Opening bell: Crawford on HOF path
It was hard not to be impressed by Terence "Bud" Crawford's display against Jeff Horn on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Crawford showed his boxing skills and his punching power as he made his debut in the welterweight division and took a world title belt in his third weight division by one-sided ninth-round knockout. Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs), 30, of Omaha, Nebraska, won every single round with ease. He scored a ninth-round knockdown and got the stoppage moments later as referee Robert Byrd ended it at 2 minutes, 33 seconds as Crawford was teeing off.
Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs), 30, of Australia, with a cut over his right eye that required 26 stitches, showed enormous heart and never stopped trying, but the result was no shock (which was why it was so bizarre to hear him and his team talk about how it was a close fight and early stoppage, and that they would like a rematch). Remember, this was the Horn who was a huge underdog and who virtually everybody thought got a gift decision when he claimed the belt against Manny Pacquiao last July.
So while the fight went exactly as I predicted, as I sat ringside watching Crawford's dazzling performance I couldn't help but be reminded of two other fights I covered in which I saw a fighter easily take a title against a larger opponent that he was heavily favored against: Floyd Mayweather's sixth-round stoppage of Arturo Gatti to win a junior welterweight belt in 2005 and his one-sided virtual shutout of Carlos Baldomir to win the welterweight title in 2006.
Crawford might not achieve what Mayweather did over the course of his all-time great career (undefeated, titles in five divisions and the highest-paid boxer ever), but he's certainly on the right path.
Crawford is already a two-time ESPN fighter of the year (2014, 2017). He is ranked No. 3 on the ESPN pound-for-pound list, and him reaching No. 1 someday is a good bet. He's won titles in three divisions, a run that includes his historic achievement of becoming the undisputed four-belt champion at junior welterweight last summer. And he has won most of his fights easily, even while facing several quality opponents and taking very little punishment.
Yes, Crawford only beat the limited Horn, but one by one Crawford is checking off the boxes on a Hall of Fame résumé.
Fight of the weekend: Santa Cruz-Mares II
When Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares, both three-division titleholders, met for a vacant featherweight belt and Los Angeles bragging rights at the Staples Center in 2015, they produced a terrific fight that Santa Cruz won by majority decision. A rematch was immediately discussed but took three years to happen. It was worth the wait.
They put on an even better fight in Saturday's rematch, also at Staples Center, this time with Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs), 29, winning a highly competitive unanimous decision over Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs), 32. The judges' scores were 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113. It was a thrilling fight between guys who showed nothing but respect for each other before and after the fight. Similar to the first fight, they combined to throw 1,992 punches and land 565.
The next step: Santa Cruz, who retained his title for the second time in his second reign, is the No. 1 featherweight in the world, but there is still proving to be done. That means he needs to face Gary Russell Jr. in a unification fight. Santa Cruz wants that fight to happen, as do so many of us. Russell retained his belt last month against Joseph Diaz. Both titleholders fight on Showtime and are with adviser Al Haymon. There is no reason whatsoever this fight should not be next and happen before the end of this year.
Awful scoring of the weekend: Charlo-Trout
In the Santa Cruz-Mares II co-feature, junior middleweight Jermell Charlo (31-0, 15 KOs), 28, of Houston, retained his title for the third time as he outpointed former titlist Austin Trout (31-5, 17 KOs), 32, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who lost for the third time in four fights.
However, while two judges had Charlo properly winning, by 118-108 and a too-close 115-111, judge Fernando Villarreal turned in a scorecard not of this world: 113-113.
That means that had Charlo not dropped Trout twice (with a right-left combination late in the third round and with a left hook that sent him to a knee a few seconds into the ninth), Villarreal would have had Trout winning the fight, which is not close to reality.
The next step: A unification fight between Charlo and two-belt titlist Jarrett Hurd. It's what we all want and what the fighters seem to want, though Hurd has said not necessarily for his next fight. Charlo wants it now, saying after dispatching Trout, whom Hurd stopped in 10 rounds in October: "Trout will tell you who will win that fight. That's why he survived 12. If Hurd sat in front of me and took those shots, he's done."
Farce of the weekend: Fury-Seferi
As comebacks go, it wasn't Mike Tyson-Peter McNeeley, but the return of former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (26-0, 19 KOs) was laughable. Fury had not boxed since outpointing Wladimir Klitschko in a massive upset to win three major belts and the lineal title in November 2015. His absence was because of drug, alcohol and mental health issues, not to mention that he put on a tremendous amount of weight and had to deal with a hearing for a failed drug test. But Fury, 29, made his return Saturday in his hometown of Manchester, England, against blown-up cruiserweight Sefer Seferi (23-2, 21 KOs), 39, of Macedonia, who looked tiny next to him.
Nobody had any serious expectations, and certainly Fury is entitled to ease back into things after a 31-month layoff and so many problems, but this was a horrendous fight in which neither man did much of anything. Fury, who had the audacity to compare himself to Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather in the buildup, looked out of shape at a career-heavy (and soft) 276 pounds, and he barely threw any punches. He was extremely rusty. Seferi (210 pounds) did even less and then quit after the fourth round.
The next step: Promoter Frank Warren said that Fury, who is eons from being ready to fight titleholders Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder, will return Aug. 18 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the undercard of interim featherweight titlist Carl Frampton's next fight.
Fights you might have missed
Sunday at Lancaster, California
Heavyweight Travis Kauffman (32-2, 23 KOs) W10 Scott Alexander (14-3-2, 8 KOs), scores: 96-94 (twice), 95-95.
In the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions heavyweight tripleheader, Kauffman, 32, of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Alexander, 29, of Los Angeles, traded knockdowns in a wild first round. Kauffman dropped Alexander with an overhand right while Alexander was pinned against the ropes, and then Alexander landed a counter left hook in the final seconds of the round that sent Kauffman to the mat. He barely beat the count. In the end, Kauffman, in his first fight in 15 months and coming off a loss, took home a majority decision in the entertaining bout.
Heavyweight Gerald Washington (19-2-1, 12 KOs) W10 Wes Nofire (20-2, 6 KOs), scores: 98-91, 97-92 (twice).
Washington, 36, of Vallejo, California, had lost two fights in a row by knockout, to Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller and world titlist Deontay Wilder, but he got back on track with a clear win over Nofire, 22, of Miami, thanks to a steady jab and a slew of right hands. He broke Nofire's nose in the middle of the fight, and Nofire was docked a point by referee Ray Corona for excessive holding in the seventh round.
Heavyweight Michael Hunter (14-1, 9 KOs) TKO5 Iago Kiladze (26-3, 18 KOs).
Hunter, 29, of Las Vegas, lost a decision in a challenge of cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk in April 2017. But he has now won both of his fights since moving up to heavyweight, including this KO of Kiladze, 32, a native of the Republic of Georgia and another former cruiserweight. Hunter hurt Kiladze in the second and fourth rounds, and midway through the fifth round he dropped him with a straight right hand. Hunter continued to stalk him and landed a crushing right hand that had Kiladze out on his feet, forcing referee Wayne Hedgpeth to stop it at 2:52. Kiladze has lost two in a row by KO.