SAN DIEGO, January 2, 2015 – Choosing a Fighter of the Year for 2014 was not as tough as in 2013 when a half dozen boxers made the short list. This year, it was a coin flip between two worthy candidates who rose above the rest.
A half dozen boxers made my original short list. In alphabetical order: Terence Crawford, Miguel Cotto, Naoya Inoue, Gennady Golovkin, Roman Gonzalez, and Sergey Kovalev.
Cotto is on the comeback trail, and one great fight does not a Fighter Of The Year make. If he beats Canelo Alvarez next year, he goes straight to the 2015 short list. The flyweight sensation Gonzalez needs a little more exposure in the U.S., and Japanese flyweight Inoue, though impressive, is still quite young with a short resume at 21.
Golovkin is a runner-up for the second year running. The minute he puts a big name opponent on the canvas, “Triple G” has this honor in the bag and 2015 might be a very GGG-good year.
It’s a tough call between Crawford and Kovalev. I’ve changed my mind several times. The cheap way out is a tie, but my nod goes to American Terence Crawford. It is based on the quality of his opponents, his placement atop his division, and the credit he deserves as part of a wave of fighters in the smaller weight divisions creating new excitement in the sport.
Crawford’s first win of the year wasn’t even shown on U.S. television. In March, he defeated Scotland’s Ricky Burns in Glasgow to win the WBO lightweight title with an impressive unanimous decision. Getting the judges to hand you the belt worn by someone fighting on his home turf doesn’t happen often. Your performance must be so much better it’s undeniable, and Crawford checked every box.
All the elements came together for Crawford’s first title defense in the lightweight division: first appearance as a professional in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska in front of a sold-out arena; high stakes against a dangerous, undefeated opponent; the potential for the outcome to go either way. The people of Omaha were treated to an exciting bout by their Nebraska native son. Cuban champion Gamboa had the upper hand for the first part of the fight thanks to his speed and accuracy. Crawford didn’t panic, used his wits to figure out how to get to Gamboa (24-1, 17 KOs), and went to work. He put Gamboa on the canvas in the fifth round, again in the eighth round, and twice in the ninth to end the fight.
Crawford is a technical boxing beast. He is skilled in all the fundamentals of boxing; footwork, reflexes, ring generalship, accuracy and defense. But Crawford doesn’t mind a real fight. Crawford is at his best against opponents exactly like Ray Beltran, someone not afraid to come right at him. Beltran had broken the jaw of Ricky Burns, who Crawford also beat earlier in the year.
In their November bout, Beltran (29-7-1, 17 KOs) scored against Crawford on several occasions, more so as the fight progressed and Beltran began to realize he needed to do something dramatic to get a win. But he wasn’t aggressive enough for long enough periods of time to be successful.
Midway through the fight, Beltran’s left eye and nose started to show the effects of Crawford’s right jab. Thanks to his reach and accuracy, he can land it at will with authority and make an opponent think twice about standing right in front of him. It was not quite as exciting a bout as the one against Gamboa, but it firmly established Crawford’s dominance of opponents in his division.
Crawford (25-0, 17 KOs) confirmed after the Beltran fight it would be his last in the lightweight division before moving up to the 140-pound division where bigger name opponents await him at junior welterweight. Who will it be? Crawford said he doesn’t call out fighters, but we will: Adrien Broner, Lucas Matthysse, Danny Garcia, Chris Algieri and maybe even Manny Pacquiao. None of them should be too anxious to volunteer.
It’s not too much to imagine a day Crawford, currently 27 years old and among the taller lightweights at 5-8, moves up to full welterweight and becomes a three-division champion, perhaps even four. He appears willing to fight anyone, and boxing needs more of this “bring it on” mentality.
When Crawford packed the CenturyLink Center in June, most people in the arena were at their first professional prize fight, the first title fight in Omaha in 42 years. When he filled the seats again in November, Omaha’s most famous resident was in the house cheering him on. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, was up in the cheap seats as a newly minted fan of the sport.
Many people want someone to root for from the middle of the country who seems like he could be their friend, neighbor, classmate, or co-worker. There is a generation of youth who could use a hometown hero to look up to, and Crawford is their guy. See this local TV news report from Omaha station KETV and you’ll have hope for the future of boxing. How much do you think these TV reporters even cared about boxing before Crawford? Now he’s a major celebrity in Omaha, and elsewhere. Move aside, Warren.
No disrespect to the “Krusher,” Sergey Kovalev. He won all three of his bouts in 2014 in decisive fashion, two by the type of early round knockouts fans have come to enjoy, and the third fight in a more impressive if more subtle fashion against the ageless Bernard Hopkins. In his fight with BHop, Kovalev showed he’s much more than a one-trick pony. He can box, he can be patient, and he can even be sportsmanlike. Kovalev was a runner up for FOTY in 2013, and if he gets the kind of fights we hoped to see this year including a showdown against Adonis Stevenson, he’s on the inside track to finally make it to the top spot in 2015.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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