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Terence Crawford Hopes to Embellish His Case for No. 1 on Oct. 13 on ESPN

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Upon the conclusion of the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., one thing you won’t see is the losing team excitedly running around the Levi’s Stadium field, smiling players and coaches on the wrong side of the score thrusting a pair of fingers skyward and shouting, “We’re No. 2!”

Maybe even more so than in team sports, boxing isn’t big on the horseshoes-and-hand grenades premise that getting close sometimes is good enough. Going home with the consolation prize is never good enough for Super Bowl and World Series runners-up, and it damn sure isn’t enough for elite, championship-level fighters who don’t have to share the glory of victory, or the disappointment of defeat, with teammates. While promoters, managers and trainers provide a measure of group support, in the ring every fighter succeeds or falters on his own. The boxer on fight night, stripped down to shoes, trunks and padded gloves, is as nearly naked and isolated as any athlete can be.

WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) defends his title against that sanctioning body’s 14th-ranked contender, Jose Benavidez Jr. (27-0, 18 KOs), in the ESPN-televised main event on Oct. 13 at the CHI Health Center in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Neb. It isn’t exactly a mismatch on the level of, say, Christians vs. lions in the Roman Colosseum, but it would be quite the stunner if the challenger were to upset someone who is regarded in some quarters (but not as many as he would like) as the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and by most everyone else as a highly qualified aspirant to that designation.

Crawford is 30, still in the most productive phase of his prime, and although he saying all the right things – he is focusing solely on Benavidez, yada, yada, yada – there is a part of him that realizes he is and likely will continue to be embroiled in an ongoing quest with Top Rank stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko for recognition of a higher sort than some alphabet organization’s bejeweled belt. He staunchly believes he is A-No. 1, king of the hill, top of the heap, and summarily dismissing the more than competent Benavidez is not apt to move the needle much toward his universal acceptance as the best of the best.

When the matchup with Benavidez was announced, Crawford said the intramural rivalry with Lomachenko, which is not apt to ever be settled inside the ropes, given their weight differences (Loma, the WBA lightweight champ, already has moved up two divisions and might not have the frame to go much higher), is only a figment of other people’s imagination.

“I am the best fighter in the world, hands down. If I have a vote, I vote for myself,” Crawford said with the finality of someone who is cocksure of his own ability and brooks no dissent.

During a conference call with the media on Thursday to discuss his first defense of the 147-pound title he gained with an almost perfunctory ninth-round stoppage of Australia’s Jeff Horn on June 9, Crawford did little to camouflage his feelings about the matter, even if he did sort of dance around it a bit in a nod toward false modesty and political correctness.

Asked about who should be the consensus pick for that coveted No. 1 spot, Crawford said, “It depends on who you ask. Some people rate me No. 1, some people rate me No. 2. I can’t complain if I’m in the top two in almost everybody’s ratings.”

From the perspective of Top Rank executives, however, the polls have closed and fight fans should pledge fealty to the company’s preferred candidate, Crawford, to assume the role previously held by such legendary pound-for-pound monarchs as Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr.

“Terence `Bud’ Crawford is the world’s best boxer,” Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, who was not on the conference call, said some weeks back, a reversal of his previous endorsement of Ukrainian sensation as numero uno.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef, who was on the conference call, also cast his ballot for the Omaha, Neb., fighter, whom he described as “the gold standard in boxing” who has “just electrified everybody with both boxing skill and power. When Terence Crawford gets in the ring, it’s like Alabama in football. He is that dominant.”

The question of “Who’s really No. 1?” is, of course, always a matter of opinion. Maybe Lomachenko simply doesn’t concern himself with an unofficial and arbitrary title, even if he has already been awarded it on several fronts. Perhaps Top Rank is especially sensitive to stroking Crawford’s ego, which might be a sound business decision in light of the fact that there potentially are a raft of better and more profitable fights to be made in a deep welterweight division than for Lomachenko at 135 pounds.

Going to the scorecards, as it were, it would appear that Lomachenko is slightly ahead in the chase for No. 1. He has the top spot to Crawford’s No. 2 in the Boxing Writers Association of America P4P ratings, as well as those listed by The Ring magazine, ESPN and Boxing News. Boxingscene.com has Crawford at No. 1 and Lomachenko second, with the outliers being World Boxing News, which has Loma first and Crawford an almost-unfathomable fifth, and Newsday, which places Loma first and Crawford third.

Moving forward, Crawford would appear to have the better chance of enhancing his claim to No. 1 if – and it’s a big if – Top Rank is able to tear down some of the barricades that presently separate the Nebraskan and fellow welter champs Errol Spence Jr. (IBF), Keith Thurman (WBA “super”) and Shawn Porter Jr. (WBC).

Porter claimed the vacant WBC title with a close unanimous decision over Danny Garcia on Sept. 9 in Brooklyn, whereupon Spence, who appeared at the postfight press conference, said it was “unlikely” he would ever swap punches with Crawford because, being affiliated with Premier Boxing Champions honcho Al Haymon, who deals almost exclusively with Fox and Showtime, he was “on the other side of the street” from Crawford, who is under contract to ESPN. Thurman is now with British promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing and Porter with PBC, making for an obstacle-strewn path to making bouts that a lot of fight fans would want to see. Compounding matters is the fact that Arum has cast Haymon as his newest arch-rival, sliding into the spot previously occupied by Don King and then Richard Schaefer.

But duBoef said that where there’s a will, there probably is a way to get a deal done. He said he and Top Rank are ready to storm all enemy battlements if by doing so it would gain Crawford the sort of marquee opponents that would make him as big a star as his obvious skills suggest.

“I want to make this crystal-clear,” duBoef said. “With our re-signing of Terence, regardless of (any other fighter’s affiliation), we will take on all comers. That’s it. We don’t care where you are, what you do, we will take on all comers.

“Terence is an elite fighter. When there was a nice welterweight fight in early September (Porter-Garcia), all they did was talk about Terence Crawford. Terence wants to fight the biggest; we want to provide him with the biggest. We’re going after all those (other welterweight champions). If they want to do it and we want to do it, let’s just get it done. We’ll figure out a solution.”

Step one involves Crawford, who has become his home state’s best feel-good sports story when measured against the utter collapse of the University of Nebraska’s proud football tradition, which looks and smells like No. 2 of another sort, getting past Benavidez. It should be a relative gimme, but if history means anything there is this to consider.

The path to No. 1, like that to love, never runs smooth.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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