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Pacquiao vs. Mayweather: Who’s the Best of the Era?

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Al Bernstein knows more about boxing than me. To be totally fair to him, it’s probably safe to say the recently inducted Hall of Famer has actually forgotten more about boxing at this point in his storied career than I know in total.

Bernstein has done it all as a boxing media member, and he’s done it well. He started as a newspaperman in the 1970s. Soon, he was contributing to Boxing Illustrated and RING Magazine. From 1980 to 1998, he was analyst and host of ESPN’s Top Rank Boxing show. In fact, from 1980 to 2003, Bernstein was the primary voice of boxing for ESPN. And, as you well know, since 2003 Bernstein has been lead boxing analyst for Showtime. He’s also the primary face and leader of our sister site, Boxing Channel.

Like I said, he’s done it all.

One of his signature shows over at ESPN was the Big Fights Boxing Hour. He wrote and hosted 26 episodes of the program, which chronicled some of the biggest fights in boxing history. Honestly, my first encounter with many of the finer points of boxing history came through watching these shows, where old-time masters like Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Dempsey came to life again through the magic of film.

So when I chatted with Bernstein recently, I couldn’t help but ask him to compare legacies between the two preeminent fighters of this era, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Who is the greatest of this era, as of today? If I’m honest with myself, I was probably hoping Bernstein would validate my opinion on the matter: Mayweather is an all-time great, but Pacquiao is an all-time greater.

Look, I’m not saying Pacquiao (seen running stairs in Beijing with Brandon Rios, in Chris Farina-Top Rank snap) would’ve beaten Mayweather at welterweight back when the fight should’ve happened around 2009-10. (I’m not not saying it either). But I submit to you, dear reader, that Pacquiao’s wins, both the men he fought and when he fought them, measure slightly better than Mayweather’s grand accomplishment of staying undefeated.

Sure, it’s close. But Pacquiao’s three best wins before he moved up to welterweight (Barrera, Morales and Marquez) are better than any one win Mayweather has enjoyed over his entire career. Right?

And his losses? Give me the fighter who tests himself over the one that doesn’t. I want to see a fighter go beyond his limits, and when he reaches them and gets knocked to the ground, I want to see if he can get back up again.

But what does Bernstein say on the matter? First, I asked him about the fight that never got made. What would a Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Superfight have looked like back in 2009?

That would’ve been fun,” Bernstein said. “I always thought that version of Manny Pacquiao had a chance to do rather well against Mayweather. I mean, I may have been wrong based on what has transpired since, but I always thought that the fight would have been really interesting during that time period because of the speed and activity of Pacquiao. That was an A level fighter in Manny Pacquiao who had confidence that was skyrocketing and all the rest of it.”

So Pacquiao is on the same level as Mayweather at welterweight? Among the greatest of the greats?

“Now at those weight divisions, [Pacquiao] is not a Ray Leonard or a Tommy Hearns or a Roberto Duran. Down at featherweight, around those areas, to me he is one of the biggest superstars of all-time along with Barrera, Marquez and Morales. He’s not [quite at that level] at the higher weights, but still terrific.”

Bernstein doesn’t consider Pacquiao an all-time great welterweight, but gives high praise to the Pacquiao of lower divisions.

“Pacquiao had two different careers. The first one was with all those great fighters when they created what I consider to be a mini-version of the 1980s thing of the Four Kings [Hearns, Hagler, Duran and Leonard]. He ended up having the best record of that whole crew, so you have to give him his props. At the end of the day, he was the best of that group probably by a narrow margin.”

Still, Bernstein doesn’t seem quite ready to jump on the Pacquiao train, so I push the issue. Don’t you have to judge Pacquiao’s career a bit differently? I mean, head-to-head is one thing, but don’t you have to judge Pacquiao’s legacy at the lighter weights and Mayweather’s at the heavier? And doesn’t what Pacquiao accomplished later in his career bolster his case of being best of the era?

“When he moved up in weight, he had some amazing performances. But with Mayweather, because he’s still winning and winning convincingly…you have to take the whole body of work. Mayweather’s had these long layoffs and all the rest, so he’s managed his body better in a lot of ways…but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Mayweather’s beaten everybody. Now, were there times when you’d have liked to see him fight Fighter A instead of Fighter B? Definitely. And were there a couple of people that he used what I like to call the Angelo Dundee theory of management of trying to get everyone at exactly the right time? Yes. He did all that. But at the end of the day, he’s going to have glittery names on his resume. Isn’t he?”

It’s true. Mayweather does have a bevy of big names on his unblemished record. De La Hoya, Hatton, Marquez, Mosley, and Cotto are nothing to scoff at. Moreover, he’s just about dominated every single one of them. His wins might not carry watchers to the peak of excitement the way a fighter like Pacquiao does, but Mayweather is the sweetest scientist of his day. In fact, Bernstein argues that Mayweather is so good at what he does, he fools the audience into thinking he’s not standing right in front of his opponents for most of the fight.

“When you dissect a Mayweather fight, when you go back and look at it, he spends a lot of time in the pocket. It’s not as if he’s dancing the whole time. He will move strategically when he wants to, and what he does, if you look at it, his plan is always the same: He might give a round or two early…and then he wins all those rounds in the middle. He does it not by moving, but by landing punches, by slipping, by doing all the things he does and letting the guy know: ‘look, you’re in here, but you’re not going to hit me as much as you want.’ Then, in the later rounds, he’ll employ a little more movement. It’s not running, but employing more movement. Because now…he’s banked a lot of rounds and he now feels like he can peck away and win the rounds he needs to win at the end. So it gives the illusion of how he ran when in reality he didn’t. That’s the part that fascinates me.”

