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Crawford Ends it Like a Champ

Frank Lotierzo

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This past weekend WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford 34-0 (25) retained his title stopping Jose Benavidez 27-1 (18) in the 12th round. Crawford was cruising along dominating the fight from the sixth round on, then came out hard in the last round and went for the kill against a tiring Benavidez. It ended abruptly when Crawford jarred and dropped Benavidez with a right uppercut to the chin. Benavidez beat the count but was immediately overwhelmed by Crawford as soon as the fight resumed and it was halted.

Prior to the bout Crawford was considered the best pound for pound fighter in boxing by many. His performance against Benavidez further endorses that sentiment….unless Benavidez being competitive during the first five rounds is enough to make some re-think their position. For those who weren’t aware, Benavidez was the fifth undefeated opponent Crawford has defeated in a title bout over three weight divisions and he’s now 12-0 (9) in world title bouts.

The Benavidez fight was Crawford’s first 147-pound title defense since winning it from Jeff Horn this past June. And it started in typical Crawford fashion. For the first two rounds Crawford surveyed Benavidez (who may be the biggest and longest welterweight in the division) while Jose was looking to apply his physical advantages. Crawford fought from a conventional stance through the first round and then as it was winding down he reverted to fighting as a southpaw and stayed in that stance for the rest of the fight. In the second Crawford did a little of everything but was mostly trying to get a read on Benavidez’s long jab. He tried leading and countering both on the move and in flurries but wasn’t initially met with overwhelming success. Benavidez forced Crawford to work as Jose moved in from a slight crouch hoping to lure Crawford into going first, and he did. However, Crawford disrupted his plan by slamming him to the body.  In return, Jose also went to the body but the difference over the first five rounds was Crawford’s quicker hands and more imaginative offense.

By the time the sixth round rolled around, Benavidez, who initially showed up to win, was reduced to accepting that he couldn’t outfight Crawford. Thus, he was reduced to doing just enough to keep Crawford from brutalizing him and to save face. During the mid-rounds when Crawford was killing his body and then flurrying with right hooks to the head, the only thing Benavidez could offer back was a shrug of his shoulders. In other words Jose was trying to con the judges into thinking Crawford was fighting his rear off yet he couldn’t do any real damage. Muhammad Ali applied the same con job against Joe Frazier during their first fight, and like Frazier, Crawford ignored it and kept working the body and mixing things up.

By the eighth round, Benavidez was slowed to a walk and his punch output was reduced to just doing enough so Crawford couldn’t go at him with total impunity. However, that was about to change. Crawford raised the rent in the 10th round and started to plant more and forced Benavidez to retreat after whacking him with straight lefts and counter right hooks to both the head and body. The more Benavidez refused to engage and shrugged his shoulders trying to convince Terence he couldn’t hurt him – Crawford knew better and in turn stayed focused and kept going at Benavidez when he knew he really was done fighting and hoping to go the distance. The problem was the bad blood between them was something Crawford wouldn’t let go of nor was he about to show his thoroughly drained and beaten opponent any mercy….it’s not in Crawford’s DNA.

Finally, after a pretty spirited fight, and winning all but maybe two rounds going into the 12th, Crawford had Benavidez where he wanted him – and that was right in front of him, tired and defenseless with little punch or resistance left. It was obvious as the fight wore on that Crawford wanted a stoppage victory and wouldn’t be happy until he separated himself from his lanky opponent and the only way to achieve that was by ending the fight inside the distance.

“It was coming,” Crawford said. “It was just a matter of time. He slowed down tremendously. He was tired. That’s when I seen my opportunity to take my uppercut shot. Every time I’ll feint, he would pull back. So I was like, ‘Now is not the time.’ But once he slowed down, I seen that I can catch him with it and then that’s what I did.”

