OMAHA, Nebraska is not known as a fight town. The recent victory of Terence “Bud” Crawford over Yuriorkis Gamboa to retain the WBO lightweight belt was the first world title contest there since May 1972, when Joe Frazier smashed another local hero, Ron Stander, in five rounds.
Ron’s then-wife famously remarked that it was like entering a VW Beetle in the Indianapolis 500 motor race. But while Stander was overmatched against “Smokin’ Joe”, he was no bum. Only nine months into his pro career he knocked out (five rounds) Earnie Shavers, now considered one of the all-time great heavyweight punchers. Stander was 9-0 and Shavers 12-1 going into that one.
Perhaps Ron suffered by comparison – in 1971 Frazier had beaten Muhammad Ali to become undisputed world champion and his fight after Stander saw him smashed in two rounds by George Foreman. Ron is still around and was apparently available for the press in the run-up to Crawford-Gamboa, but as I got into town only at 10pm on the eve of the fight, I had no chance to meet him.
Stander-Frazier happened in the Civic Auditorium, but the June 28 card was in the CenturyLink Center, which opened in 2003. This fine arena is the home of the Creighton University basketball team, whose star player Doug McDermott was considered the USA’s outstanding college basketball player of the year (and has now gone to the NBA).
On fight night who should I bump into but Jack Obermayer, which surprised me as “Ko-Jo” is best known for patrolling his Eastern seaboard home patch (a long way from the Mid-west). “Omaha is a new town for me,” explained Jack, who seeks out new places in which to watch professional boxing.
After the thrilling main event I stayed ringside to start my report (even though I didn’t file until several hours later back in the hotel). I thus got to see Konstantin Ponomarev wallop Puerto Rico’s Joseph de los Santos, who was dropped twice and wobbled around the ring before being halted in the first. Next day the boxer and his trainer were in Omaha airport and on the same flight as me to Atlanta. Poor Joseph was on crutches, so he must have suffered a leg injury on his trips to the canvas. Even undercard losers get hurt.
Anyway, by the time I’d seen the Ponomarev fight and gone backstage, the press conference was breaking up. I ran into Kieran Mulvaney, who was covering the right for HBO Sports/ESPN (and who has contributed several excellent reports to Boxing News). He was seriously impressed with the winner. “I always thought Crawford was something special and tonight he proved it,” was the gist of Kieran’s praise for the champion.
Behind the dais manager Cameron Dunkin handed Crawford a cheque, which Terence studied very intently. If the Omaha talent continues to draw big crowds and perform the way he did against Gamboa, his pay-days will only get bigger – and deservedly so. Pacquiao vs Crawford, anybody?
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