Crawford stops Benavidez late in last round to keep WBO belt
By ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Terence “Bud” Crawford had one last retort to all the insults Jose Benavidez hurled his way.
His right hand delivered it.
Crawford used an uppercut to Benavidez’s chin to knock him down the first time in the 12th and final round and then consecutive rights to put him down a second, prompting referee Celestino Ruiz to stop the fight with 18 seconds left.
“It feels so good to shut somebody up who has been talking for so long,” Crawford said. “I’m at ease.”
Crawford, a three-division champion who was making his first defense of his WBO welterweight belt, stuck out his tongue at his fallen opponent at the conclusion of what amounted to a personal grudge match.
“I gave him a good fight,” Benavidez said. “I don’t think he thought I was going to give him a good fight. But he’s the best of the best. We gave the fans a good show.”
Next up for Crawford could be a unification bout with IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., something promoter Bob Arum has said he would like to make happen sometime in 2019. The only problem is that Spence is promoted by Al Haymon, but Arum has said that would not be an insurmountable problem.
“Hear me now: I’m ready to make that fight next,” Arum said. “We’re prepared to sit down and get that fight done, but I can’t force the other people into doing it.”
The 31-year-old Crawford (34-0, 25 knockouts), ranked first or second on the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter lists, put on a workmanlike performance for the first half of the fight in front of a hometown crowd of 13,000 that included Crawford friend and billionaire Warren Buffett.
Benavidez (27-1, 18 KOs) began tiring in the seventh after taking body shot after body shot.
“I take nothing from him,” Benavidez said. “He’s the best of the best. I feel like I did a good job.”
Benavidez, 26, was plenty frisky, motioning for Crawford to keep coming toward him even as it became apparent Crawford had taken control of the fight, and he showed renewed life in the 10th when he landed a couple shots.
The crowd was on its feet for the 12th round, and “Craw-ford!” ”Craw-ford!” chants echoed through the arena. Crawford kept coming in the 12th, and Benavidez could take no more of the steady punishment.
“Oh man, it was coming,” Crawford said of his finishing flurry. “It was just a matter of time. He slowed down tremendously. He was tired. That’s when I saw my opportunity to take my best shot.”
This was more of a stay-busy fight for Crawford but he was eager to take the bout after being called out by Benavidez, who is only the 10th-ranked 147-pounder by the WBO.
Benavidez confronted the champion at a boxing event in Corpus Christi, Texas, in February, accusing Crawford of ducking him repeatedly. The fighters’ camps traded barbs at a media workout Wednesday and the bickering continued Thursday at a news conference. Insults were lobbed both ways during the weigh-in Friday, with Benavidez shoving Crawford and Crawford taking a swing that narrowly missed.
In the co-main event, 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and top featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson of Newark, New Jersey, stopped Viorel Simion of Romania just before the bell ending the first round. Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs) delivered a powerful left-right combination to the head to send Simion (21-3, 9 KOs) to his knees for his third knockdown.
On the undercard, 2016 Olympian Mikaela Mayer of Los Angeles won a regional super featherweight belt with a unanimous decision over Vanessa Bradford of Edmonton, Alberta. Mayer (8-0, 4 KOs) was the aggressor throughout the eight-round bout and knocked down Bradford (4-1-2) with a right to the head in the seventh.
Also, former WBO welterweight champ Mike Alvarado (40-4, 28 KOs) of Denver knocked out Robbie Cannon (16-14-3, 7 KOs) of Festus, Missouri, with a right to the chin at 41 seconds of the second round.