Crawford met Benavidez, who attempted to stem the tide, at the start of the final round. Terence unloaded on Benavidez to the head and body, wasting few punches. Crawford worked with the intent to finish his younger and beaten opponent. Crawford landed a jarring right uppercut that had Benavidez go down, nearly in a half somersault. Once they resumed engaging, Crawford flurried and the bout was stopped with 18 seconds to go in the fight.

The showing was impressive on Crawford’s part because he was troubled early due to Benavidez’s size and somewhat unconventional style. Jose had his moments and found moderate success with his jab and a few right hands he landed when Crawford retreated, sometimes moving back in a straight line with his hands low. But other than that the fight wasn’t close and the fact that Benavidez realized he couldn’t win by the fifth round, he did what he could to prevent Crawford from beating him up but not much else.

Due to the fight going almost the entire distance, some observers feel Crawford was underwhelming; I don’t. And the reason is, Benavidez is better than most thought and he was the bigger man and it was pronounced seeing them in the ring together. In beating his bigger foe, Crawford emptied his toolbox. He boxed during the periods he was devising an attack strategy, he moved and forced Benavidez to use his legs and work…..and then countered when Jose tried to be assertive. Crawford’s body punching to both sides was impressive and truly paid dividends down the homestretch. And the right uppercut that dropped Benavidez showed that although Crawford isn’t a life-taker when it comes to power, he consistently lands clean shots that his opponents never see coming.

Crawford closed the fight like the champ he is and once again demonstrated that he’s stylistically the most versatile fighter in boxing. He answered mostly all of Benavidez’s punches with his own which is a staple of his style. Terence showed he’s capable of fully concentrating while fighting mad and seems to have an answer for anything and everything he’s confronted with. Crawford has no real weakness other than him not being a big welterweight.

There isn’t one welterweight in the world on his level. For Errol Spence, Keith Thurman or Shawn Porter to beat him – they have only one option. They better hope and pray that their physicality along with the ability to apply it can be a game changer…because if they can’t overwhelm him physically, they’ll be picked apart and totally outfought and out-thought starting around the third or fourth round when they eventually meet.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Oleksandr Usyk TSS’ 2018 Fighter of Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Usyk

The best advertisement for a newly released movie – any product, actually – is not television commercials or print ads in newspapers and magazines. It is favorable word of mouth. People see or use something, they like it, and they tell their friends and neighbors they should give it a try as well. There is no better endorsement of a restaurant’s quality than to peek inside and see a full dining room.

And so it is for undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, The Sweet Science’s 2018 Fighter of the Year. The 31-year-old Ukrainian southpaw’s publicists and handlers don’t have to try very hard to sell his worthiness as a fighter whose time is now and maybe well into the future; his vanquished opponents are doing a fine job of that as it is. Who better to spread by word of mouth of any fighter’s star quality than laudatory comments uttered by the men he has beaten up?

After Usyk (now 16-0, 12 KOs) fully unified the cruiserweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Russia’s formidable Murat Gassiev on July 21 of this year in Moscow, adding Gassiev’s WBA and IBF 200-pound belts to the WBC and WBO ones Usyk already possessed, the losing fighter was so complimentary toward the man who had just given him a boxing lesson that he felt compelled to pass out more compliments than the punches he had thrown but was unable to land.

“He’s the best opponent in my professional career,” gushed Gassiev, who lost for the first time as a professional after winning his first 26 fights, including 19 inside the distance. “How on earth do you beat this guy?”

How, indeed? Despite performing before a hostile, pro-Gassiev crowd that might have influenced the judges had the match been even reasonably close, Usyk won by yawning margins of 120-108 and 119-109 (twice). For those of you keeping track at home, Usyk won 34 of 36 rounds on the official scorecards. That’s a level of domination seldom seen at such a high level of competition.

