NEW YORK — Egidijus Kavaliauskas pushed Terence Crawford early and even buzzed him, but Crawford ultimately ran Kavaliauskas down and knocked him out. Teofimo Lopez Jr. stepped up to the biggest fight of his career and won a world title from Richard Commey with a clinical second-round knockout.
It was a wildly entertaining night of big fights at Madison Square Garden. Our experts are here to break down the significance of each result, as well as what’s next for Crawford, Lopez, Commey and pound-for-pound No. 1 Vasiliy Lomachenko.
What did you make of Crawford’s performance against Kavaliauskas?
Tim Bradley: I’m sure Crawford had his expectations on how he was going to approach this fight. But things were a little difficult early on, and then Crawford made the adjustment. He figured out that Kavaliauskas wanted to be that bull, and sometimes you have to push back the bull and make him fight off his back foot — make him feel uncomfortable. As soon as Crawford started doing that and started stepping to Kavaliauskas, he took the fight out of Kavaliauskas.
No one is as mean as Terence Crawford. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t like the big punches he was getting hit with, but man, did you see how he bit down on his mouthpiece? Crawford showed his grit, his determination, his will tonight. He tried to out-tough Kavaliauskas, absolutely, to prove a point, and he showed a little vulnerability. Hopefully these guys at PBC come over and fight.
What’s next for Crawford? Will he get the big unification fight he’s been after?
Dan Rafael: It’s extremely unlikely Crawford will get a unification fight next. I’d give it a 0% chance. But he might — MIGHT — be able to get a fight with former titlist Shawn Porter, who is one of the best in the division and coming off a very close decision loss to Errol Spence Jr. in a unification fight. They are friends, and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is taking Porter’s lead. He has said if he and Crawford want to fight they will discuss it, and go to their teams and tell them to make the fight. Porter is technically a promotional free agent, so it is possible. That said, I am not going to count on it. I’d love to see it, but if it sounds too good to be true it usually is, unfortunately.
Steve Kim: With Crawford wearing down Kavaliauskas in nine rounds, the conversation will turn to what’s next, which was, quite frankly, the focus before this fight, which annoyed Crawford.
The fight everyone has wanted to see for over a year is a showdown with WBC/IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., but at this moment it’s not clear what Spence’s physical status is. With that said, there has already been chatter of Crawford facing the man who gave Spence all he could handle back in September, Porter, who lost a split decision to Spence at the Staples Center.
Earlier Saturday evening, Kenny Porter, who trains and manages his son, told ESPN, “I hear Bob Arum making all these comments, but they have not made a call to us, yet.”
The elder Porter made it clear that should representatives of Crawford make that call, they will certainly listen to any offers. When Arum was told about his comments, he made it clear that the way this process will work is that both Crawford and Porter will talk to one another, and should they agree to face one another, then Arum and Al Haymon will negotiate this fight at their behest.
Crawford is undefeated inside the ring, but the only thing that has been able to really trouble him is the politics of the business.
Can Kavaliauskas rebound?
Rafael: He fought his heart out and he fought pretty well despite the three knockdowns and stoppage loss. He had several good moments and gave Crawford one of his toughest fights ever. He has power and comes forward, so he can be in entertaining fights like Saturday’s. He can get some rest and Top Rank can bring him back. I would not expect to see him in a significant fight immediately, but maybe he can earn another shot. He sure has nothing to be ashamed of with how he fought against Crawford.
What did you think of Lopez’s performance?
Vasiliy Lomachenko says he’s looking forward to unifying lightweight titles with Teofimo Lopez in April 2020.
Bradley: Oh my goodness. Teofimo Lopez Jr., what he did tonight, that’s special. You need to understand this guy that he faced, Commey, is super experienced in world championship fights, a hard-punching machine with high volume. What’s the hardest type of boxer to face, besides a boxer like Floyd Mayweather? It’s a high-volume puncher, and he destroyed him.
Kim: After the fight, the unified lightweight champion of the world gave his thoughts on what he had just seen.
In the past Lomachenko has downplayed the idea of facing the precocious Lopez. Now?
“Yes, of course — we want to unify all the titles,” he said. “Now he’s a world champion, and now he’s interesting for me because he has a title.”
But Lomachenko wasn’t awed with Lopez’s performance.
“I’m not impressed, because it was just a couple rounds,” said Lomachenko, who has made a career of systematically picking apart so many of his foes.
“[Lopez] has the power, of course. He’s a smart fighter. It depends on your opponent.”
Still, some believe that even with Saturday’s explosive, eye-opening effort, that any fighter, no matter how talented, with just 15 fights under his belt and still just 22, is simply too green to face a boxer of the caliber of Lomachenko.
When asked if he was handling the career of Lopez, if he would make this fight, Lomachenko smiled.
“Of course, because he believes in himself.”
How does Lopez match up with Lomachenko? Can he beat him?
Bradley: Lomachenko has had problems with guys who are tall and lanky. You’ve got a guy like Lopez who has explosive punching power. It’s an interesting fight. [Lopez] will have to close the distance, now. Lomachenko likes that type of fight, but Lopez will have the opportunity to hit Lomachenko because he has short arms. He likes to be inside.
It’s a real fight. This ain’t going to be easy for Lomachenko by any means. I promise you, and I can’t wait for it.
