HBO Boxing Year End Picks: Fight of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders are taking a look back at 2014. Here, they make their selections for the best fight on the network.

More: Boxing Year End Picks

Kieran Mulvaney: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

In front of a raucous, pro-Crawford crowd, two highly skilled prizefighters went at each other from the opening bell. Gamboa gained the upper hand over the first four rounds before Crawford began to turn it around, switching to a southpaw stance, using his reach to catch the shorter Gamboa with counterpunches, and ultimately dropping him once in both the fifth and eighth and finally – after Gamboa had wobbled him badly and gone on the attack – twice more in the ninth to bring about the stoppage.

Eric Raskin: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

This is the easiest decision of all the HBO year-end awards. For drama and swings of momentum in a fight contested at a world-class skill level, nothing else came close. This was the night when Crawford, widely perceived as a colorless technician, revealed that he could be an action hero.

Hamilton Nolan: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Gamboa is one of the most insanely talented fighters in the world; Crawford is one of the best pure boxers in the world. Crawford won spectacularly, and with a surprising amount of violence.

Nat Gottlieb: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

The Cuban came out hard and fast in the first couple rounds and it looked like maybe Crawford was in for a long night. But then Crawford switched from an orthodox stance to southpaw and knocked a gutsy Gamboa down four times en route to winning a thrilling brawl.  On this night a star was born.

Oliver Goldstein: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Perhaps not one for the ages, but likely good enough for this year at least. Gamboa started quickly, as "Bud" took time to adjust for the first time facing an opponent with similar handspeed. Nonetheless the fight's course turned in the fifth, when Crawford caught Gamboa on the end of a stiff right, before dropping him with a series of lefts.

Thereafter, Gamboa elected to trundle after the American, leaving his chin regularly exposed in search of an increasingly unlikely knockout, until Crawford unseated him three times more in the eighth and ninth. This was thrilling stuff, which ended when the Cuban was collapsed once more, swelling protruding from both eyes, by a perfect right. Vindication for both, as Gamboa proved his toughness, and Crawford emerged victorious.

Tim Smith: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

It was a great opportunity for both men to step forward and make a statement and Crawford did it emphatically.

Diego Morilla: Manny Pacquiao W12 Timothy Bradley

Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised when a fight in which we didn’t place our highest expectations turns into a memorable barnburner. But some other times, amidst the hyperbole and ceaseless stream of pre-fight hype, we lose sense of how good certain fighters are. And oftentimes we allow the "slugfest of the year" to creep into our minds when we’re supposed to be looking at the overall performance. If we manage to do that, it would be easy to see why this fight was one of the best of the year. Back and forth action. Both fighters in danger at one point or another. Boxing skills and punching power ability in full display. Two hungry fighters with something to prove to each other and to the world of boxing, leaving everything in the ring. It may not be instantly remembered as a classic, but it had more than enough drama, emotion and action to get to the podium among this year’s best fights.

Michael Gluckstadt: Terence Crawford TKO9 Yuriorkis Gamboa

Before this fight, Crawford and Gamboa were clearly skilled fighters who sometimes bored, or grew bored, in the ring. This night in Omaha saw the two men bringing each other to another level. Gamboa showed he can mix it up with anyone, and that against the right opposition, he's capable of putting in real effort to go with his natural talent. Crawford proved that he can adjust on the fly, marry his technical skills with surprising power, and solve any boxing puzzle placed in front of him. Throw in the hometown atmosphere and a slew of knockdowns, and you end up with HBO's 2014 fight of the year.

HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 12 - Crawford vs. Gamboa Post-Fight and Mid-Year Awards

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.

Watch: Fight Highlights - Crawford vs. Gamboa and Korobov vs. Uzcategui

Crawford Comes Home and Becomes a Star

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.

Watch: Crawford vs. Gamboa Weigh-In

Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa weigh-in ahead of their title fight taking place Saturday, June 28 on HBO beginning at 10pm ET/PT.

Back to the Future as Boxing’s Circus Lands in Omaha

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.

Watch: One-on-One with Yuriorkis Gamboa

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.

Watch: One-on-One with Terence Crawford

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.