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REMEMBERING THE ROCK & MR. BOXING

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It was around 6:00 a.m. on Monday, September 1, 1969. I was headed into my third year in college and into my second year of competitive amateur boxing. I had gotten up early that first morning of September to head out for a fast-paced three-mile run, then jump in the pool. Before I left the house on Long Island, I went outside and picked up the morning’s papers, which were delivered to my home and left on the front steps. It was a morning ritual for me, always an early riser, to go outside, retrieve Newsday and the New York Daily News, then tiptoe into my parent’s bedroom and leave the papers on my father’s side of the bed. As I picked up the papers, I looked at the headlines on both of the papers. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“ROCKY MARCIANO DEAD AT 45” was the headline on the Daily News. The sub-headline underneath read, “Former Heavyweight Champ Dies in Plane Crash.”

I was stunned. I quickly took Newsday out of its protective plastic bag.

Newsday’s headline was “MARCIANO KILLED IN PLANE CRASH.”

I was breathing harder than if I had just finished my three-mile run. I needed to share this horrible information with someone.

Dad!

Why not? It was only natural. My dad, Carl, was the one who introduced me to boxing 10 years earlier. I needed to wake him. Had to wake him.

I quietly opened the door to mom and dad’s room, then entered. I walked around to my sleeping dad. I took another look at the headline on Newsday, just to make sure I read it right. I did. I wished it wasn’t true.

“Dad!” I whispered. He didn’t budge. My second “Dad!” got him to open his eyes.

He looked at me and lifted his head off his pillow. He looked at the clock. It was a minute or two after 6:00.

“What is it, Randy?” he questioned softly. Is everything okay?

“Dad, look at the headlines,” I said. I showed him Newsday, then held up the Daily News.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed. He said it a few more times. Rocky Marciano was one of my dad’s favorite fighters.

Then he turned to my mom, Roberta.

“Honey, wake up!” he said, tapping her lightly on a shoulder. “Wake up!”

She half-opened her eyes.

“Ughhh, what is it?” she mumbled, still half asleep. “What is it?”

He took the papers from my hands and held them over mom’s face.

“Look!” he said.

She opened her eyes to read. In a flash, the sleep left her. Her mouth fell open.

“OH MY…” she clamped her hands over her mouth before she could finish.

“Rocky is dead?” my dad asked. “How could that be? He was still a young man. How’d he die?”

“He died in a plane crash, dad,” I said. The news hit home even harder. My dad was a pilot.

He sprung up in bed and began reading one of the papers.

My mom rubbed the sleep from her eyes. I handed her the other paper.

“Rocky was in a Cessna 172 when it crashed into a corn field in Newton, Iowa,” said my dad. “It appears there was bad weather.”

He took a deep breath. You could see he was moved.

“Rocky was one of the greats,” said my dad. “Next to Joe Louis, he may have been the greatest heavyweight of all time. And, guess what…today would have been Rocky’s 46th birthday.”

In 1969, there was no Youtube, no internet. My 10-year journey into boxing consisted of hearing stories from my dad, reading Ring Magazine and all the local papers. I truly considered Ring Magazine to be, as founder Nat Fleischer called his publication, the “Bible ofBoxing.” In being the bible, I also looked at Fleischer to be the creator of all things boxing. His word was gospel.

The news of Marciano’s death was nothing less than shocking. How could “The Rock” be gone? I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to know more about Marciano. How great was he? Where did he fit in amongst the great heavyweights of the past? I decided I had to speak with Nat Fleischer himself. I decided to call him later that morning. Then, I decided I wouldn’t give a secretary a chance to make up an excuse he was busy. I decided to go to his office and sit there for as long as I had to in order to meet him and talk with him.

The Ring offices were located in an old six-story building at 120 W. 31st Street in New York City. They had been in Madison Square Garden on 49th Street for years, relocating after that MSG faced the wrecking ball and the current MSG was opened in the late 1960’s.

I got to the building shortly before 9:00a.m., Monday, September 1. I checked the directory on the wall and quickly found what I was looking for: Ring Publishing Corp, 5th Fl.

I excitedly stepped into the small elevator behind me and pressed the button withthe number 5 on it. Little did I know, but that elevator would take me up and down to The Ring offices thousands of times, beginning in another 10 years.

When the door opened, several odors were immediately evident: Cigarettes. Cigars. Perfume. Cologne. Mold. Mildew.

“May I help you,” said a woman in an office with a sliding window to my right.

“Yes, I’m hoping to see Mr. Fleischer,” I told her.

