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BLAKE’S TAKE What’s Next For Guerrero, and Thurman?

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The main event on HBO’s Saturday night boxing feature was extremely important as far as determining the pecking order in the 147-lb weight class (one currently loaded with talent and good fights to make). Pitting new welterweight Robert Guerrero against mainstay contender Andre Berto provided somewhat of a crossroads fight as the winner would be set up perfectly for big money matches (with Floyd in sight) whereas the loser is destined for nothing more than contender status for at least a few fights. It’s no coincidence that both pugilists were 29 years old entering the bout in what should be their respective primes.

My prediction before the fight had Berto winning a close decision due to his edge in both strength (power) and hand speed. Berto has always showed flashes of elite skills in the ring, and I’ve never bought into Robert Guerrero as an elite fighter (even though he’s extremely likable and his story is compelling). The fact that Guerrero was fighting for just the second time at 147 lbs (having skipped the 140-lb class entirely), and that Berto was prepared to fight at 154 lbs, I figured we may be in for somewhat of a mismatch from a size-perspective.

What we saw: Guerrero v. Berto

-First and foremost, we saw that Robert Guerrero was NOT the smaller man in this fight. While he lacked some of the muscle mass that Andre Berto possessed, he looked every bit of a welterweight prizefighter.

-Andre Berto’s shoulder roll defense seemed really counter-productive against a fighter like Guerrero, with Berto leaning backwards at all times. Taking a page out of Floyd Mayweather’s playbook is always risky as he’s such an outlier based on his raw abilities that trying to emulate his style can often yield unsatisfactory results. This strategy played with into the hands of Guerrero as Berto was swarmed early and often by a relentless Guerrero. Berto seemed unequipped to use this style since he did not once use his lead elbow to create punching space for himself. Legally using elbows/forearms to create punching space –only for yourself– is one of the keys to this style/stance (which Adrien Broner showcased masterfully against Antonio DeMarco).

-Guerrero knocked Berto down twice in the first two rounds. The first was just old-school beatdown as Guerrero (probably illegally) held the back of Berto’s head with his right and delivered several unanswered lefts to the head. That ain’t boxing, it’s fighting. Guerrero is a fighter.

-Guerrero showed a real lack of speed (which would haunt him in a Mayweather fight if he gets what he wants). However, his relentless pressure just bullied Berto down. I thought Guerrero’s work was very nice and he showed that he was not afraid to get nasty. He turned this into a schoolyard brawl and never turned back in what proved to be an excellent strategy. I thought Guerrero would be the smaller/weaker man inside, but he controlled the distance, pace, and flow of the entire fight.

-Guerrero displayed a type of dirty boxing rarely seen in boxing anymore, just relentless pressure. In MMA, this is what Randy Couture made famous. Ultimately, Guerrero did his best impersonation of Nick Diaz by landing countless clean, smaller shots that added up quickly.

-Berto needed to use his legs! This was a huge ring to dance in, and he needed to utilize his athleticism to stop Guerrero from simply walking him into the ropes and smothering him. The first step would have been to abandon that half-assed shoulder roll so he could be up on his toes firing off meaningful jabs to keep his opposition at bay. Beyond that, Berto needed to throw combos, which we didn’t see the entire fight.

-Every round was a repeat of the round before as Guerrero would land a punch or two, and then immediately tie up and turn the fight into brawl. I’m not sure the term “Phone booth” fight applies anymore in an era where finding a functioning Phone booth is as much a challenge as getting the two best fighters in the division to fight one another, but this fight was fought almost exclusively in close quarters. (Editor Note: TSS is open to hearing replacements for the “phone booth” analogy!)

-Berto did himself no favors by throwing one punch at a time. Even though he landed massive uppercuts as the fight wore on (when Guerrero noticeably tired), his output was simply not enough. Given the discrepancy in Guerrero’s aggression and volume, Berto wasn’t going to win on the scorecards. He just couldn’t keep the Ghost off of him, and failed to make any adjustments to change the way the fight was going (not in his favor).

-Guerrero’s inability to stop Berto’s uppercuts inside late in the fight was certainly alarming. However, the bigger take away from that was the fact that Guerrero can take a welterweight punch. His defense for those shots was basically to not go down from them, and in the end, it proved effective.

