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Part 2, Ward Interview: Ward Models Self on Floyd, Talks About “Lack” of Power

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Part 2, Ward Interview: Ward Models Self on Floyd, Talks About “Lack” of Power – When meeting the five other original participants of the Super Six Tournament for the first time during a press conference in Germany, Andre Ward glanced at the opposition and liked his chances. At that point he knew he’d win. Now, two years later, Ward sits on top of the 168 pound division and near the top of many boxing pound for pound lists. Ward says getting to this point didn’t happen by accident and without anxiety. There was plenty of pressure and he hears the doubters, yet stays focused.

In part two of our interview with Andre Ward, the champ reveals how he can improve, when he expects to get back in the ring, and chats about his mental make-up before a fight.

RM: Before a fight with Kessler, Bute, or any other top fighter, would you want to take a tune up at either 168 or 175?

AW: I think in the next few weeks we will have a better idea or direction of where we are trying to go. Basically all I know is that I want to come back in April or May. I don’t know where even. I don’t know if it’s going to be in Oakland or in Vegas. That is a tentative date that we’ve talked about. I do have to get my hand checked out. It isn’t broken but there is a lot of swelling. Other than that, I plan on coming back in April or May. (Note: Ward said Thursday that x-rays showed multiple fractures, which existed coming in to the fight, but were made worse on fightnight, in round six. He will be in a cast for two weeks.)

RM: OK. I liked the way you handled the Froch victory. It was business as usual, as if you expected to win.  Did you expect to be in this place at this point in your career, 27 years-old, undefeated super middleweight champion, and probably fighter of the year?

AW: Yes and no. I say yes because once we got in the tournament I honestly felt like we won it. I know it was a long shot on paper and I understood a lot of people didn’t expect me to win. Even though I respected those opinions, I let them fuel me, not to prove them wrong but to keep grinding and put in the work to be in this position. When I came to a Germany for the first press conference because I missed the one in New York I looked at every fighter there, I sized them up you know. I knew their background. I knew their history. I felt like we could win it, Ray. But you only know so much. Being recognized as the fighter of the year at this age is something I didn’t imagine. When I got the word that Sports Illustrated voted me Fighter of the Year it was unbelievable. That is just hard to comprehend. It really is. There are a lot of fighters in the world, a lot of good fighters. And to be considered the best fighter for a whole year is saying a great deal. I am just thankful.

RM: I hear you.

AW: I am just thankful, man. I really am. And that is how I felt Saturday night. By no means did I want to rub it in Froch’s face. I wanted to remain classy and give him credit where it’s due and just relish this moment for a while. Then get ready to get back on the horse because we still have a lot of road up ahead.

RM: So what’s next?

AW: I am looking forward to what’s next. But we are going to celebrate and enjoy this awesome victory. This is not just for me. This is for my team. And I did not want to disappoint anybody. A lot of people who sat at the press conference were emotionally invested into this tournament and also this fight. The way Froch talked, sometimes he disrespected me personally. My family members, my wife, my church, my pastor, they were fired up about this moment. A lot of people were invested in this emotionally. My manager, you know just everybody. People that helped me get ready. I just wanted everybody to leave happy. I wanted everybody to be pleased. To see everybody smiling and happy after we got our hand raised was all I needed to see. I was happier for them than I was for myself.

RM: So how do you handle the outside pressure beforehand? I noticed you get a little edgy before fights naturally because you are getting mentally and physically ready. But how do you handle the extra stress from these people who not only want you to win but expect you to win?

AW: I try to do the best that I can. I try to put it in, Ray, like nobody else, whether it’s dieting, running, conditioning, or training. And my faith is tremendous. When I read my Bible and get close to God with all of the chaos going on around me, it helps me understand that certain things are out of my hands. I did all that I was supposed to do. Now the fight is in God’s hands. My mindset is like this. Win or lose, I just want to glorify you. And of course I want to win. That is what I am there for. But I just want to glorify God the right way. When you have that mindset, even though there is a lot of pressure you realize that it is out of your hands. I look back and draw strength from the fact that I am here for a reason. Why? Well, I didn’t get this far for no reason. Look at the victories that I’ve had. All of the victories I had before prepared me for Saturday night. You don’t prepare for a fight like this past Saturday night in eight weeks or ten weeks. It takes years of preparation. It takes over a decade of honing your skills. So I look back and draw strength from the fact that I’ve put in all the work. I have done all I am supposed to do. Come fight night it is just time to perform. I have done it over 100 times as an amateur and 25 times as a pro. You get to a point where the tension and pressure is out there. But one or two weeks before the fight you just get in the zone.

RM: What kind of zone?

AW: There are so many people around you. There are people talking about the fight around that have their opinions and try to help as much as possible. But I am in a whole other zone because I know that I am the one that is getting in there and I know what I have to do. It is hard to explain. But the best way I could explain it is just being in the zone. And you get to that place by being in camp for eight weeks and years of preparation behind it. Eating certain foods, being away from your family, going to bed at the same time every night, all that stuff combined over an eight week period will have you in the right mindset before a fight.