“Do you have an appointment with Mr. Fleischer?” the lady asked.

“No, I don’t,” I said, “but I have been reading Ring since I was a child and…”

She cut me off.

“I’m sorry, young man, but if you don’t have an appointment with Mr. Fleischer, there is no way you can see him. He is very busy.”

I tried explaining my desire to speak with the founder of Ring, but the lady kept apologizing and telling me she was sorry. Finally, she said in a stern voice, “Young man, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but Mr. Fleischer is very busy. There will be a TV crew coming in soon to interview him. I’m sure you heard that Rocky Marciano has died in a plane crash. Mr. Fleischer will be doing interviews all morning.”

I sighed and nodded. Then I turned and went to press the button for the elevator. At that moment, the door to Nat Fleischer’s office opened. Out walked the balding, short, roundish founder of The Ring, the man who began rating fighters, the man whose opinion in the sport was heard and worshipped the way Moses heard and worshipped his Lord in front of the burning bush over 2,000 years ago.

“Mr. Fleischer,” I said, moving towards him. “Boxing lost such a great fighter last night. I am an avid reader of The Ring. I live on Long Island and just had to come in to meet you and talk to you. I know you’re very busy, but if you can give me just five minutes, I would be honored.”

He looked at me and for a moment—it seemed like an hour—he stared at me. Then he spoke.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, son,” he said.

“It’s Randy, sir. Randy Gordon,” I replied nervously.

“Mr. Gordon, I would love to speak with you,” he said. Turning to the receptionist, he said, “Millie, will you please show Mr. Gordon into my office? I must talk with Nat for a few moments.”

“Nat?” I thought. “Nat must talk with Nat? It’s got to be Nat Loubet, the Managing Editor, Fleischer’s son-in-law, and the heir apparent to Fleischer’s throne.

“Would that be Nat Loubet you’re meeting with?” I asked, quickly realizing I was out-of-place for doing so.

“Yes it is,” laughed the most respected boxing journalist in the world. Then he gave me a playful smack on the top of my head.

“Millie, take this young man into my office and give him a few copies of his favorite reading material.”

We walked into a neat office with framed issues of The Ring hanging on the walls, along with photos of Nat Fleischer giving and receiving awards. There he was with Jack Dempsey. With Joe Louis. With Sugar Ray Robinson. With Willie Pep. With Henry Armstrong. With Gene Tunney.

This was the office, which, in 15 years, I would sit in—at that very same desk—as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine which Fleischer gave life to in 1922 and which Bert Sugar and I brought back from the dead in 1979.

I walked around the room. I looked at the photos. My love for the sport intensified with every minute I stayed there. Then, as I was looking at a photo of Nat Fleischer presenting an award to Rocky Marciano, the door leading from Loubet’s office to Fleischer’s opened. In walked Fleischer. He saw me looking at the photo of him and Marciano.

“I was presenting Rocky with the ‘Fighter of the Year Award’ at the Downtown Athletic Club,” said Fleischer. He motioned to the couch in his office.

“Sit, Mr. Gordon,” he said. “Stay and talk about Rocky Marciano.”

“Thank you, Mr. Fleischer,” I said, adding, “Please call me Randy. Mr. Gordon is my father.”

Then, showing a sense of humor, he said, “Then you can call me Nat. Mr. Fleischer is my father!”

I walked over and sat on the couch. He walked over and sat down a few feet away. Then he turned and asked, “So, do you think Marciano was the greatest heavyweight champion ever?”

He watched as I looked up, obviously in deep thought. He answered for me.

“Marciano was good, real good,” said Fleischer. “He may have been the toughest heavyweight ever…the most determined…relentless…a banger…he could take a guy out with either hand.”

Then he paused and took a deep breath.

“But he wasn’t the best ever,” said Fleischer. “Far from it.”

“Who was?” I asked. “Was it Joe Louis?”

Fleischer shook his head.

“Jersey Joe? Gene Tunney?” I inquired.

“No sir,” said Fleischer. “The greatest was Jack Johnson.”

“Where does Marciano fit in?” I asked.

He took a pad from the table from in front of the couch, then removed a gold pen from his shirt pocket and began to write. In about a minute, he handed me his list:

1 – Jack Johnson
2 – James J. Jeffries
3 – Bob Fitzsimmons
4 – Jack Dempsey
5 – James J. Corbett
6 – Joe Louis
7 – Sam Langford
8 – Gene Tunney
9 – Max Schmeling
10- Rocky Marciano

I looked it over. I was surprised to see Marciano at #10. I asked him why he was so low.