What we learned:

-In a pure crossroads fight, neither guy really lost ground (from a career standpoint)–which is nuts. Conversely, I’m not sure either fighter truly gained any ground either, though. Neither fighter should be considered elite or in line for a major title fight against a P4P guy like Floyd. Berto, while showing immense heart for fighting through a pair of badly swelling eyes and knockdowns, showed a real lack of experience, ability to adjust, and ability to control distance. To me, Guerrero showed true grit and determination while failing to show elite-level boxing skills.

-Berto’s lack of ability to keep Guerrero off of him shows why he’s not an elite fighter. This could be trainer-based as he seemed to have no training on creating space for himself or stopping Guerrero from turning it into a “phone booth” fight. What Guerrero did to get inside was hardly groundbreaking stuff. He simply willed his way in there and used some B-Hop 1-2-Hold combos. It was hardly an expert display of infighting, but rather an epic display of dictating the terms of a fight.

-Guerrero was awfully stiff in the legs, which is why I simply can’t see him hanging with the elite fighters in the division. I just can’t see him being able to swarm and smother Tim Bradley, let alone Floyd.

– I’d rather see Robert Guerrero vs. a very solid technical boxer like Timothy Bradley or Juan Manuel Marquez before seeing him get his chance against Floyd Mayweather. (Also, a fight with Brandon Rios makes sense and would be sick). I will say that I can totally see Floyd taking a Guerrero fight as it would be a pretty easy one for him to win coming off of a long layoff.

What we saw: Thurman v. Quintana

– At this point in his career, Carlos Quintana is the quintessential gatekeeper. He’s a solid, technical southpaw who has been in very big fights and beaten some very good fighters. However, he’s neither an imposing puncher nor a world-class fighter anymore. Not sure he ever has been either of those, but he certainly is not anymore. Nevertheless, Quintana represented a great test to see if Thurman can handle a game veteran who can really box.

-Thurman certainly commits to his punches. He said before the fight that he goes for knockouts, and that’s evident in this first round. Thurman’s body punch that yielded a first round knockdown was sweet. It had great placement (accuracy) and power, but he didn’t even have his legs fully behind the shot as he was leaning forward too much. This spells raw punching power, and that’s something you can’t ever take away.

-Quintana getting up from that aforementioned body shot knockdown in round 1 showcases why he’s such a good gatekeeper… You’ll have to earn a win against him. He won’t just quit. Many men in Quintana’s shoes would’ve stayed down and collected their paycheck in stride to avoid further punishment.

-With the exception of a few range-finders, I saw no jabs thrown from Thurman through round 2. He throws haymakers, admittedly, and you gotta like that as a fan. For a guy who throws bombs like Thurman does, I thought he did an impressive job not over-committing and leaving himself very exposed.

-Thurman is really a stalking fighter. He kept marching forward through each of the first three rounds, and actually did a solid job cutting off the ring from the more seasoned Quintana.

-Quintana couldn’t offer angles, so he needed to land something hard to back Thurman up. Regardless of how effective Thurman’s aggression is/was, it’s enough to win a fight if your opposition doesn’t land anything meaningful. Quintana offered him very little. Given a lack of true punching power, Quintana needs to out-box people and he did no such thing against Thurman.

-Thurman ended the fight with a startling, strong finish. He said he comes to finish fights, and that’s just what he did. Gatekeepers exist to provide litmus tests, and Thurman passed with flying colors. On to the next one.

What we learned:

-I want more Thurman. Bring on Angulo/Kirkland/Canelo…All would be explosive matchups despite Canelo probably not being interested (can’t really blame him either with big money fights on the table and Thurman’s aggression/power blend). Perhaps Thurman can lure Erislandy Lara into an exciting fight for a change?

-Thurman showed good composure and discipline for a young fighter intentionally throwing KO blows. Combined with his power, it will take him to great lengths as a professional.

-Quintana said after he would retire; if he un-retires, he will be no more than a name moving forward for up-and-coming fighters.

Side Notes:

-Jim Lampley showed his brilliance in between fights by not even stumbling through the pronunciation of Guillermo Rigondeaux’s upcoming opponent (Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym).

-I’m sorry, but I hate Adrien Broner. In the ring, he’s outstanding, but I can’t stand the guy. I understand the need to sell and promote yourself, but that guy is heading down the wrong path if you ask me. Could be a front as @Woodsy1069 and others have suggested, but I’m not so sure. If he’s serious about fighting Pacquiao, I’d be thrilled to see it. But I’d much prefer never to see him outside of the ring. He’s turning into a caricature of himself and it’s not good.

Follow me @Blakehoc for more predictions/insights.

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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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