HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney look ahead to a packed schedule of boxing in the weeks and months ahead.
Watch the complete episode of Road to Kovalev-Pascal. Kovalev vs. Pascal happens Saturday, March 14 live on HBO beginning at 9:45pm ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Gennady Golovkin's TKO 11 of Martin Murray in Monte Carlo this past weekend, plus chat about the response to the announcement of Mayweather-Pacquiao.
By Kieran Mulvaney
This time last year, Terence Crawford was seeking to prove that he belonged: that he belonged at the top of the pile of touted contenders, that he belonged in the conversation over who was the best lightweight in the world, that he belonged on HBO.
Twelve months later, that mission has been accomplished in style, a breakout 2014 now capped with his coronation by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) as Fighter of the Year.
“It’s a surprise to me because that’s something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish,” Crawford said in response to his selection. “Now that it’s happened, it kind of feels like it’s not real. But I will say that my performance in the ring on those three nights last year brought the best out of me. I was as sharp as I could be. Everything fell into place at the right time.”
The first of those three nights fell on March 1, in Glasgow, Scotland. After an underwhelming performance against Andrey Klimov the previous October, Crawford knew he had to improve and impress if he had any hope of showcasing his talent on World Championship Boxing or Boxing After Dark. His fight that evening, against lightweight titlist Ricky Burns, was not televised in the United States; but the dominant way in which he wrestled the title belt from Glasgow’s native son ensured that his next bout would be.
That next fight, on June 28, was one of the fights of the year, a thrilling four-knockdown victory over Yuriorkis Gamboa in front of a raucous crowd of almost 11,000 in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. That performance – not to mention the atmosphere engendered by Omaha’s first world title fight in 42 years – ensured that Crawford and HBO would return to the Cornhusker State. When they did, on November 29, Crawford scored an impressive points victory over seasoned veteran Ray Beltran, bringing his year to a successful conclusion.
Despite having underlined his championship credentials and secured Fighter of the Year honors, the soft-spoken champion is in no mood to rest on his laurels.
“I’m looking for a big year again in 2015,” he said. “I’m going to continue taking the biggest and best fights out there. I don’t want to take no step down. I want to prove I’m the best fighter in and around my division, and one of the best in any division. To be great, you got to set your sights on the Pacquiaos and the Mayweathers. Those are the kind of guys I want to fight, and beat.”
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Gennady Golovkin said he wanted to be taken twelve rounds. He wanted to go to a decision so that he could show off his full array of boxing skills. He almost got his wish, thanks to the extraordinary heart of Martin Murray – and, arguably, a little too much bravery on the part of the Englishman’s corner. But in the end, Golovkin couldn’t help himself, and however much he might have wished otherwise, he was once again too much for an overmatched foe; when referee Luis Pabon wisely rescued Murray in the eleventh round, the man from Kazakhstan had scored his nineteenth consecutive knockout.
Murray, to his immense credit, came to fight. He came with a good plan, too: use his superior reach to land long punches from mid-range and, whenever Golovkin looked to be closing the gap, hold on tight. For the first couple of rounds, it worked with surprising effectiveness, and he might have shaded at least one of those two frames, his long right hands finding their target even if they apparently had little if any effect on the champion.
But fighting off Golovkin is like hitting an oncoming python with a wiffle bat: no matter how much you might try, the deterrent effect is negligible at best, and meanwhile he keeps coming forward, slowly coiling himself around his foe and imposing his strength. In the third round, as Murray grew in confidence, Golovkin began to make his move. A right hand landed with authority, prompting Murray, who had begun this frame brightly, to wave him in. This was unwise. Golovkin cracked him again with another right hand; and then a left hook, followed by a big right hand, hurt Murray before the bell.
The fourth seemed set to be the final one, Golovkin taking advantage of Murray’s high guard to dig a right hand to the body that sent the challenger to his knees. Murray rose gamely at eight, retreated to a corner and went down again from a short flurry, punctuated with another right hand body shot. Somehow he survived the round, but the pattern was now irrevocably set. Only two rounds earlier, he had sought to command center ring, but now, Murray was retreating backward to the ropes; by the end of the fifth, he was in possession of a bloodied and busted nose, courtesy of Golovkin switching his attack to launch uppercuts through Murray’s defensive gloves.
Plenty of other opponents have folded under such an onslaught, but Murray showed himself to be made of sterner stuff than most normal human beings. Clearly hurting from the Golovkin onslaught, he nonetheless did his best to fend off his foe with torqued punches that landed well but elicited not even a hint of a reaction from the Kazakh.