“It’s not that’s he’s low,” explained Fleischer. The ones above him were so great.”

Just then, the TV crew arrived.

“Stay, Randy,” said Fleischer. “They’re from ABC News. They are going to interview me about the death of Rocky Marciano.”

“I’d love to watch,” I said. “I’ll stay quietly out of the way.”

I sat on the couch as around eight members of the ABC crew set up their lights, ran electric wiring along Fleischer’s office floor and duct-taped it down, checked their cameras and microphones and connected a small microphone to Fleischer’s shirt, running the wire down the back of his shirt and out to a small box connected to the back of his pants. One of the technicians powdered Fleischer’s nose and held a piece of white typing paper next to his face as they did a white balance, making sure their wasn’t too much light on the subject, causing an on-screen glare. The interview was underway within a half hour of the crew showing up.

“What was your reaction when you heard that Rocky Marciano had been killed?” Fleischer was asked.

“Like everybody else, I was stunned,” he said. “I still am.”

“Describe Rocky Marciano the fighter, Mr. Fleischer,” came the next question.

“He lived up to his nickname. He was a Rock. A boulder. He was relentless. And tireless. His defense wasn’t the best, but he didn’t mind trading punches. With Rocky, it took only one shot. Just one!”

As Fleischer was interviewed, I stared at his list of top all-time heavyweights:

10. Rocky Marciano

I had long thought Marciano would have been in the top three, but that was from hearing my dad heaping praise on him whenever we talked about the heavyweight champs.

After the interview, and after the camera crew had left, I said, “Thank you, Nat, for taking the time to meet me and stay to watch you interviewed. Before I leave, can I ask you three things?”

Sure, Randy, ask away,” said the Founder/Owner/President/Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The Ring.

“My first question is, ‘Are the guys above Marciano in your ratings so much better? Shouldn’t he be rated a lot higher. He knocked out Louis, who you have at number six.’”

He looked at me and said, “Marciano is one of my all-time favorites. He had the biggest heart ever. Sure, he beat Louis, but Joe was a shell of himself them, and still gave Marciano a rough time. Other guys he beat, like Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore were also past their prime.”

I nodded my head.

“Muhammad Ali is in exile,” I said. “If he didn’t run into draft problems and was still fighting, do you think he would have become an all-time great?”

“Cassius Clay (Fleischer always referred to Ali—even rated him—as Cassius Clay) was a big, strong, lightning-quick heavyweight. But speed and agility is all he had. Anybody in my Top 10 would have had an easy night with him.”

I remained expressionless, not wanting to tell Nat Fleischer I disagreed. Maybe another time.

“My last question, Nat, is ‘How do I get a job as boxing writer? I want to be in the business. Where do I start?’”

He placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Well, it helps to know somebody,” he said, looking directly into my eyes. Then he smiled.

“You know me,” he continued. “I will help you get your start.”

“You will?” I said with excitement.

“I will,” he replied. “When do you graduate college?”

“In two years, sir,” I answered.

“Stay in touch,” he told me. “Send me some of the articles you write for your college newspaper. When you graduate, you’ve got yourself a job.”

Excitedly, I embraced the Dean of all boxing writers.

“Thank you, Nat! Thank you!” I exclaimed.

He laughed.

We shook hands, and he walked me out of his office—my future office—to the elevator.

“Stay in touch, Randy,” he said.

“I will, Nat, thank you so much,” I replied.

The elevator door closed and we waved to each other.

I never saw—or spoke—to him again. A few months after we met, he celebrated his 82nd birthday. That winter, he contracted pneumonia, and the battle took its toll. He began to need more rest and went into the office less frequently. By the following year, he hardly went in at all. His son-in-law, Nat Loubet, took over the reigns of The Ring.

On June 25, 1972, a few weeks after I graduated college, Nat Fleischer went to that big arena in the sky. He was 84.

It was eerie, when, seven years later, I walked into that same office to team with Bert Randolph Sugar in rebuilding and revitalizing a near-bankrupt Ring Magazine, turning it into perhaps the finest, most-respected and widely-read boxing magazine of all time.

During those Ring years, and in the decades since, I have watched Marciano’s legacy become almost mythical. The old-timers I knew back then who knew Marciano and covered him and used to tell me stories of The Rock are long gone.

I have been asked, as a former Editor-in-Chief of The Ring, to put together my list of Top-10 heavyweights, just like Nat Fleischer did and just like Bert Sugar did. Joe Louis was #1 on Sugar’s list. Marciano was #6.

