.
Beltran ended the round with a harbinger of a hook, following up with a combination that began before and ended after the bell and that staggered Maicelo. Maicelo came storming out of the gates at the start of round 3, cracking Beltran with a three-punch combination and landing consecutive right hands that landed flush. Beltran withstood them, pivoted, and then landed a short left hand on the chin that knocked Maicelo instantly unconscious, his head thudding loudly into the canvas as he fell. Fields waved off the contest without a count. The time was 1:25 of round 2.