RM: You said you haven’t hit your prime yet. How can you improve?

AW: I think there is another level of relaxation in the ring that I could go to. I like to use Floyd as an example. We have a lot of similarities. If you look at the Floyd at 130, 135 pounds versus the Floyd now at 147. Floyd moved a lot early on in his career, used a lot more energy. You know, he still won and looked good but still had a lot of youthfulness in him. Now you see this seasoned older fighter who does just enough. He moves just enough and does just what he has to do. He is in another realm right now simply because of the age and experience. I think that I am getting to that point now. In my earlier fights you might have seen more movement and energy. Slowly but surely I am starting to settle down more. You know, I relax in the ring. But there is a different level of relaxation at 28, 29, 30, or 31 years-old. You get to a certain realm where it gets easy. I feel like I am approaching that realm right now. I don’t feel like I am there yet. But I feel like I am approaching it. I am more efficient. That comes with experience in big fights against good fighters and overcoming things. We were able to overcome something that we never had to overcome before, a hurt hand in a fight against a tough fighter. Everything was on the line. So it is hard to say when I will hit my prime but I want to continue to fight good fighters and learn on the job. After this fight I will be better. It is going to make me a better fighter. And I am looking forward to getting in the ring regardless of who it is against because I know there will be improvements.

RM: So what do you say to people that doubt your knockout power?

AW: Well, if you look back at this tournament, there has only been one knockout. The Jermain Taylor-Arthur Abraham fight. It is not easy to knock out ‘A’ level competition. But if the guys I am fighting thought I couldn’t punch they would have walked right through me. I know for a fact that Froch felt my punches. I could see it in his eyes when he got hit. Froch made plenty of comments about my punching power before the fight but he didn’t say anything about it during the press conference afterwards. He said I couldn’t punch before we got in there. But he didn’t say anything about that after we got out of the ring. It’s a different story. So I don’t really buy into it, Ray. I know what I got in there. There is always going to be someone to pick you apart. Oh, you move too much. Oh, you did this or did that. There is always going to be something. To be honest with you I really don’t pay much attention to it anymore. I mean, we must be doing something right.

RM: Good point. Ok, Andre, thank you for your time as always. Are you taking to any vacations during the holidays?

AW: Yeah, we are going to get out of here. We have some media stuff coming up. At some point we have to fly down to Mexico City and get the WBC belt.

RM: Oh really? You have to go there to get it?

AW: Yeah, we have to go to Mexico City. I don’t like to go on vacation without the hardware. I like taking the hardware with me. It’s a great feeling especially when you just win.

Follow Ray on Twitter @RayMarkarian

Part 2, Ward Interview: Ward Models Self on Floyd, Talks About “Lack” of Power / Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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Crawford Ends it Like a Champ

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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 more than likely 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 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 can’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 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 is 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 home stretch. And the right uppercut that dropped Benavidez shows 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 exhibited why he’s the most diverse and stylistically 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 as a fighter and technician. 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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Terence Crawford Has Conquered the World, and Now He’s Won Over Nebraska

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It was a day of even more anguish for Nebraskans, making for a night of even more exultation in a state where boxing – or, at least a particular boxer – is emerging as a hero and much-needed source of pride for citizens left wondering about the sorry state of the once-mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Hours after those Cornhuskers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes, 21 seconds to fall 34-31 in overtime at Northwestern and begin a college football season 0-6 for the first time in program history, WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford defended his title with panache and power, stopping previously undefeated challenger Jose Benavidez, Jr. in the 12th round to buttress his argument that he is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. There are still pockets of resistance to his claim to that designation, of course, but none coming from the ESPN broadcast crew of Joe Tessitore, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Mark Kriegel, all of whom intermittently offered their opinion that the switch-hitting Omaha resident has now firmly established himself as best of the best.

The 31-year-old Crawford’s latest bravura performance was met with shouted hosannas of approval from the sellout crowd of 13,323 in Omaha’s CHI Health Center, a record for a boxing event in Nebraska, and a stark contrast to the burgeoning sense of panic among Cornhusker partisans, who have to be wondering who these impostors in the red-and-white uniforms are.

Crawford grew up in a poor section of Omaha as an avid Nebraska fan, and after his latest demonstration of nimble footwork, fast, accurate hands and surprising power you could hardly blame his fellow home-state citizens from wondering if he might be persuaded to enroll at NU and play quarterback for his floundering favorite team. The ability to finish strong, taking the fight even harder to Benavidez in the final round when the more prudent move might have been to simply run out the clock, stamps Crawford as the pugilistic equivalent of Tommie Frazier, the option master who led the Huskers to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and ’95. But even the legendary Frazier wasn’t perfect; he was 43-3 as a starter during his four-year college career. Crawford, now 34-0 with 25 wins inside the distance, has a vision of someday retiring undefeated, a goal that at this stage seems entirely reasonable.

Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, Crawford’s promoter, cited the fighter’s 12th-round mugging of Benavidez, the key blow being a ripping right uppercut that he had hidden up his figurative sleeve like a card sharp’s ace, as proof that the three-division world champion is indeed separate and above the madding crowd.

