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Q & A with Showtime’s Steve Farhood: Thoughts on Barclays Fights

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GarciaMorales2Brooklyn Kane17Here are the heavy hitters set to open up boxing at the Barclays. (Hogan Photos)

Steve Farhood is a ubiquitous figure in the New York boxing scene. From an insignificant club show in the Bronx to a major event at The Garden, he’s certain to be there observing from ringside. Most often he’s wearing a headset and commentating, or taking notes for a future article. On the rare night he’s not working, he’s still working—his brain didn’t come with an off switch. The former “Ring” editor knows too much not to be perpetually observing, cataloging, ruminating, and, lucky for us, sharing it rather well over the airwaves or in print. No surprise, then, that he sprinkled our conversation with various tidbits that were news to me; that John L. Sullivan had fought in Brooklyn or the last world championship fight in the borough was in 1931. “That’s a long time ago. Anything that happened in boxing before I got started was a long time ago,” joked the 55-year-old, who became a member of the boxing media around 1980.

Along with his ShoBox co-host Barry Tompkins, Steve will be doing ShoExtreme’s coverage (7PM ET/PT), which will precede the Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader. 25-year-old Brownsville-bred middleweight Danny Jacobs will be the featured attraction that Steve will be covering (with highlights of Bronx junior middleweight prospect Eddie Gomez possibly included). One of the most ballyhooed prospect/contenders to come out of these parts in years, Jacobs hasn’t been in the ring in over 19 months because he has been facing more lethal opposition outside of it: cancer. A large malignant tumor had wrapped itself around his spinal cord and eventually left him paralyzed. When it was removed, 25 radiation treatments followed. And yet he made it back and will be slinging leather Saturday….

SF: I think this is going to be an extremely difficult moment for Danny. I won’t say extremely difficult fight because, predictably, he’s in with someone he should be able to beat. [Josh Luteran, 13-1 (9 KOs)] But the emotion is going to be so tremendous for him that he’s gonna have to keep that in check. I’ve already read a quote of his where he said he was worried he was going to cry. And I would cry! Heck, I mean this guy beat cancer and his first fight back is going to be in Brooklyn!? In the biggest card this borough—his home borough—has had in 10 years since that KeySpan Park fight. I just think there’s a lot of emotional pressure on him.

ZL: He was paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair. He was on death’s door.

SF: This is one of the most remarkable boxing stories you’ll ever see. And I’m just glad that we’re going to show Danny on this card. Obviously, because he has been off for a long time, you can’t expect him to be in a super competitive fight. That would be ridiculous. Yet we are putting him on Extreme and there will be a feature run on him. I just can’t imagine what the emotion is going to be like when he comes out. We’ve all felt emotion in big fights, whatever that emotion is, but this is kind of a unique story. And Danny Jacobs is a winner the minute he climbs through those reports. I mean, he’s already a winner. He was told by doctors that he would never fight again. Fortunately, he didn’t listen to them. And…I don’t really care how far Danny Jacobs goes as a fighter. The fact he’s gone this far is just remarkable. It’d a great human interest story.

ZL: Let’s talk about the main event, Danny Garcia vs. Erik Morales. In November 2006, Morales got blasted in three rounds by Pacquiao. This incredible warrior sat on the canvas and let himself be counted out. He appeared done in every sense. Yet six years later he’s headlining this historic card on Showtime. Pretty crazy, huh?

SF: Erik Morales is such a warrior that even with the result of the first Garcia fight [On 3/24/12 Garcia won a wide UD 12], even with that classic formula of young up-and-comer meeting the future hall of famer, there was enough call for a rematch. He didn’t do it convincingly enough to eliminate at least some call for a rematch. And that’s totally to Erik Morales’ credit. I mean, the guy is just gonna keep fighting. Now did Garcia beat him? Yes. Did Garcia beat him fairly clearly? Yes. He went down late in the fight and it sealed the deal. But, it’s not in my mind as one-sided as a lot of the passing-of-the-torch type fights.

ZL: What astonishes me about Morales is I think he’s kind of a shot fighter—physically. Yet he is transcending the physical somehow. That Maidana fight shocked me. His legs looked stiff and old. His body looked soft. He looks downright decrepit. But he can hang with these guys.

SF: Well, he is remarkable. His career is remarkable. Here’s a guy whose prime was at 122. We’re now 18 pounds higher. But the one thing I’m going to look for in the Garcia fight…the one thing more than any other when I think of Erik Morales: he always was the last guy to punch in an exchange. And he wasn’t any defensive wiz in his prime—he got hit plenty. But anytime you hit him, he always answered. IF you hurt him, he answered. Barrera punched him, he hit Barrera back. He always was the last to punch. In some of the exchanges with Danny Garcia, that wasn’t the case. And that leads me to believe that Garcia will likely win again. Because that was to me what distinguished Morales. So is he shot? Well, I don’t know if he’s shot. He’s obviously competitive. He beat [Pablo] Cano, who’s a young kid. He managed to beat him to win that title, for what it’s worth. That’s what I’m gonna look for; does he punch last?

ZL: Apropos of Age versus Youth, what are your thoughts on Randall Bailey-Devon Alexander?

SF: It’s a weird fight Randall Bailey-Devon Alexander because it’s the type of fight where Alexander could dominate 2:59 of each round and still lose the fight. For my mind, Bailey is the hardest single punch hitter in all of boxing.

ZL: And at 38, another wildly well-preserved fighter.

SF: Yeah, you know, Bailey’s been down a bunch of times. He’s lost a bunch of fights. He’s obviously up there in years. But maybe it’s just time that we reconsider fighter’s ages. Because 38 isn’t what 38 was when I started covering this stuff.

ZL: Why is that, Steve?

SF: I think the biggest reason for it—and as I’m looking at Bailey’s record I’m trying to see if this justifies what I’m about to say. Randall Bailey has had 50 fights. Needless to say, a ton of them were first and second round knockouts. A 38-year-old fighter fifty years ago wouldn’t have had 50 fights; he would’ve had 90 fights, he would’ve had 110 fights. I always use Antonio Tarver as the best example. Antonio is 44 now…and how many fights has he had? 35. Granted, he turned pro late. He was 27, 28 when he turned pro. But I think that’s the reason why a Tarver at 44 could still be competitive with the division’s best. That’s why a Bailey at 38…. The number of fights and the amount of wear and tear isn’t the way it used to be.

ZL: Another unlikely survivor and Brooklynite will be on the televised portion of the card, Paul “The Magic Man” Malignaggi.

SF: Remarkable career. Remarkable. Sunday night I just saw his fight with [Vyacheslav] Senchenko. For any fighter to go into Ukraine and win a world championship [WBA welterweight title] is absolutely remarkable.

ZL: I thought he was a lamb to the slaughter. I wasn’t giving him any chance before that fight.

SF: I agree. Because what is that old saying about fighting on the road? You need a knockout to get a draw. The only trouble is Paulie doesn’t knock anyone out. He has the lowest knockout percentage of any world champion in boxing. How is he going to beat the incumbent champion on the road?  And yet he did it. He fought well, he fought smart. His toughness, certainly mental and physical, came into play. Anyone who saw the Cotto fight learned exactly how tough he was. Paulie’s story is as good as anyone’s. And I don’t think he’s fought in Brooklyn since his pro debut, that night in KeySpan park. That makes this an event and a full-circle story.

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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 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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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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