Nor is Gassiev the only vanquished opponent who is flinging verbal rose petals at the feet of Oleksandr the Great. In his third and final ring appearance of the year, Usyk traveled to Manchester, England – unfriendly turf once more – to defend his four titles against popular Briton Tony Bellew, a two-time former cruiserweight champ who, at 35, had announced his retirement beforehand, thus making the 35-year-old even more of a sentimental favorite than he otherwise would have been. Bellew fought courageously and even led by a point on two of the three official cards, with the third even after seven rounds.  However, he was nailed with a jolting left hand, went down, and ultimately was stopped in the eighth in the Nov. 10 bout that has helped fuel Usyk’s continued rise toward superstardom and in the pound-for-pound ratings.

“He is an exceptional champ,” Bellew, as gracious in defeat as Gassiev had been, said in complimenting Usyk. “He is everything I have feared. He is the best I ever fought. He is probably the best cruiserweight that ever lived.”

On a more ominous note to the biggest boppers in the heavyweight division, which Usyk now appears ready to enter, Bellew, who holds two victories over former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye, issued a warning that they had better not sleep on Usyk, who is 6-foot-3 and, according to Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, is already a genuine heavyweight at 215 pounds, which is 2½ pounds more than WBC titlist Deontay Wilder came in at for his controversial split draw with lineal champ Tyson Fury on Dec. 1.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else for him to fight in the cruiserweight division,” said Klimas. “Well, maybe there would be if (former super middleweight and light heavyweight ruler) Andre Ward comes out of retirement and moves up, which is something I’ve been hearing. But if he doesn’t, we probably will go to heavyweight.”

If it really is a done deal that Usyk is through with the cruisers, acknowledgment should be rendered to his incredible body of work in 2018. It might be a matter of opinion as to whether Usyk is the finest cruiserweight ever, a designation that arguably could go to the late 1980s version of future four-division heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, but there is no disputing that the polished Ukrainian’s three-victory run through the year that is about to end surpasses anything ever seen in the division over a 365-day period. Although he entered the cruiserweight portion of the eight-participant World Boxing Super Series as the nominal favorite and reigning WBO champion, the way Usyk separated himself from the pack of highly regarded 200-pounders was something to behold. He began the tournament on Sept. 9, 2017, with an impressive 10th-round stoppage of Germany’s Marco Huck before kicking it into overdrive in 2018, beginning with his majority-decision unification victory over previously undefeated WBC champion Mairis Breidis in Breidis’ hometown of Riga, Latvia, on Jan. 27. After adding Gassiev’s two titles in the WBSS finale, his TKO of Bellew made it three up, three down in 2018 against opponents who were a collective 79-2-1 with 57 knockouts at the time they faced him.

It is one thing to win a Fighter of the Year award, and quite another to possibly be recognized as 2018’s best among all athletes. Usyk is one of four finalists for the BBC World Sport Star of 2018 Award, where his competition will come from U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, winter sports athlete Esther Ledecka of the Czech Republic and Italian golfer Francesco Molinari.

However that vote goes, it is interesting to note that Usyk is TSS’ Fighter of the Year the year after the same honor went to fellow Ukrainian Vasiliy Lomachenko, who, like Usyk, was a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and, like Usyk, is trained by Loma’s father, Anatoly Lomachenko. It has been said that Usyk is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual replication of Lomachenko, only larger. That is high praise indeed, what with Vasiliy Lomachenko widely considered to be the world’s finest pound-for-pound practitioner of the pugilistic arts.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however. Before the launch of the WBSS tourney in September 2017, one writer, Gleb Kuzin, opined that “the reality is Usyk is not and never will be a producer of highlights like Vasyl Lomachenko. Usyk is a blue-collar technician. His work is subtle. The comparisons to Lomachenko or any other fighter are ill-informed. Usyk isn’t a highlight-reel machine. He’s out to make his opponents feel hopeless.”

