By Anthony Cocks
On Saturday night a small but vocal contingent of Aussie fight fans filed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada to watch their countryman Jeff "The Hornet" Horn 18-1-1 (12) make the second defence of the WBO welterweight title he won from Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane, Australia last July against pound-for-pound rated boxer Terence “Bud” Crawford 33-0 (24) of Omaha, Nebraska.
It would be the second future Hall of Famer that Horn would face in his last three fights.
The pugilistic promised land of Las Vegas had long been on Horn’s to-do list. After flying out 10 days ahead of the bout Horn spent the week leading up to the fight shopping on the Vegas strip with his wife Jo and their five-month-old daughter Isabelle in tow. They took a sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon in a hired helicopter, marvelling at the vastness of the great and ancient abyss. Another night they took in a magic show where master illusionist and winner of America’s Got Talent, Mat Franco, wowed the crowd at the Linq Hotel & Casino.
If it wasn’t for his face beaming down from advertising hoardings across the city and peering out from the posters on the sides of the penny slot machines in the MGM Grand, you could be forgiven for mistaking him for just another tourist taking in the sights while on vacation.
The 30-year-old Horn, a former high school teacher, shot to fame last year with his close and somewhat controversial points decision win over wildly popular Filipino Manny Pacquiao at the open-air Suncorp Stadium in front of 51,000 fans on a sun-drenched Brisbane winter’s day.
The victory should have made him a star. Instead, the nature of his win earned him as many detractors as it did followers.
Crawford meanwhile was already being billed as one of the sport’s modern greats. At 30 years of age and undefeated in 32 contests, he had already won a world title belt at lightweight, conquered junior welterweight by unifying all four of the recognised titles and was now aiming for victory in his first foray into the deep welterweight division where the big names and even bigger match-ups awaited.
But first he had to get past the stubborn Australian.
The promotion for the fight seemed to drag on forever after the original date of April 14 was pushed back by two months after Crawford suffered a minor hand injury in training. Aussie tourists, widely accustomed to lengthy travel times and delays, merely rebooked their flights and accommodation and sweet-talked their bosses into changing their vacation dates.
The day before the fight there was drama at the weigh-in when Horn came in one-pound over the welterweight limit of 147-pounds. The reigning champion stripped off and returned the scale only to come in a half-pound over the scheduled weight. Horn returned to his hotel room where he took a steaming hot bath then came back to the scales for his third try 35 minutes later.
This time he made it, 147-pounds on the dot.
A set of dodgy scales – supplied by promoter Top Rank – were blamed for the miscalculation of the weight.
Many were critical of the blunder.
“At the start I kind of thought, it’s unprofessional not to make weight,” Hall of Famer and fellow Australian Jeff Fenech told News Corp. “You get on the scales. As a pro, every one of my fighters, I take them and check the official scales and make sure because all scales are different.
“They’re saying they calibrated them both from the same scales so it seems funny to me. I don’t know if they checked them and calibrated them from scale to scale. Hopefully it’s a trick from Top Rank.
“If it’s an error from the Horn camp, it’s not a good error.”
Meanwhile, Crawford made weight on the first try, coming in half-a-pound under the contracted limit.
Back in his hotel room, Horn devoured a large plate of spaghetti bolognaise and played a few hands of poker before turning in for the night.
The issue with the scale wasn’t the first time something had gone awry since they arrived in Vegas. The gym made available to them – again, Top Rank’s gym – was too hot with non-functioning air conditioning and a roller door that wouldn’t budge. The equipment was old and rundown, a deflated speed bag highlighting the sad state of neglect that the champion’s camp felt was directed at them.
About a month before the fight there was a well-publicised dispute about the type of gloves Crawford was planning to use for the fight. The challenger wanted to use Everlast MX gloves, filled with horsehair rather than the more common foam, a style of glove said to favour punchers. It was just one of many minor disputes between the two camps before their fighters got into the ring.
It was no secret that Top Rank and its backer ESPN were rooting for a Crawford win. After all, Bob Arum admitted as much.
“I don’t think it would please ESPN if Terence lost,” said the Top Rank CEO in the lead-up to the bout. “But is helps the brand, it helps boxing, if you get upsets like this.”
Every aspect of the fight promotion was geared towards a Crawford victory, from the hotel rooms given to the Nebraskan’s camp through to his name appearing first on marketing collateral, defying the age-old naming convention that the champion always gets his name mentioned first.
