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Crawford vs Benavidez: Fight preview

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Terence Crawford meets Jose Benavidez on Saturday.

Top Rank

This Saturday night on ESPN, Terence “Bud” Crawford returns home to Omaha, Nebraska, where he’ll defend his WBO welterweight title against Jose Benavidez Jr in the main event.

Let’s take a look at the matchups on the card.

Terence Crawford vs Jose Benavidez Jr

Crawford (33-0, 24 KO) is either No. 1 or No. 2 on the pound-for-pound list these days, jockeying for position with Vasiliy Lomachenko. Like Lomachenko, Crawford has proved his worth in multiple divisions, winning world titles at 135, 140, and now 147. He fully unified at 140, a very difficult thing to do politically even more than just inside the ring.

The 31-year-old Crawford is in his prime, and he’s a deadly technician. He doesn’t make many mistakes, and when he does, he’s good enough that opponents rarely can capitalize on them. And once he gets on a roll, he’s proven unstoppable thus far. Once Bud is zoned in and has his target locked, it’s pretty much game over for the other guy.

That’s not to say he’s unbeatable. Nobody is. But we’ve yet to find anyone who seriously challenges him, and that speaks to his blooming greatness.

Benavidez (27-0, 18 KO) was a highly-regarded, blue chip prospect when he entered the pro ranks in 2010, but he’s never quite taken off. His best wins to date are over guys like Francisco Santana and Jorge Paez Jr, not exactly what was expected eight years into his career.

He’s a terrific talent, but there have been questions about him for some years now, how much he really wants it compared to that talent chief among them. He’s had issues outside the ring, too.

Benavidez is a real talent, so I’m inclined to say, as Mark Kriegel did recently, that this can be a good fight, that the matchup is legitimate. But I wonder if the lights will be too bright, if Benavidez is really prepared for this, if the schooling to this point has been enough.

Matchup Grade: C+. My gut feeling is pretty simple: Crawford will prove too good for Benavidez. The fact that these two have beef outside the ring probably helps Crawford, too. He’s got a real mean streak behind his calm demeanor, and he fights well when he fights angry, unlike some. If he’s coming to punish Benavidez, he probably is going to do just that. A better-seasoned Benavidez might be another story, but I just don’t think he’s had the right experience as a pro for this fight at this time.

Shakur Stevenson vs Viorel Simion

Stevenson (8-0, 4 KO) won a silver medal at Rio 2016 and is one of the best American amateurs of recent memory as a result, which, no offense to Stevenson, probably says more about the American amateur program than anything.

Stevenson is a very good talent, blue chip in some ways, but I am still a little unsure of his true ceiling. He’ll win this fight because he’s more talented than Simion (21-2, 9 KO), a veteran from Romania who is stepping in on short notice. But Stevenson may find the going a lot tougher once he really steps up.

As it is, at this point, this is a step up fight, but one he should win. Simion’s two best opponents were Lee Selby and Scott Quigg, both of whom beat him, but he did go the distance both times, so it’s reasonable to expect he’ll do that again here. That said, he hasn’t fought since losing to Quigg in April 2017, and it’s short notice, so who knows what he has in the tank for this one? He’s about to turn 37 and any hopes of being a world champion or whatever are surely dashed by now. This could be just a paycheck fight for him, and he may not want to grind out 10 full against a skilled opponent who is going to make life difficult for him once the bell rings.

Matchup Grade: C. It’s fine, it is what it is. They had to get someone in and they found someone decent enough for the situation.