Some would say that making quality opponents feel hopeless is by definition highlight-reel stuff. But either as his own man or a stylistic match for his buddy Vasiliy Lomachenko, 2018 was the year of years in the boxing journey of Oleksandr Usyk. Until, of course, he possibly tops it as a heavyweight.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Anatoly Lomachenko, a Genuine Innovator, is TSS’ Trainer of the Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Anatoly Lomachenko

The most daring ideas of genuine innovators are almost never met with early and widespread acceptance. People might still be traveling by horse-drawn conveyances were it not for Frank Duryea, a 24-year-old inventor who along with his brother Charles in 1869 developed the prototype for something they called the Duryea Motor Wagon, one of the first gasoline-powered vehicles in the United States. The Duryeas’ vision of the future met with much skepticism, but 24 years later it was Frank who drove a semi-operational car 600 yards down the street in Springfield, Mass. Two years after that, on Thanksgiving Day in 1895, Frank won this country’s first automobile race, from Chicago to Evanston, Ill., and back, traveling 50 miles – in a snowstorm! – in a little over 10 hours.

The name of Frank Duryea has mostly been lost in the haze of history, eclipsed by Henry Ford and his mass-produced Model-T that irreversibly changed America’s travel habits in 1908. It remains to be determined whether the foresight of a visionary named Anatoly Lomachenko, now 53, someday will be a footnote in the annals of boxing or a continuing subject of intense scrutiny and fawning imitation. But in the here and now, one thing seems certain: Anatoly Lomachenko, trainer of two of the four or five best pound-for-pound fighters in the world — his son Vasiliy, the WBO and WBA lightweight champion, and undisputed cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk – is increasingly recognized as a superb coach and true original. The Sweet Science’s 2018 Trainer of the Year, “Papachenko,” as he is known to the few members of his star pupils’ tight inner circle, has imagined into reality a number of unconventional training exercises which Vasiliy and Usyk cite as instrumental to their rise to the top of their profession.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of great trainers in this business, but I happen to think Anatoly is one of the few that are,” said Teddy Atlas, a noted trainer of champions in his own right who on Dec. 8 was the chief second for Oleksandr Gvozdyk as he wrested the WBC light heavyweight title from Adonis Stevenson in an 11th-round knockout in Quebec City. As was the case with Vasiliy Lomachenko and Usyk, who took gold medals, Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist, was a member of Ukraine’s highly successful boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics which was coached by, natch, the elder Lomachenko.

“I have nothing but respect for that man as a person and as a teacher,” Atlas continued. “He is an example of the proper way that you should conduct yourself professionally and personally. Anatoly is one of the few individuals that I know who is a credit not only to the business of boxing, but any business.”

Anatoly is only slightly more visible and vocal than, say, Al Haymon, the boss man of Premier Boxing Champions who is seldom seen and almost never heard. But Papachenko, who rarely grants interviews and even then does so reluctantly, did not suddenly come by his seemingly radical notions as how to best construct the perfect fighting machine. He placed tiny boxing gloves on the hands of Vasiliy when the infant was only three days old, a clear indication of what was to become his life’s mission. But this would not be another case of a father trying to live his athletic dreams through his son, which often puts too much pressure on the child and eventually results in burnout. That cautionary tale was played out by dad Marv Marinovich and son Todd, who was raised from birth to become a flawless quarterback. Although Todd Marinovich was drafted by the then-Los Angeles Raiders out of the University of Southern California in the first round in 1991, he shriveled under the pressure of attempting to justify the hype and was out of the NFL after two underwhelming seasons.

Although Vasiliy, 30, widely hailed as perhaps the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, is pushed to the limit and sometimes beyond by Anatoly’s severe and unorthodox training regimen, he and Usyk, 31, are happily dedicated to the program, in no small part because they can see the benefits that accrue from strict adherence.

“For Vasiliy, his father is like a god,” said Egis Klimas, the Oxnard, Calif.-based fellow Ukrainian who manages the younger Lomachenko and Usyk. “He respects him a lot. He loves him a lot. They have a great relationship.”