None of this was a surprise. In fact, it was expected. About the only concession afforded to Horn as champion was entering the ring last on fight night.
Adhering to tradition Crawford entered the ring first, wearing maroon trunks with white trim and matching gloves. His boots, bright red with white trim, stood out against the colour coordination of the rest of his outfit. Following Crawford into the ring were his uniformed cornermen complying with the maroon and white colour palate carefully chosen for this night.
Champions often leave their challengers waiting in the ring in the hope that their bodies will begin to cool down and their nerves will start to niggle. Not Horn, who wound his way through the crowd and into the ring as soon as his name was announced over the PA system.
Veteran ring announcer Michael Buffer ran through the particulars, introducing Crawford first. The crowd erupted with cheers. Horn, dressed in his customary black and orange trunks, was introduced second and roundly booed by the 8,112-strong crowd who still took umbrage at the result of the Pacquiao fight almost a year earlier. The small but vocal Australian contingent did their best to drown out the jeers.
The ring was cleared of extraneous personnel while the boxers and their seconds were invited to centre ring for final instructions from experienced referee Robert Byrd.
“Gentlemen, you had your instructions in the dressing room. Only thing I’m going to give you is a few reminders now. First and foremost I want you to watch your heads. Second of all, anything on the band here,” he said, indicating Crawford’s waistline, “is going to be good. Anything on the band here,” indicating Horn’s waistline, “is going to be good. I’m going to give you guys clear instructions, and that’s what I want you to do. You understand?
“You’re both professionals, world-class, championship calibre and that’s how I want you to conduct yourselves in this ring. That said, Mr Horn, Mr Crawford, gentlemen, let’s do this,” concluded Byrd, a veteran official who had controlled more than 100 world title bouts.
Crawford returned to the red corner and Horn the blue. When the bell rang they reconvened in centre ring where the American set up for his attack in the orthodox stance.
Horn got off first with a couple of probing jabs that were easily parried by Crawford. Then he threw a lead right to the belly of Crawford just as the American launched a jab of his own, his first punch of the contest. Then the challenger then slipped seamlessly into the southpaw stance, a position he would occupy for the rest of the fight.
Crawford caught a lunging Horn with a counter left cross 40 seconds into the opening round, but Horn retaliated with a right cross of his own 30 seconds later. There wasn’t much to separate them in what was very much a feeling out round.
The second stanza opened with a left to the body from Crawford while Horn bounced on his toes on the outside looking to set-up his zig-zag offense. Halfway through the round Horn lunged in and Crawford met him with a clinch. A lead left to the chest from Crawford two minutes into the round was followed by a snappy right jab, with a right hand from Horn landing seconds later. The Nebraskan caught Horn with a lead left cross of his own. A cheeky long left hook from Horn came in over Crawford’s jab and the two tied up with 40 seconds remaining. Horn threw some short shots on the inside before another clinch with 15 seconds to go. A left uppercut to the solar plexus from Crawford was the last punch of the round.
Early in the third round Crawford caught Horn with a hard counter right hook just as the Australian landed a right cross of his own on his way in. It was the most significant punch of the fight so far. The sound of the impact seemed to wake Crawford up as he quickly capitalised with a hard and fast three-punch combination: a left uppercut to the solar plexus, a left hook to the head and a right uppercut to the body. Crawford stepped off to create some space then came back in with a double-jab, left cross; all three punches falling just short of their intended target. Only 40 seconds has elapsed in the round. The sudden awakening of Crawford had Horn befuddled, circling counter-clockwise on the outside as he tried to come up with a plan of attack.
Crawford used his hand feints to good effect while Horn, who confused Pacquiao with his foot feints 11 months earlier, appeared apprehensive about crossing the threshold into the kill zone. His hesitation played into Crawford’s hands, who shot another lightning-fast lead left into his face. With 1:20 left, Horn switched southpaw to land a sneaky right hook to the body before quickly switching back.
Late in the frame Crawford nailed him with a lead left, then popped another snappy jab. A left uppercut from Crawford grazed Horn’s chin, followed quickly by a pair of stiff jabs that jolted the Australian’s head back. Another left uppercut missed the mark but again disguised another follow-up jab. As the bell rang to mark the end of the third frame Horn returned to the blue corner with his right eye showing early signs of swelling.
This has been the best round of the fight so far for the challenger.