Rafael: After watching the explosiveness Lopez showed against Commey — by far his most serious opponent — Lopez can match up with Lomachenko, for sure. He has tremendous firepower, he’s fast, he’s nearly a decade younger than Loma, he has huge confidence and he at least has decent defense.
Lomachenko vs. Lopez is a huge fight, and it was made that much bigger by how Lopez destroyed Commey.
Lomachenko won’t be easy though. He is far more multidimensional than Commey, has massive experience and is much quicker and far better defensively. However, if Lopez can land the kind of shots on Loma that he did against Commey, he can stop him.
Kim: Many believe that Lopez will simply be too green and inexperienced for the master craftsman Lomachenko, but keep this in mind: Lomachenko isn’t a natural lightweight, and might still be better suited for 130 or 126. Lopez is the naturally bigger, stronger fighter, and you don’t have to sell anyone on his punching power. If he can cut off the ring on the graceful Lomachenko, he can absolutely trouble Lomachenko, who is a bit vulnerable at 135.
How does Commey return to title contention? Whom should he fight next?
Rafael: He got caught. His career isn’t over. It won’t be easy, but with promoter Lou DiBella and co-manager Keith Connolly behind him they can put him in the right fights to rebuild him. He’ll need a couple of wins though. Hopefully he does not let this loss send him into a long layoff. Take a needed break and get right back on the horse. Commey is still a good fighter.
Kim: Commey is still a very good fighter — he just got struck with a lightning bolt of a right hand from a fighter who might be special. If you go by the track record, Commey’s been a world-class lightweight for years. His only blemishes were close, competitive fights against Robert Easter and then Denis Shafikov in back-to-back fights in 2016. Nobody had ever had an easy go of it with Commey, and this shouldn’t be an indictment. Commey got hit with a picture-perfect right hand on the button. It happens.
If you take away the likes of Lomachenko, and perhaps the young prodigy who just stopped him in two, everyone else in the division would still be given all they could handle by Commey.
Is Michael Conlan a legit featherweight contender? What will it take to get him there?
Rafael: Conlan scored an emotional and solid one-sided decision win over amateur nemesis Vladimir Nikitin, but he is not yet a legit contender. Could he get there? It’s possible, but he is already 28. He does not have serious power or A-level skills, but he certainly has desire, heart and work ethic — and sometimes that is enough. He probably will get a title shot eventually though, if he keeps winning, because he is an attraction and Top Rank is good at maneuvering its fighters into position to get a shot.
Kim: Conlan, who remained undefeated (13-0, 7 KOs) by outboxing his amateur nemesis, Vladimir Nikitin, is still a developing fighter. It’s premature to state at this moment that he is a legitimate featherweight contender, although with guys like Leo Santa Cruz and Oscar Valdez (who both held titles at 126 up until recently) moving up, and guys like Carl Frampton thinking about making the trek up to 130, it’s a bit of a transition period for this division.
But it’s clear that Conlan still needs some seasoning and to truly be comfortable with his ring identity. After starting under the guidance of trainer Manny Robles Jr. in Southern California to begin his career, he is now working with Adam Booth, who has him boxing from the outside much more, and doing so out of the southpaw stance.
And it’s hard to knock the results, as Conlan keeps racking up wins, but oftentimes his fights lack any type of real compelling drama or sustained action. On this night at the Garden, he boxed effectively in the first half of the fight, and was much more entertaining in the late stages.
Starting from the seventh round on, Conlan was much more willing to stand his ground, stick inside the pocket and let his hands go. He was able to swell up Nikitin’s left eye with a number of right hooks and he wasn’t afraid to go downstairs. They had some heated exchanges in the late rounds that brought the crowd out of its slumber.
Perhaps Conlan is still working on finding that middle ground as a pro. How well he strikes that balance will likely determine Conlan’s ceiling.
Who else impressed you?
Rafael: It’s hard not to be impressed by super middleweight Edgar Berlanga, who is now 13-0 with 13 knockouts after drilling Cesar Nunez, who had lost only once previously. Berlanga is a 22-year-old Puerto Rican from the Bronx with a fun personality and fan-friendly style, so maybe he can become New York’s next Puerto Rican attraction. He hasn’t faced anybody known at this point, but he carries a powerful left hook and the Top Rank matchmakers have been trying in recent fights to match him with opponents they believe might extend him a few rounds. So far none of them have been able to.
Kim: Not sure if the word “impressed” is how I’d put it, but the hard-hitting Edgar Berlanga continues to be one of the most intriguing young fighters in the world. He scored his 13th consecutive first-round stoppage by hammering the overmatched Cesar Nunez, sending him down twice to the canvas before referee Mike Ortega mercifully waved things off. Berlanga has not seen a second round in any of his professional contests.
There is no denying the heavy-handedness of the 22-year-old super middleweight. He can flat out punch. But you wonder if his record is more about soft matchmaking than anything else. The Top Rank brass need to see how Berlanga will react to real professional resistance at some point, and if Berlanga is more than just a guy who can take care of handpicked cannon fodder.
The question is, is he more Felix “Tito” Trinidad, who truly was one of the most devastating offensive fighters of his era — or Tyrone Brunson, who opened up his career with 19 straight first-round stoppages, but was then soon exposed a couple of fights later by Carson Jones. It turned out his early success was a mirage.
But going into 2020, this young Puerto Rican, who hails from New York, is certainly someone to keep tabs on.