How unique are Anatoly’s deviations from standard boxing training? Well, years ago he plotted to have Vasiliy improve his endurance by regularly holding his breath underwater for as long as possible. It is an occupational tool mostly useful to pearl divers, but Vasiliy’s personal record is now up to 4½ minutes and it does appear that he never tires in the later rounds of bouts, no matter how frenetic his punch rate. Vasiliy also intersperses street skating, juggling, handstands and tennis, which Loma often plays solo, sprinting around the net to return his own lobs, into the equation. Vasiliy’s impressive footwork is partly the result of his training in Ukrainian folk dance, and in a nod to modern science, every punch he throws in camp is recorded and calibrated through the computer chips in his hand wraps.

The Papachenko blueprint is somewhat reminiscent of that employed by four-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, a persistent tinkerer who was determined to explore a wide variety of seemingly odd methods to help him maximize his abilities. At various times Holyfield worked with a ballet instructor, conditioning specialist, weight trainer and computer analysts, sometimes to the befuddlement of his by-the-book traditionalist of a lead trainer, George Benton.

“You don’t want no damn robot in there,” said Benton, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer in 2001 and was 78 when he passed away in 2011. “A big part of being a good trainer is the ability to listen. The fighter can bring something to the drawing board just as easily as I can. The smart man can learn something new every day. I’m trying to be as smart as I can.”

Klimas said Anatoly’s influence is already being seen elsewhere, with other trainers attempting to incorporate aspects of the program followed by his son and Usyk into the workout schedules of their fighters.

“It is obvious,” Klimas said of the imitators hoping to develop their own strain of that Team Loma magic. “But to copycat a trainer is like copycatting a fighter. Take Muhammad Ali. There was only one. Others tried to be like him, but it could never be the same for them.  It is the same with trainers. There is only one Teddy Atlas, one Freddie Roach. And there is only one Anatoly Lomachenko.”

Atlas wholeheartedly agrees with Klimas’ assessment.  “It’s not going to work,” he said of those who already are trying to steal pages from the Papachenko playbook and others who are sure to follow suit. “You can look at something and think you’re copying it, but the originals understand why it means what it does. The copycats don’t understand the essentials, and never will.”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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A Boxing Aficionado’s Christmas Wish List

Ted Sares

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aficionado

It’s cold outside and there’s a deep cover of white snow on the ground. This aficionado is mulling over what he would want boxing-wise in 2019, while partaking in a warm eggnog mixed with Jameson and lighting up a Tenth Anniversary Perdomo. The background music includes Mile Davis’s’ legendary tribute to Jack Johnson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8TdZFVj6tA  It’s time to type in the list as follows:

A speedy and full recovery for Adonis “Superman” Stevenson.

For Roc Nation Sports to help Daniel Franco with his medical bills.

For Jermain Taylor to receive the help he so badly needs.

A third match between GGG and Canelo to settle the issue once and for all.

A second match between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, but this time in London at Wembley. Winner fights Anthony Joshua.

Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller vs. Luis “The Real King Kong” Ortiz with the winner facing the winner of Dereck Chisora vs. Dillian Whyte.

A match between Vasily Lomachenko and Gervonta Davis sooner rather than later, but not until Davis grows up.

Loma’s opponents coming down in weight rather than Loma going up.

Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.

Gary Russell Jr. vs. Leo Santa Cruz.

Naoya Inoue vs. Luis Nery.

A continuing successful comeback by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.

For Andre Ward to come out of retirement and face a title holder.

For Joe Smith Jr.to avoid having his jaw broken and getting back into the mix by fighting Sean Monaghan for Irish and Long Island honors.

More exposure for Claressa Shields so that she is not lost in the shuffle of too many other female fights that lack her fan-friendly style

More televised action for Regis Prograis, Maurice Hooker, Teofimo Lopez, and Jaime Munguia.

For Mason Menard to retire. Too many bad stoppage losses.

Letting Manny Pacquiao retire in dignity by keeping him away from young lions like Crawford, Spence, etc.

The total and complete disappearance of Conor McGregor, Stephen A. Smith, and Shannon Briggs.

Now let’s get it on!

P.S. — What about your wishes for 2019? Please let us know.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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