A confusing and disappointing ending spurred on by an accidental low blow did nothing to cloud what fans and critics knew coming in: Unbeaten welterweight champion Terence Crawford just might be the best fighter in the sport.
According to CBS Sports, Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) made the second defense of his WBO title on Saturday in dominant fashion by headlining the inaugural Top Rank on ESPN pay-per-view at New York’s Madison Square Garden and finishing British star Amir Khan via sixth-round TKO.
With the pound-for-pound debate atop the sport as heated as it has been in years, Crawford made a heck of a statement for the top spot just one week after lightweight champion and promotional stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko did the same with a one-punch knockout of Anthony Crolla.
How the 31-year-old Crawford recorded the victory, however, wasn’t quite the stoppage win he had in mind coming in after a left uppercut in Round 6 accidentally connected low on Khan (33-5, 20 KOs). But after referee David Fields gave Khan time to recover, a conversation between Khan and trainer Virgil Hunter led to the fight being stopped.
“First of all, it wasn’t a low blow and second of all, Virgil knew the fight was going in a bad direction and he saved his fighter before anything bad happened to him,” Crawford said.
For a moment, confusion ensued as most observers felt Khan had taken an easy way out in hopes of stealing a technical decision on the scorecards. Instead, Fields revealed that it was Hunter who asked for the fight to be stopped, regardless of the foul, at 47 seconds of the round.
“It’s obvious he was in a lot of pain,” Hunter said. “Sometimes you can continue and sometimes you can’t continue, it depends on how hard you were hit in the testicles. I asked him if he could continue and he said, ‘No.'”
Hailed coming in for his guts, fan-friendly style and willingness to take on difficult challenges, the 32-year-old Khan said after the fight that the pain caused by the low blow was too much to continue.
“I was hit below the belt and I can feel it in my stomach and I can’t continue,” Khan said. “I have never been hit below the belt before. I’m a warrior [but] I could feel it in my stomach. My legs kind of seized. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t continue. I’m not one to give up in any fight. I’ll fight to the end and you have to knock me out in any fight. I’m not one of those fighters [who gives up].”
While Khan was just one round removed from doing some of his best work in the fight at the time of the stoppage, this was a fight Crawford had somewhat easily controlled despite Khan’s vaunted hand speed.
Crawford, who outlanded his opponent 88 to 44, according to CompuBox, and connected on 50 percent of his power shots, hurt Khan in Round 1 with a right hand that turned his chin and a left hook that put him on the floor.
“I could tell I was breaking him down. It was just a matter of time,” Crawford said. “I just took my time. I was disappointed the corner stopped the fight in that manner, but Virgil is a great coach, and he was looking out for his fighter. I know he didn’t want to go out like that.
“I was rushing myself a little bit [in the early rounds]. I was trying to box more and just catch him in the trenches. [Jose] Benavidez and [Yuriorkis] Gamboa were 10 times faster than him.”
Khan got his legs back under him in Round 2 as Crawford turned into a head-hunter. Eventually, Crawford’s patience returned. He turned southpaw in Round 3 and his accurate counter shots began to cause trouble for Khan’s balance. Still, the gutsy Khan rallied late in Round 5 with a flurry of combinations to temporarily take back a piece of the momentum before the stoppage.
“To me, [Khan] was hanging in the fight,” Hunter said. “He took some punishment but it would have been interesting to see how the fight was going. He was landing some punches himself. I would have liked to have seen him not take that low blow that incapacitated him.”
“I want to apologize to all of the fans,” Khan said. “The fight was just getting interesting. Terence is a great fighter and I’m not taking anything away from him. I’m now realizing why he is one of the best fighters in the world. I’m just going to go back to the drawing board and see where I go from there.”
Crawford, the former undisputed junior welterweight champion who improved to 13-0 with 10 KOs in championship bouts, had one name in mind that he wants to face next.
“The fight I want next is Errol Spence,” Crawford said. “Whenever he is ready, he can come and get it. I can’t put a gun to the promoter’s heads to make them make the fight. The only thing I can do is continue fighting every person they put in front of me.”
A fight against Spence (25-0, 21 KOs), who defended his IBF title by dominant decision over Mikey Garcia on PPV in March, is far from an easy one to make considering Crawford fights exclusively on ESPN and Spence, who fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, competes on Fox and Showtime.
To make matters worse, Top Rank’s Bob Arum has a long history of dislike for Spence’s manager, Al Haymon, that has included lawsuits, a lengthy cold war and regular difficulty making big fights.
“We want to fight Errol Spence, Terence wants it and I think Errol wants it,” Arum said. “There is one guy stopping it and that’s Al Haymon. All fans should refuse to patronize Haymon’s fights until Spence fights Crawford. He refuses to let his fighters get beat by Top Rank fighters and Al Haymon refuses to allow it.”