Golovkin’s strengths extend far beyond his thumping punching power. His supreme ring generalship ensures that he keeps his opponents just where he wants them, he throws and lands punches with efficiency as well as force, and the variety of his punches means foes can only guess where the next blow will land. In the eighth, Golovkin suddenly landed a right hand to the top of Murray’s head; it was a punch he had not tried before, but he would return to it several times after it set in motion another sequence of blows – left hook, right hand – that had Murray hurt and reeling around the ring.
The end of the eighth felt like a good time for Murray’s corner to pull him from a battle he could not win, as did the beginning of the ninth, until Golovkin – as if sensing he was in danger of knocking out another foe – eased off the gas. He almost looked bored, allowing Murray to tee off ineffectively, the wiffle bat now broken and limp as the coils tightened. In the tenth, too exhausted even to hold up his hands, breathing through his mouth as the blood plugged his nose, Murray sought to duck under the incoming artillery. After he slipped one right hand, Golovkin shook his head in annoyance, recalibrated his sights and landed a pair of thumping right hands that laid out Murray flat on his back.
Once more, Murray beat the count and made it to the bell, and inexplicably his corner sent him out for more punishment. The end was just a matter of time, and after a pair of right hands caused Murray to buckle in the corner, Pabon saved the Englishman from his own heart.
By Kieran Mulvaney
It has been, as two songwriters of some repute once observed, a long and winding road. But after five years, several rounds of negotiations, a combined 16 fights on two continents against other opponents, and countless speculative column inches, cable TV minutes and social media postings, boxing’s biggest and most eagerly anticipated matchup is finally official.
Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 2.
At stake, nominally, will be each man’s welterweight title, but the two belts up for grabs are the least of the prizes on offer. The winner will not just be the true welterweight champion. He will be even more than the undisputed number one pugilist, pound-for-pound, in the world. He will lay an uncontestable claim to be the best boxer of his generation. Both will emerge as very rich men, earning more money in one night than even they have ever pocketed at any stage in their glittering careers. But as much pleasure as such riches will bring, the winner will surely derive even greater satisfaction from putting the debate to rest and emerging victorious against the man whose name has been uttered in connection with his own with infuriating, suffocating frequency.
For all that Mayweather’s torch-passing 2007 win over Oscar De La Hoya was inaccurately proclaimed as “The Fight to Save Boxing,” his clash with Pacquiao is almost certainly the most highly-anticipated meeting since Lennox Lewis bludgeoned Mike Tyson in Memphis in 2002. But to find a more accurate comparison we have to reach back 30 years or more, when undefeated welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard squared off against – and shockingly lost to – former lightweight kingpin Roberto Duran in 1980, or when Leonard rallied to stop fellow welterweight title holder Thomas Hearns the following year, or when Hearns battled middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in two-and-a-half astonishingly violent and captivating rounds in 1985.
The reason many boxing fans and historians look so fondly on the era of what writer George Kimball dubbed “The Four Kings” is not only that Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran (and Wilfred Benitez, so often the forgotten man in the group) fought each other, but that when they did so, they were pound-for-pound the very best in the world. For all the hype that accompanied Lewis-Tyson, neither could reasonably claim such heights at that stage of their careers: one year and one fight after defeating Tyson, Lewis would retire from the sport, and Tyson – already a spent force by the time he fought Lewis – would follow him into retirement two years later, no longer able to overcome even the likes of Danny Williams or Kevin McBride.
Having the two best boxers in the world in or around the same weight class as each other is an occurrence that is all too rare, and when it happens, the desire to see them take each other on is overwhelming. That is what has sustained interest in this contest over five frequently frustrating years, and it is a testament to both men that they are now, as they were when this fight first seemed on the verge of fruition in 2010, numbers one and two on most pound-for-pound lists. There was a brief period when that was no longer the case, when Juan Manuel Marquez not only rendered Pacquiao unconscious but also seemingly knocked out the prospect of, or even the desire to see, the Filipino facing the American. But Pacquiao's six-knockdown win over Chris Algieri served notice that the fighting congressman from Sarangani province was again a force with which to be reckoned. With Marquez losing to Tim Bradley (who in turn lost to Pacquiao) and Andre Ward benching himself, Mayweather and Pacquiao are once more alone at the top of the heap.
The case can certainly be made that, like Lewis and Tyson, Pacquiao and Mayweather are past their peaks. But that likely won’t matter: after all, the best fight of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy is widely held to have been the third one, partly because by then they had both diminished enough that they couldn’t avoid each other’s punches. And if the physical gifts are a little less than they were in 2010, the stakes are arguably even higher: five years of sniping, failed negotiations and rancorous argument have only served to increase the venom. That will make the anticipation so much greater, and victory all the sweeter.