Boxing
 
                    === Fitz Hitz: On to bigger, better things for Crawford ===
 
 By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Boxing Editor
 
 Cape Coral, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - That, ladies and gentlemen, was what a
 fight of the year looks like.
 
 Showing what happens when you step beyond robotic repetition and incorporate
 plot twists and drama, Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa got together
 Saturday night for a match that's sure to be fondly remembered when BWAA
 members mark their ballots come December.
 
 The majority of the first four rounds were controlled - if not actually
 dominated - by the older, smaller challenger, who used a discernable speed
 advantage to land eye-catching, if not particularly concussive, pot shots to a
 younger, bigger adversary's head and body.
 
 The narrative was almost literally turned on its head in the fifth round, when
 the champion began connecting with the short, precise counterpunches he'd been
 barely missing on for the first 12 minutes, and nearly drove his foil into
 stiff-legged stupor with each successive blow.
 
 Ultimately, as the battered visitor mounted a dramatic final valiant push
 before a suddenly hushed crowd in Round 9, he was again caught by a laser-
 guided counter on the way in. And just that quickly, the hometown hero was
 lifted victoriously, to the approval of his 10,000-plus gathered followers.
 
 The ninth alone was enough to guarantee the fight gets love during awards
 season, and when placed atop the masterpiece that had already been concocted
 through 24 minutes, it's a winning combination.
 
 Measured by the four criteria discussed in this space last week, it scores
 well, too.
 
 Though a WBO title at 135 pounds these days isn't exactly on the level of
 Roberto Duran or Henry Armstrong, it was still a legitimate enough matchup to
 warrant a middling score (6) on the 10-point significance system. That,
 coupled with higher marks for departure from pre-fight script (7), in-fight
 momentum shifts (10) and level of sustained action (8), calculates to a
 memorable 31 on my card.
 
 If 20 is your garden-variety event and 40 is Hagler-Hearns, turning 31 isn't
 so bad.
 
 And when it comes to Crawford's prospects now that victory is secured, well,
 they're pretty good, too.
 
 The win instantly elevated him to premier recognition status among the
 lightweights, even though his tenure pales in comparison to IBF champ Miguel
 Vazquez, a title-holder in anonymity since 2012.
 
 It more than likely will wind up as his last night in the division, too, thanks
 both to the fact he'd already weighed north of 135 pounds for 19 of 23 previous
 fights, and the instant star status hung on him by a - legitimately, this time
 - breathless HBO announcing team after the fight.
 
 Though he leans hyperbolic by nature, Roy Jones Jr. was on point in the
 immediate aftermath.
 
 "This guy's a star all the way around the board," said Jones, who claimed
 Crawford's seamless switch from orthodox to southpaw conjured Hagler-tinged
 memories. "He's got all the capabilities to become a world-class fighter. The
 guy's a really special talent, and he looks like he's ready to do the job."
 
 A few minutes later, Top Rank executive Todd duBoef added Money-scented fuel
 to the celebratory fire, insisting that Crawford's home-stage performance woke
 echoes of one Floyd Mayweather Jr.
 
 "As a promoter who has signed numerous fighters for 20-plus years that I've
 been here - everybody tells me 'Come to my hometown, I can do it' and 99.9
 percent of them don't," he said. "They don't deliver like this. The last time
 I felt this in a first defense, was when Floyd Mayweather, after he beat
 Genaro Hernandez, we went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he sold the place
 out."
 
 Though duBoef's chronology is a tick flawed - Mayweather's return to Grand
 Rapids came in his second lightweight defense against Carlos Ruiz (his first
 was in Miami against Angel Manfredy) - his point is well taken. Crawford
 lobbied for the Omaha date and ultimately made it worth the promotional while.
 
 "It was a magical night, except one thing - the fight (Saturday) was 10 times
 better," duBoef said. "I think Floyd cruised to a decision. But this guy
 delivered. He captured everybody and he had the right guy in front of him who
 gave his heart and everything. This was a special night and he delivered."
 
 While it's ironic that a Top Rank president would seek to build his fighter's
 emerging brand by invoking the name of Bob Arum's highest-profile nemesis,
 it's not a colossal overreach to suggest the 5-foot-8 Crawford could have as
 much second-division success at 140 as Mayweather had in his second stop.
 
 Lest we forget, Floyd's first climb was from 130 to 135, and he became a belt-
 holder at lightweight with a narrow decision over Jose Luis Castillo at the
 MGM Grand in April 2002 that was followed by a more decisive version a little
 more than seven months later at Mandalay Bay.
 
 Two more one-sided defenses followed before he abdicated to pursue bigger
 quarry at 140.
 
 Crawford's downing of Gamboa was his initial title risk at 135, but he said a
 few days before that he fully intended to make the upward move in search of
 more lucrative foes than lightweight could offer.
 
 "I feel like I can be on the pound-for-pound list," he said. "I've just got to
 keep winning. Everything else will fall into place. As much as I would want
 all that, I've just got to keep winning."
 
 The thawing of the stalemate between Top Rank and Golden Boy could open up
 intriguing options for Crawford, considering that the heaviest hitters at
 junior welterweight - Danny Garcia, Lamont Peterson, Lucas Matthysse and
 Adrien Broner among them - have most recently appeared on Golden Boy cards.
 
 The other truly significant title-level entities at 140, Ruslan Provodnikov
 and Chris Algieri, work with Philadelphia-based Banner Promotions and New
 York-based Star Boxing, respectively, but recently met on HBO on a show that
 was co-promoted by Arum and duBoef's Top Rank conglomerate.
 
 Another intriguing possibility lurks in the form of Filipino superstar Manny
 Pacquiao, whom trainer Freddie Roach prefers at junior welterweight though he
 hasn't weighed-in below 140 pounds in five years.
 
 "He's not a great puncher at 147 like everyone thinks," Roach said in April.
 "Everyone says he's not getting the knockouts like with Hatton, and those
 knockouts were at 135 and 140. I'm going to ask him if we can fight at 140
 because that's a better weight for him. He has no trouble making 140."
 
 Roach downplayed the idea of a move at first because of a perceived dearth of
 matches at the lighter weight, but the emergence of Crawford as a player could
 ultimately make it a viable proposition. Especially if Crawford is able to
 decisively pass an intermediate test with any of the names mentioned.
 
 And presuming he does so, there's no lack of interest on his part. If his
 people present him with a target, he simply locks on with no regard to the
 behind-the-scenes drama.
 
 "I just fight," he said. "I don't pay attention to the politics and all the
 cold war stuff. I watch it on TV, on Showtime and HBO, and I just like to
 watch boxing. As far as me getting in the ring with anybody, I don't call
 anybody out. I just fight who my handlers tell me to fight."
 
 THIS WEEK'S TITLE-FIGHT SCHEDULE
 
 No fights scheduled.
 
 Last week's picks: 1-1; 2014 picks record: 47-12 (79.6 percent)
 Overall picks record: 594-206 (74.2 percent)
 
 NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-
 fledged title-holder - no interim, diamond, silver or other titles. Fights for
 WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in
 the weight class,
 
 Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who has written professionally
 since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and
 posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at
 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 07/01 10:54:55 ET

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