Terence Crawford possesses a gift of improvisation that few in boxing can match. When Plan A doesn't succeed, he shifts seamlessly to the next approach. And if that doesn't work, he'll keep poking and prodding until he finds something that does. Crawford had a difficult fight against former welterweight titlist on Shawn Porter on Saturday. He was caught off guard by Porter's speed, especially with how fast his feet were. And yet as competitive as the fight was, it was Crawford raising his hands at the end of the night, with another opponent unable to make it to the final bell.
Crawford has now fought six times at welterweight and has scored a stoppage in each bout. Let's put aside for a moment how unusual it is for a fighter to increase his knockout percentage in his third weight division and against world-level opposition to focus on another aspect. I don't even think that Crawford has had a spectacular performance in the division since his first welterweight fight against Jeff Horn in 2018. Yet even if he has lost some rounds, looked flat at times, didn't have a strong Plan A, he has still finished the job and left no doubt of his supremacy in each fight.
And that's the secret to Crawford: He understands the nature of a 12-round fight, even if he doesn't need all 36 minutes. There's little panic in him if his first plan of attack doesn't work. He knows that he has time to play with, that his multiplicity of skills allows for patience. And it's the combination of his considerable boxing skills with his ability to make adjustments that makes him so tough to beat in the ring. Eventually he will find something that will best his opponent.
|Porter (left) landing a jab|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
I thought that Crawford's first two plans for Saturday's fight weren't successful. He boxed orthodox in the first round and got very little accomplished. And that was the last we saw him as a righthander in the fight. He then shifted to a different approach where he tried to use his legs more and catch Porter in exchanges. But in my estimation he underestimated Porter's foot speed. When Crawford would leave the pocket, Porter could follow him. Porter also had the athleticism to score with second and third efforts even when his initial foray forward was unsuccessful.
In exchanges, both fighters had good moments. But it wasn't as if Crawford had a noticeable hand speed or power advantage. Porter landed his share of impressive power shots and in addition he was the one usually pressing forward. If not everything was landing cleanly for him, and it wasn't, he was still the one putting in more work.
Rounds two through seven featured a number of close frames where a couple of punches could have swung things either way. I responded to Porter's work a little better in most of these rounds. They were competitive, but I think that Porter's work rate and ring generalship impressed me a little more. Many of these rounds were what Porter wanted, with Crawford not in control of the action or able to impose himself on the fight.
Crawford went to a Plan C in the eighth round and this is where he started to take control of the fight. Instead of moving as much or hoping to catch Porter with something big during an exchange, he stayed in the pocket more. Whereas earlier in the fight he would use movement to try to evade an advancing Porter, he now decided to hold his ground more frequently. It was the classic "make him miss and make him pay" where Crawford would avoid Porter's first onrushing punch (usually a right hand) and follow up with a left hand to the body, either a straight left or an uppercut.
Increasingly that same sequence played out over the next three rounds. As some small signs of fatigue and sloppiness started to enter Porter's work – he was lunging more from out of position, he had lost half a step – it became easier and easier for Crawford to land his counter left hands.
In the tenth round Crawford's counter lefts were harder and sharper; he had found what he was looking for and this would be his ticket home. He landed a thudding left uppercut during the round that dropped Porter. And moments later he connected with a crushing right hook during a combination that knocked down Porter for a second time. Porter banged the canvas after this shot, realizing that the fight was slipping away from him. He made it to his feet, but his father Kenny, who is his trainer, stopped the fight. Porter certainly looked like he could continue; however, Kenny had seen enough.
|Crawford dropping Porter in the 10th|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Crawford-Porter will be remembered for a number of reasons: It was Crawford's best victory in his career. Porter fought valiantly against one of the top fighters of his era. And a third point will be Kenny Porter's stoppage. After the fight Shawn announced his retirement, that he already had decided to retire prior to stepping into the ring with Crawford. Now, it doesn't take brain surgery to connect the nature of the stoppage to the wish for retirement. Shawn has already transitioned to a successful television broadcasting career. He has a path for the next phase of his life and Kenny probably didn't want to see that ruined. But Kenny also undressed his son in the ring after the fight, upset with Shawn's preparation in camp.
The way that Kenny Porter aired out some dirty laundry after the fight didn't sit well with many, but I wouldn't profess to understand the dynamics of their relationship. I think that Kenny Porter has been a great trainer. He has taken a short welterweight without punching power to two world titles. And even when Shawn lost, he gave all of his opponents tough work in the ring. I have no doubt that Kenny saw what was happening from rounds eight through ten. Shawn repeatedly made the same mistakes, and was caught with bigger and bigger shots as a result. These were mistakes of fatigue, of Shawn not able to see another way. He just doubled down on an approach that was no longer working.
Crawford stayed patient. He adapted. He found the shot. He prevailed.
Saturday won't be remembered as Crawford's most dominant performance, but it was representative of his greatness. He can be hit, he can lose rounds, but he won't be discouraged. His toolbox is absurdly large, but it's more than that. Few fighters can hope to match his adaptability over 12 rounds. He's not afraid to make changes on the fly. At some point, he will find something that works, regardless of the caliber of opposition.
The longer a fight goes, the worse it gets for Crawford's opponents. Perhaps the scariest part of fighting Crawford is that he only needs to be great for a few rounds. In the end it didn't matter that Porter was fighting wonderfully through seven rounds; he just didn't have enough. Outboxing Terence Crawford over 12 rounds is a Herculean task. It will take a genuine great, Father Time or a true knockout artist to beat Crawford. Absent those factors, mere mortals will continue to be second best in the ring.
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