“You’re going well. When you’re on him you’ve just got to stay on him,” Horn’s trainer Glenn Rushton told him between rounds. “You’ve got to slide around him, you can’t stand in front of this guy, slide around him.
“You’re going well. One clean hit will change all this.”
The pep talk seemed to settle Horn’s nerves. He started the fourth strongly, working his way inside behind a solid one-two. But soon the Nebraskan’s dynamic movement and powerful, accurate punching had him second guessing himself again. Crawford has started to mix in some right hooks with the rest of his arsenal, missing Horn’s chin by millimetres with a chopping right.
With a minute remaining they tie up in a clinch and as Crawford swings Horn’s body around effortlessly, a broad smile breaks out across his face. It seems that rumours of Horn’s superior strength are greatly exaggerated.
In an otherwise slow-paced fourth round Crawford landed a grazing left cross late followed by a right hook. He closed out the round with another of his patented lead left crosses just as the 10 second reminder sounds.
Crawford, a notoriously slow starter, has swept three of the first four rounds with the first round close to even. It doesn’t bode well for the Australian world champion.
As the bell clangs to mark the start of the fifth Horn begin inching his way back into battle. Crawford surprises him by springing forward to strike like a viper with a lead left, right hook combination. Horn responded with a lead right, but Crawford quickly nails him with three punches in return to the body and head.
Much was made of Horn’s supposed size advantage in the lead up to the fight but as the noticeably smaller Crawford wrestled, hip-tossed and threw Horn off him in the clinches – even walking him backwards at times – it was clear that any size advantage was negated by the Nebraskan’s solid core strength and low centre of gravity.
Crawford used the round to change tactics and display his versatility. Rather than sit off and counter, the Nebraskan surprises the crowd by walking Horn down. The two boxers’ heads come together at the bell and referee Byrd warns them to watch their heads on the inside. Horn returned to his corner with a trickle of blood appearing in the corner of his left eye.
“Going well Jeff, just got to land a couple of clean shots on him and everything changes,” Rushton reassured his charge.
“You can’t just let him sit and pick you off,” he added.
Rushton was right. Crawford was getting off first and when he threw, he rarely missed. Hard shots, Accurate shots. From both hands to the body and head.
Early in the sixth Crawford made a show of illustrating his strength, ragdolling Horn in the clinches. Midway through the round a left uppercut from Crawford missed its mark, but a flush left cross nailed Horn. Not to be discouraged, Horn shakes it off and bulls his way forward, pushing Crawford into the ropes where the crafty Nebraskan takes advantage of Horn’s low head, launching a powerful uppercut that make the Australian’s head bob like a cork in the ocean.
It is the standout punch of the fight.
The same punch came in handy later in the round when Crawford returned his attack to the body. Horn landed a pawing jab but Crawford replied with two stiff jabs to his face. Another hard left to the body late in the round from Crawford was followed by a four punch combination to close out the frame just as the bell rings to mark the halfway point of the fight.
For the first time in the fight there is sense of urgency in Horn’s corner.
“I need you to dig deep and go up a gear,” Rushton implored him in the corner. “VERY broken rhythm. You CAN do this Jeff. I KNOW you can.”
Horn jumped on Crawford at the start of the seventh frame, launching a right-left-right that the Nebraskan moved backwards to avoid. Horn reloaded and attempted to land the same combination again. This time Crawford deflected the shots and clipped Horn with a stiff jab in return. The two tangled up in a clinch on the ropes and when they separated, Crawford immediately got back to work, landing another lead left to the chin of Horn.
Sensing he needed to do something different, Horn switched southpaw then almost immediately switched back again only to get caught by Crawford’s right hand in the change-up. The two tie-up again on the ropes and as Byrd separates them, he reminds them again to watch their heads.
Back in centre ring Horn landed a right cross to the chest and sneaked in a right to the chin of Crawford, who jabs back. A hard left to the body followed from Crawford, then a left that landed high on Horn’s forehead.
Crawford pops the jab but Horn, sensing a bit of momentum going his way, landed two lead rights in return. Horn kept circling to his right, into the path of Crawford’s deadly lead left that nails him yet again. Another hard left hand is plunged into Horn’s waistline, followed by another left rip to the solar plexus. With 20 seconds remaining Crawford looks to finish the round strongly. He tags Horn with a left to the head, misses with a right hook and lands another left to the body. Two more jabs to the head and another solid body shot see out the round.