I can’t do a list. Lord knows I’ve tried.

That’s because dreams die hard. As a kid, Rocky Marciano was among the greatest, if not THE greatest. Today, he’s a mythical name who my Italian friends love to talk about and ask if I think he was the best heavyweight ever.

It’s tough for me to tell them he wasn’t the greatest heavyweight champ ever, probably not even a Top-10 All-Time Heavyweight Champ.

Occasionally, I’ll look skywards and ask Nat Fleischer and Bert Sugar for help, saying, “I am about to put together my Top-10 heavyweights. Where do I put Muhammad Ali? Where do I put Jack Johnson. Where do I put Joe Louis? How about Rocky Marciano? What do I do with him?”

When my book comes out, and I have my chapter of Lists, I just my leave my list of Top-10 heavyweights blank.

I still have no idea where to put Rocky Marciano.

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Boxing Needs More John Scully’s

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“Iceman” John Scully might be complex or he might be uncomplicated, but whatever the case and unlike many in the periphery of boxing who have a disproportionate sense of self-importance, he is real, humble, accessible, well-grounded, direct in a nice way, and a brutally honest person who has done it all; and I mean all.

He was an outstanding amateur boxer, a skilled boxer-puncher with an extraordinary ring IQ, who concluded his amateur career with a Bronze medal winning performance at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. His proudest moment was defeating Darin Allen in 1988 to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials. He says, “Darin was a world amateur champion, a national champion and one of the most well respected boxers in the world at the time, and I always knew that a fight with him would be like a Super Bowl type event for me.”

He became a two-time title contender in the professional ranks, finishing with an admirable 38-11 record (though he was not quite able to transfer his amateur success). He was only stopped once and that was by the mysterious Drake Thadzi who had just won a decision over James Toney. Scully’s opposition included names like Littles, Nunn (one of his  best performances in a losing cause), Maske, Thornton, Bridges and Rocchigiani.

After retiring in 2001, he did some excellent TV commentating with Joe Tessitore on ESPN Classic. He was a cerebral, smooth and articulate ringside analyst for that network’s Boxing Series. By all accounts, he should have been picked up by one of the national networks, but it was not to be. Nevertheless, he took what he had learned over the years and put it all together, turning it into a successful training career. At the age of 51, he still spars with his charges.

There were signs along the way of the kind of values John possessed.  When William Papaleo “Willie Pep” passed away on November 23, 2006, sadly only three ex or current boxers attended the funeral. One was John .

In 2009, he was a relatively early inductee into the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame. The following is noted on its web site: “Boxing has been in Scully’s blood for nearly his entire life. He was a highly successful amateur. He was a solid professional. Now a trainer, Scully has worked with world champions. Scully twice fought for the world light heavyweight title. The lifelong Windsor resident won a New England middleweight crown and also captured an Eastern Regional national amateur championship…”. John has been the primary boost for getting boxing back into the Hartford area.

He also has been writing, chronicling his days in the ring with the “Iceman’s Diaries,” a work in progress.  Scully is considered an outstanding historian–especially regarding his knowledge of his  idol, Muhammed Ali, whom he tries to emulate by “living out his values, but having fun in the process.”

Very recently he was awarded the prestigious Bert Sugar Trophy by RING 10 in New York City. The award recognizes those “who carry a proficient knowledge of the history of boxing and preserve its memories.”

“I never turn down an interview request now because I find it pretty funny, it’s really a trip that you even care enough what I have to say to ask me,” Iceman says. But the fact is, he is a much sought-after interviewee and always thanks the interviewer for his or her time.

Trainer

I plan on training fighters for as long as I am alive on this earth.–Iceman John Scully

Even while boxing, he began to train other fighters as early as the late 1980’s. However, he became a sought-after trainer much later, guiding several boxers to world championships including: Liz Mueller, WIBF Lightweight Champion; Jose Antonio “El Gallo” Rivera, WBA Junior Middleweight Champion; Mike Oliver, IBO Super Bantamweight Champion; and “Bad” Chad Dawson, WBC Light heavyweight Champion. His highest achievement may have been in May of 2006, when he guided underdog Rivera to the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship, with a dominating points victory over defending champion Alejandro “Terra” Garcia (25-1 coming in) in Worcester, MA.