Bernstein said part of the problem is that Mayweather, 36, has never had to face a truly great fighter in his prime. So the entertainment value of a Mayweather fight is reduced to simply witnessing how much better he is than the person standing in front of him. And while Pacquiao had great rivals in the prime of his career, men who tested his limits, fans have missed out on seeing how Mayweather would react facing the same thing.

Bernstein has a point. In 2012, when Miguel Cotto had the audacity to bloody Mayweather’s nose with a steady and stiff jab, for fans it was as if Gatti-Ward was unfolding right in front of their eyes. The excitement was downright palpable, despite the fight being a clear and wide UD win for Mayweather. Why? Because Mayweather so seldom looks as if he’s actually in a fight.

“That’s why, to be honest, sometimes he’s doing great but also it’s the level of opposition. We don’t have a superstar in this era [for him to fight]. We have a lot of terrific fighters, Canelo among them. They’re very good at their craft and fun to watch. We don’t have another A-plus level fighter in those weight divisions. If we had an Andre Ward down there, or someone like that, then it would probably be a great matchup. If we had a Tommy Hearns and a Sugar Ray Leonard or a Roberto Duran or an Aaron Pryor – if we had some of those people, we’d have a better chance of seeing the match we want to have with Mayweather.”

Last month, we were hoping Canelo Alvarez would help give us exactly that. Yet, while the 23-year-old appeared to have all the tools necessary to give Mayweather a stern test, the 12-round bout devolved into that of just about any other Mayweather fight: absolute dominance.

“I thought Canelo squandered his moment in time by fighting the wrong tactical fight,” Bernstein said. “I don’t know if he’d have done any better, but why he did that, I have no idea.”

Still, Bernstein said the stage for the fight, which he called from ringside for Showtime, was up there with any big fight in boxing history.

“That one was right up there with any of them. The level of excitement leading up to it, that weigh-in scene where they open up the entire arena and I couldn’t hear a word Brian Kenny was saying and I had to read his lips because of the noise…it was pretty extraordinary. And because the mainstream sports media covered it, it added another dimension to it, too. The whole event was as exciting as the great fights in the 80s I worked on featuring Hearns, Hagler, Leonard and Duran. Now, that was a different time. There was no social media and the immediacy of coverage, but still those were huge events and spectacular…this one was right at the top of the list.”

It seems Bernstein can’t say enough good things about Mayweather.

“He’s remarkable. He’s 36 years old, pushing 37, and you could never imagine somebody fighting this precisely, this well and this athletically at that age.”

Still, though, all this talk about the Four Kings…these guys were all great, and they all fought each other to prove both to themselves and to the world, which man was the greatest of the era. Isn’t this whole issue, the legacies of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, something that could’ve and should’ve been settled in the ring back when it might have been the biggest fight in boxing history? Didn’t Pacquiao, the version that butchered Ricky Hatton and tossed Miguel Cotto around the ring like a ragdoll…didn’t he stand the best chance of knocking Mayweather off his throne?

“We would have liked to find out,” said Bernstein, and in the end, it appears we at least agree on that.

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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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Kerobyan and Hovannisyan Score KO Wins in L.A.

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LOS ANGELES-Super welterweight prospect Ferdinand Kerobyan didn’t waste time and drilled Mexico’s Rolando Mendivil in less than a minute to win by knockout on Friday.

Kerobyan doesn’t get paid by the minute.

The North Hollywood fighter Kerobyan (11-0, 6 KOs) brought a large crowd to the Belasco Theater and didn’t give them much time to cheer as he blasted out Mendivil (10-6, 3 KOs) with an all-out attack.

Mendival never had a chance.

Kerobyan immediately connected with a three-punch combination capped with a left hook that dropped Mendivil in the first 15 seconds of the opening frame. The Mexican fighter got up and when the fight resumed Kerobyan clobbered Mendivil with a right cross and down he went on a knee. Referee Lou Moret had seen enough and stopped the fight at 49 seconds of the first round.

“I felt great. I never like to say that a fight is easy. I just make it look easy,” said Kerobyan. “I’m proud of my performance. I showed that I’m a warrior. I’m looking for bigger and better names. I want eight and 10 round fights only.”

In the co-main event, Azat Hovannisyan (15-3, 12 KOs) blitzed Colombia’s Jesus Martinez from the opening bell with an offensive attack void of any defense. He didn’t need any for the Colombian who was in full retreat until the fight was stopped. Hovannisyan unloaded a three-punch combination that included a left hook chaser and down went Martinez at 30 seconds into the fourth round of their super bantamweight clash.

“I feel stronger than ever before,” said Hovhannisyan. “Whatever has happened in the past is past. I’m ready for a world title fight. I know I still have a lot left in the tank.”

Other bouts

Richard “The Kansas Kid” Acevedo (4-0, 4 KOs) battered Mexico’s Javier Olvera (2-2, 1 KO) and ended the fight with three straight rights to the gut and head. Olvera flailed a few punches but other than that, it was all Acevedo as the fight ended at 2:30 of the first round of the super welterweight match.

Rudy “El Tiburon” Garcia (9-0, 1 KO) couldn’t miss with the left hook through all six rounds against Houston’s David Perez (10-5, 5 KOs) in their super bantamweight clash. Garcia fights out of L.A. but there was no hometown bias in this fight. He simply connected more with flush shots in every round. Perez showed a good chin and was never stunned or hurt. One judge scored it 59-56, the other two 60-54 all for Garcia.

David Mijares (6-0,3 KOs) won a hard fought split decision over Michael Meyers (2-1, 2 KOs) after four rounds in a super lightweight match. It had been over a year since Mijares had last fought, but the Pasadena fighter survived a last round knockdown and found a way past the strong Myers in winning the split decision 37-38, 38-37 twice.

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