The eighth frame started with Crawford touching Horn with a left uppercut and a left to the body, followed by a jab to the face. The Aussie bulled his way inside behind an overhand right and landed a chopping right to the jaw once he had closed the distance, but Crawford walked him into another hard left to the body.
Midway through the round a double left uppercut from Crawford smashed into Horn’s face, forcing him to back up. Crawford changed his stance to orthodox with a minute left to go in the round. A lead right, double left hook landed flush on Horn’s face before Crawford returned to the southpaw stance.
With 38 seconds remaining Horn worked his way inside only to be worked over by a four punch combination to the body and head. Crawford wasn’t about to let him off the hook and landed a lead left cross, right hook with power and precision, jolting the Australian’s head from one side to the other. Another left to the head followed by a right hook to the body reinforced Crawford’s power, accuracy and dominance.
There was now 30 seconds left on the clock. Crawford landed three consecutive lead left hands to the side of Horn’s face. The champion tried to clinch but Crawford used his strength to shake off the tiring Australian, landing three right hands to his body and head. The strafing shots from Crawford were beginning to add up.
Right on the bell a jarring lead left crashed into Horn’s jaw, buckling his legs and sending him stumbling backwards. He was lucky not to go down.
By this stage in the fight all of the hard shots were coming from Crawford while Horn, outclassed and outgunned, was increasingly looking like he would need divine intervention if he was to survive the full 12-rounds. Vegas thrives on luck. But miracles are few and far between in the desert.
Rushton was all but out of advice in the corner.
“Just dig deep, breathe, dig deep,” offered Rushton. “You’ve got to stay on the whole time. You’ve got to stay very aware all the time.”
The ninth frame began with a pair of lead lefts from Crawford. Horn, with little in the way of artillery left, lunged in only to get caught with three more left hands. Then a pair of left uppercuts and a right hook. A lead left followed. With little power on Horn’s shots, Crawford showed no fear of standing with him.
Crawford landed a big lead left, followed by a long lead right hook. It looked like just a matter of time.
The sharpshooting Nebraskan landed another sneaky right hook against the slowing Horn. A chopping lead left from Crawford signalled the beginning of the end for Horn. Crawford landed a left to the jaw, followed by another.
Sensing he has his man in trouble, Crawford opened up to land left and right power shots to either side of Horn’s jaw with either hand. A final left landed high on Horn’s head and the accumulation of shots sent him toppling forward to the canvas where his gloves met the matt.
By the time referee Byrd had reached the fallen Horn in the neutral corner he was already back on his feet. Byrd completed his mandatory eight-count and waved Crawford back in with 38 seconds left on the clock.
Crawford was immediately back on the attack, landing a left cross that backed Horn into the ropes in his own corner and digging in two rights to the body. Crawford nailed him with a left uppercut and a left hook and as Horn tried to escape, he is driven back into the ropes with a right-left-right.
Referee Byrd has seen enough. He steps in and wraps his arms around Horn to save him from further punishment.
Meanwhile, just feet away, Crawford poked out his tongue and did a little shoulder-shimmy to celebrate with the crowd.
Before the fight, Crawford’s backers said this fight would be a whitewash. Horn’s backers claimed that their man had the hype of physicality the Nebraskan challenger had never faced in the ring before. In the end, both statements were true but only one mattered. It was Crawford’s accuracy, versatility, timing and power that got him over the line in a clinical performance.
By the sixth round on, Crawford was bouncing left hands off Horn’s chin, cheeks and forehead at will. His left uppercut to the body and head rarely missed and the oft-neglected southpaw right hook played a big part in his attacking options. He counterpunched at times and walked Horn down at others.
All three judges gave every round to Crawford. It was a rout.
But surprisingly not everyone saw it that way.
"Who wants to see a rematch?" asked Horn’s promoter Dean Lonergan of Duco Events of the reporters gathered at the post-fight presser.
Silence provided his answer.
Meanwhile, the Australian contingent drifted out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena and onto the gaming room floor, where penny slot machines, still plastered with advertising for the incorrectly named Crawford vs Horn bout, reminded them of their loss.
Some fight fans might’ve even flowed down the strip to the Linq Hotel & Casino hoping to catch the late show of Mat Franco at just $243 for a front row ticket – if only to prove there is still a little magic left in Vegas.