By Kieran Mulvaney
If there was any doubt that Terence 'Bud' Crawford just might be a special talent, he surely obliterated it with a sensational performance in front of an adoring hometown crowd in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday night. This was the coming-out party it was advertised as being, as Crawford took everything Yuriorkis Gamboa could throw at him, and came back to drop his opponent four times en route to a commanding ninth-round stoppage that saw him retain his lightweight crown.
Barely a year ago, Crawford was all but unknown in the wider boxing world. He announced his arrival with a skilful win over the larger, more experienced Breidis Prescott, and underscored his resolve as well as his skill by going to Glasgow to take the belt from Scotland's Ricky Burns in his last outing. But this was something different. Given the lead role on a brightly lit stage, Crawford proved he is more than a skillful boxer. This was the night that Terence Crawford became boxing's newest star.
Initially, it appeared that the evening might not unfold according to script. Despite a lay-off of just over a year, Gamboa was sharp from the outset, stabbing Crawford with a stiff jab, slipping underneath the Nebraskan's punches with his mongoose-like movement, and firing off a variety of punches from a multitude of angles. By rounds 2 and 3, Crawford was beginning to find his range with his long left jab, but was unable to pull the trigger on a follow-up right because of Gamboa's elusiveness.
But Crawford maintained his composure, watched Gamboa's every move and began to compute what he needed to do to neutralize his foe. He was aided by a preternatural calm and the fact that he is the rarest of boxers: a genuine switch hitter, one who can fight with equal effectiveness from either stance. In the fourth, he turned southpaw and the fight almost instantly changed.
An exchange in the center of the ring -- as Gamboa responded to Crawford's increased success with growing aggression -- had the crowd of 10,943 on its feet, but the best was yet to come. In the fifth, a short right hook wobbled Gamboa and a cuffing left hand put him down. Gamboa bounced back firing, but another Crawford combination hurt him again, and he was holding on to his foe at the bell.
The pace slowed in the sixth and seventh, Crawford content to spear an increasingly confused and flat-footed Gamboa with his jab and wait for the opportunity to steer the shorter man onto a more damaging punch. That opportunity came in the eighth, when Gamboa, unleashing a combination that backed Crawford to the ropes, walked into a short hook and a left hand that dropped him to his knees.
It seemed as if the clock was beginning to run out on Gamboa's chances, but a right hand from nowhere had Crawford on unsteady legs early in the ninth, and now the Nebraskan was the one who had to clear his head. He did so rapidly, however, tagging Gamboa with a right and a left and another left that dropped him along the ropes. This was a harder knockdown than those that preceded it, and carried with it a sense of impending finality. A few seconds later, that sense was confirmed, as another combination dropped Gamboa to his back and the referee waved off the contest at 2:53 of the round.
"People talk about pressure," said former longtime HBO boxing analyst and resident sage Larry Merchant in the fight's aftermath, as he surveyed the hugely enthused and lingering crowd, which had been desperate to see Crawford score a win. "But pressure is opportunity when you're good."
Crawford is certainly good. He's very good indeed.
After he put together a decorated amateur career, there was some anticipation that Matt Korobov would prove a successful professional, but in the six years since he made his pro debut, the Russian émigré has, it is safe to say, underperformed relative to expectations. That remains the case even after he maintained his unbeaten record and positioned himself as the number one contender for a middleweight belt following a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Jose Uzcategui.
Korobov had too much class, experience and power for his Venezuelan opponent, and provided the highlights of the contest when he dropped Uzcategui twice in round seven, but on those occasions when Uzcategui was able to land his own punches, Korobov looked distinctly discomfited. The outcome was rarely in doubt, but Korobov never truly took command of a contest that had even the previously-excited and preternaturally polite Omaha crowd voicing its displeasure at the lack of action and looking ahead to the arrival in the ring of its native son.