If you would have told me before the Terrance Crawford (24-0) and Yuriorkis Gamboa’s (23-1) Saturday night tilt (contested in Omaha…known the world over as the fight capital of Nebraska) that Crawford was going to win by a tenth round stoppage I would have said…okay, fine. Crawford is a talented, skilled boxer fighting in his hometown. He’s also significantly bigger than Gamboa, both in terms of height and natural weight class, and he’s looked far sharper in his recent bouts. So yeah, a tenth round stoppage seems about right. But if you would have told me that Crawford and Gamboa would also be sort of a spectacularly entertaining life or death slugfest, and probably the leading candidate for fight of the year, I would have said no that won’t happen: I don’t care if you’re clairvoyant or from the future or whatever your deal is, but you’re wrong. A blown-up featherweight coming off a slow paced tap-fest over a year ago against a defensively responsible counter-puncher could never be a fight of the year candidate and really, it’s idiotic to suggest otherwise. And yet Saturday night happened.
Like the moral of all those chain emails my grandma keeps sending me, the story wasn’t the destination—which ended with the favorite winning in about the place and manner many expected him to—but the journey. Early on Crawford looked outclassed. For the first four rounds Gamboa teleported around the ring, winging searing overhand rights and left hooks, and generally doing the things that make the other guy’s head look like a bobble-head you keep flicking. And in a fight of discordant aptitudes—Crawford’s size, power, and technical stoicism versus Gamboa’s transcendent speed and panache and…well…Gamboa-ness—it seemed like speed and the other stuff was on its way towards claiming another scalp in its eternal struggle with size and power. In fact, I was convinced that if Crawford’s face was physically capable of changing expression he would have looked worried. And then a funny thing happened in round five, Crawford landed a devastating counter-right hook, sending Gamboa to the canvass, in what would be the first of four trips, and seized control of the fight with startling suddenness.
And then, perhaps an even funnier thing happened. Crawford and Gamboa started doing a pretty reasonable impression of two blood and guts brawlers—punctuating most rounds by wild, desperate, exchanges of frenetic combinations that rocked both fighters (though disproportionately Gamboa). Round nine was the most peculiar, air-lifted straight from an alternate, bizarro universe where Crawford and Gamboa were body-swapped Freaky Friday style with Gatti and Ward. It was nuts. Gamboa nearly took Crawford’s head off was a cartoonishly windmill overhand right that landed perfectly—and yet by the end of the round Gamboa had been knocked down twice more. And this was the fight in a microcosm—both guys landed clean, pitiless shots (and lots of them) and both guys (especially Gamboa) fought back anyway—making heroic stands, fighting on the beaches and in the streets and in France and as if from Churchill’s feverish dreams. And even when the fight ended a round later—with two more knock downs—it took a torrent of hellish blows…and a referee stoppage.
By the end Crawford stood atop the smoldering rubble a star, Gamboa a vanquished but honored rival, and everyone in Omaha has a new favorite sport.