“Most fighters today, in that position, having clearly won the fight, would back off in the 12th round, not take any chances and run out the clock,” Arum said. “Not him. He’s a performer. He wanted to close the show, and that’s what he did. That’s what makes him special. That is not the mindset most (other fighters) have. But Terence is a showman. He wants to make a statement.”

He especially wanted to make it, and as loudly as possible, against the mouthy Benavidez (27-1, 18 KOs), who has been talking smack about Crawford for months and gave him a hard shove at Friday’s weigh-in, which precipitated a retaliatory right hook from the champion. It missed, thankfully, but no matter. Crawford landed plenty of shots that did when it mattered, smoothly alternating, as always, from an orthodox stance to southpaw and back again.

“We just took our time today,” Crawford said, referring to himself in the plural rather than the singular, a nod toward his support team, most notably manager-trainer Brian McIntyre. “Everything that went on this week, he was trying to get in my head, wanting me to have a firefight with him. I knew if we got in a rhythm we could do whatever we wanted, and that’s what we did.

“He made me work in the early rounds. He was trying to counter me, working on my distance. I couldn’t figure it out at first. But once I got my distance, it was a rout from there.”

Maybe the rout evolved methodically and in a controlled fashion because that’s what Crawford, who had vowed to “punish” Benavidez for his impertinence, had in mind all along. He is a man of his word, and, also as he had vowed, he declined to touch gloves with Benavidez or to offer even a halfhearted hug after the final bell. No surprise there; like fellow Omaha native Bob Gibson, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher, he regards all opponents as the enemy and thus off-limits to fraternization of any kind.

What about that kept-in-reserve uppercut, which sent Benavidez tumbling awkwardly to the canvas and in obvious distress?

“I’d been seeing it rounds and rounds ahead of time,” said Crawford, who is now 5-0 in Omaha and 6-0 in  Nebraska, counting a sole appearance in Lincoln. “I seen him pulling back,but then he stopped pulling back so I started leaning more and more because I was touching him to the body. Then I threw the shot, and it landed.”

For those with a need to crunch numbers, official scorecards through 11 completed rounds all had the overwhelming wagering choice – Crawford went off at minus-3,000, or a 1-to-30 favorite – winning big on the scorecards tallied by judges Levi Martinez (110-99), Robert Hecko (108-101) and Glenn Feldman (107-102). Punch statistics furnished by CompuBox also were conclusive if not necessarily off-the-charts, with Crawford landing 186 of 579, a decent but not overly so 32.1 percent, to 92 of 501 (18.4 percent) for the outclassed but game Benavidez. But boxing is basically  an art form, not math, and like all artists Crawford is more about aesthetic impression than raw data.

For his part, Benavidez, who had promised to “shock the world” by “exposing” Crawford, figured he had done as well, if not better, than most of Bud’s previous victims.

“I gave him a hell of a fight,” Benavidez reasoned. “But I got tired. Boxing, you know. I was pretty impressive. I wanted to give the fans a fight that they paid to come watch. I know he didn’t think I would be that good.

“I take nothing from him. He’s the best of the best for a reason. He’s a good fighter, you know? But I’m a good fighter, too. I had that fight close.”

In the co-featured bout, 21-year-old featherweight Shakur Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was much more dynamic than he had been in scoring a relatively pedestrian eight-round unanimous decision over Carlos Ruiz on Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, blasting out Romanian veteran Viorel Simion (21-3, 9 KOs) in one round. The southpaw Stevenson’s weapon of choice was the right hook, which he used to telling effect to floor Simion three times, prompting referee Curtis Thrasher to wave the bout off after an elapsed time of three minutes.

Simion, a 36-year-old Romanian whose previous losses were to former world champions Lee Selby and Scott Quigg, was penciled last in as a replacement for the injured Duarn Vuc, had never been stopped in his 12-year pro career and he looked askance at Thrasher, as if disbelieving that he would not be given the opportunity to fight his way out of trouble in the scheduled  10-rounder.  But, his legs still wobbly, he was not pleading a winnable case.

“My power was here tonight, and my speed,” said Stevenson, who claimed the vacant WBC Continental Americas 126-pound title. “Ain’t too much more that I can work on, but I’m going to keep staying sharp and get right back in the gym.”

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Close Early, Then All Crawford

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Terence “Bud” Crawford stopped Jose Benavidez, Jr at 2:42 of the 12th round. Benavidez came in with an unblemished record of 27-0. That run of success came to a screeching halt tonight. For the first half of the bout, Benavidez didn’t fight like the 20/1 underdog that the odds reflected in gaming shops across the globe. He made a good accounting for himself during the first six rounds, however the same can’t be said for the remainder of the fight, as Crawford dominated from the midway point on. It was the beginning of the end with Crawford landing a picture perfect uppercut that found it’s mark late in the final stanza. While Benavidez deserves credit for getting back to his feet, he only managed to prolong the inevitable for a handful of seconds more. Crawford goes to 34-0, with 25 by KO.

Story to follow.

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