“Iceman” has also had a hand in the professional training of such notable boxers as heavy-handed Israel “Pito” Cardona, smooth Matt Godfrey, slick “Sucra” Ray Olivera, the super exciting Scott “The Sandman” Pemberton, talented Lawrence Clay-Bey, rugged Matt Remillard, and Puerto Rico born Francisco “The Wizard” Palacios.

John is currently a part of TEAM Artur Beterbiev, led by Marc Ramsey. Beterviev is one of the best in boxing, as attested to by the Chechen’s violent stoppage over previously undefeated Callum Johnson on October 7th in Chicago. And while in the Windy City, he took the time to check on the legendary Wilfred Benítez, who resides there under the care of his sister, Yvonne.

As an aside, this is what Scully has to say about Beterbiev: “Artur… is a monster. He’s a very powerful guy with unusual strength for a guy his size. As an amateur, he had over 300 fights. Beterbiev actually fought as a heavyweight (201 pounds) as an amateur, winning the European title and handling all the bigger guys….Beterbiev beat former world champion, Sergey Kovalev as an amateur.”

Scully (married with one daughter and three stepsons) also signed on to take part in a 10-year study at the renowned Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, NV. Once a year, he and others undergo six hours of different kinds of testing and then the results are monitored to track  progress or regression over a 10-year span. Happily, his results have been well above average thus far. In fact, Scully’s memory is exceptional.

And so the laurels go on and on and keep pouring in. Indeed, there is not enough space to write about all of them, including his community activism amongst other things. But then this is not as much about his many varied accomplishments (and renaissance-man persona) as it is about his less visible activity of reaching out to help other ex-boxers as they struggle with the transition from boxing. He gives the phrase “reaching out” a more noble meaning.

Reaching Out

A recent reunion in LA

The following from Facebook is representative of just one of the many such things  the “Iceman” does to assist his boxing brothers and sisters: “RJ signed a “Roy Jones 2X World Champ” hat for me in June that I am currently auctioning off, with the highest bidder receiving it ASAP. Proceeds to go to the great, but badly ailing, three-time world champion Wilfred Benítez.”

He is in touch with Gerald McClellan’s loving sister and caregiver, Lisa. In fact, in 2017 he participated in a big event in Harlem that served to bring more awareness to G-Man and his difficult situation. Scully was able to secure a very generous donation for him from the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame committee. Currently, John has some beautiful special-edition boxing posters by Richard Slone that he plans to sell off, with the revenue to go directly to Gerald. Over that last few years, he has sold various pieces of boxing memorabilia, with the proceeds going to different former fighters.

The thing is, Gerald and Wilfred are the ones that everyone knows about; there are others who remain anonymous here, but they are out there and they are in need. As someone once said (it might have been Steve Buffery), boxers rarely leave the sport with more than they brought in. Scully has aligned himself with former middleweight Matt Farrago, President of Ring 10 in New York City and another former middleweight Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos, with The Retired Boxers Foundation in Los Angeles; both of whom have done some amazing things for ex-boxers in need. Getting to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. remains a goal, as the good that Floyd could do for struggling ex boxers is virtually unlimited.

John also organizes fun gatherings (aka reunions) of ex-boxers, and recently had one at Fortune Boxing in Hollywood, California. He has also held them at three different spots in Harlem and New York City, in Las Vegas at Russ Anber’s Rival Boxing store, and at both casinos in Connecticut (Foxwoods and The Mohegan Sun). This past February, he conducted one in conjunction with USA Boxing at the New England Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts. Guys like Roy Jones, Mike McCallum, Marlon Starling, Lamon Brewster, Montell Griffin, Ronnie Essett, Mickey Bey, Felix Nance and Micky Ward have attended, as have such entertainers as actor Frank Stallone and rappers Flava’ Flav’ and R.A as well.

As Ice puts it, “A lot of former boxers are unfortunately not sailing off into the sunset but, rather, are now being forced to fight much different and much harder types of battles in retirement. Fortunately, there are guys in the game who haven’t forgotten them and are constantly pushing for them to get the help they need. It really is a special thing to see, real boxing people helping real boxing people.” John is one of them. This is where the talk stops and the help begins; where the rubber hits the road.

‘Iceman’ John Scully “… is an uncomplicated man who picks directions, identifies preferences and sticks with what works. It’s always been that way, and it applies to everything in his life.” (Taken from an article titled  Windsor’s ‘Iceman’ John Scully To Be Honored For Boxing Contributions, by Mike Anthony in the Hartford Courant dated September 22, 2018.)

John needs to keep doing what he is doing for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being that it  just might become contagious.

Floyd Mayweather Junior, are you listening?

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

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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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