Terence Crawford: A truly elite fighter had his coming out on Saturday. I predicted that Yuriorkis Gamboa would defeat Crawford in Omaha, Nebraska, Crawford’s home town, because I thought he was the more talented boxer. I made the wrong choice for at least two reasons. One, Crawford is as talented as Gamboa, maybe more. Now I know. And, two, I didn’t factor in Crawford’s distinct size advantage. The fighters seemed to be a weight class apart. The result was a marvelous performance by Crawford, who stopped the Cuban in the ninth round of a terrific fight to retain his WBO lightweight title and prove he is among the best in the business. Crawford (24-0, 17 knockouts) struggled with Gamboa’s quickness in the earlier rounds but, by the fifth, he began to time the smaller man as he came in and did considerable damage: Gamboa went down in the fifth, eighth and twice in the ninth, the last time prompting referee Genaro Rodriguez to stop the fight as Crawford’s fans went wild. Crawford also took some hard punches – including one that dazed him in the final round – but he calmly, coolly weathered it all and emerged with by far the most important victory in his six-year career in front of a national audience on HBO. I won’t declare Crawford the best 135-pounder in the world just yet – Miguel Vazquez is a hell of a boxer – but he proved he’s damn good and, just as important, a lot of fun to watch.
Yuriorkis Gamboa: I always saw Gamboa as a gifted, well-schooled boxer with somewhat more of a fighting spirit than most one-time Cuban amateur stars. All that is true. I just missed one element that I didn’t realize was there in such abundance: his heart. Gamboa put his skills and athleticism on display in the first four rounds, which he dominated. Then things took a turn for the worse as the bigger, stronger and better-than-some-realized Crawford asserted himself and took over the fight. Crawford himself is quick, athletic and skillful but also dwarfed Gamboa, who simply couldn’t stand up to his opponent’s punching power. Gamboa never quit, though, which was the main reason the fight was so entertaining. He got up from every knockdown intent on doing the same to Crawford, giving the fans some unforgettable exchanges. The loss is damaging for Gamboa, whose inactivity already had hurt his reputation. He must now regroup. I don’t know if he can make 130 pounds but, if he can, it might be worth considering. He clearly couldn’t handle a good 135-pounder. That said, he was also a winner on Saturday night. Fans love a fighter with the courage Gamboa demonstrated, particularly a fighter who also is talented. Gamboa (23-1, 16 KOs) lost a fight but probably earned respect in many quarters. You can bet those who watched the fight on Saturday will also be watching when he gets back into the ring.
Errol Spence, the former U.S. Olympian, looked sharp on Friday night on Showtime. Opponent Ronald Cruz (20-4, 15 KOs) was supposed to be a step up for Spence (13-0, 10 KOs) but took brutal punishment for 10 rounds and lost a shutout decision. Spence seems to have all the tools. … Middleweight contender Matt Korobov (24-0, 14 KOs) also has the tools but something seemed to be missing on the Crawford-Gamboa undercard. The underachieving former amateur star from Russia looked good against the capable Jose Uzcategui (22-1, 18 KOs) when he fought with passion but seemed to slip into cruise control at other times, which left him vulnerable. He won a unanimous 10-round decision but some questions still linger. … The popular (but old) Glen Johnson (54-19-2, 37 KOs) was stopped on Saturday in nine rounds by cruiserweight contender Ilunga Makabu (17-1, 16 KOs), a Congolese native fighting in his home country. Makabu seems to be the real deal. Johnson, 45, could be finished. The stoppage loss was only the second in his career. Bernard Hopkins stopped him in 11 rounds back in 1997. … Lightweight Ricky Burns seemed to be a rising star as recently as last year. Now, after going 0-2-1 in last three fights (including a gift draw against Raymundo Beltran), the Scot's future as an elite fighter is in serious jeopardy. He lost a unanimous decision and his WBO title to Crawford in March and lost a split decision to Dejan Zlaticanin (19-0, 13 KOs), of Montenegro, on Friday in Glasgow.