Match to watch

The Philippine Star - - SPORTS - By JOAQUIN M. HEN­SON

There’s a fight at the CHI Health Cen­ter in Omaha show­ing live at 10:30 on ESPN5 this morn­ing and it’s a must-watch. It isn’t just about a bat­tle be­tween two un­de­feated box­ers. It’s also about a strug­gle for sur­vival, fea­tur­ing two vic­tims of gun vi­o­lence, both nearly los­ing their lives now on the global stage to show their in­sen­si­tiv­ity to ad­ver­sity.

WBO wel­ter­weight cham­pion Ter­ence (Bud) Craw­ford, 31, is mak­ing the first de­fense of his ti­tle against Jose (Mer­ci­less) Be­navidez, Jr., 26, in a duel that’s guar­an­teed to be a humdinger be­cause nei­ther con­sid­ers los­ing an op­tion. In 2008, Craw­ford was shot in the driver’s seat of a parked 1986 Pon­tiac in an Omaha street cor­ner at 1:34 in the morn­ing while count­ing the money he earned from a dice game. The gun­man fired from the back of the car and the bul­let from a 9 mm pis­tol pen­e­trated the rear win­dow to graze the back of Craw­ford’s head, be­low the ear and above the neck. Craw­ford was lucky that the bul­let missed his skull. He drove him­self to the hos­pi­tal and was re­leased five hours later af­ter doc­tors sewed up his wound.

Craw­ford was in kin­der­garten when his mother’s brother was stabbed to death. His father was a Navy of­fi­cer and hardly cared for his fam­ily. He and two older sis­ters were raised by their mother Deb­o­rah who worked in a Camp­bell soup fac­tory. Craw­ford started box­ing at seven and saw in the sport a way out of poverty and mis­ery. He went through five high schools be­fore grad­u­at­ing and had a trou­bled life with an aunt im­pris­oned for co­caine pos­ses­sion.

Even­tu­ally, Craw­ford straight­ened out. His long­time trainer Brian McIn­tyre was the man who guided his ca­reer. Craw­ford be­came the uni­fied WBO/WBA/IBF/WBC su­perlightweight cham­pion – only five fight­ers in his­tory have been rec­og­nized by the four gov­ern­ing bodies in any divi­sion – then stopped Jeff Horn in the ninth round to cap­ture the WBO wel­ter­weight ti­tle. Craw­ford worked hard to get to where he is and he’s not about to let Be­navidez take away his place in the sun. Craw­ford now has five chil­dren to care for, four with his girl­friend Esha and a step­daugh­ter.

A switch-hit­ter, Craw­ford is known as the sec­ond com­ing of Floyd May­weather, Jr. He’s shifty, crafty and cun­ning. He also has knock­out power, rack­ing up 24 ab­bre­vi­ated wins in a 33-0 record. But he’s up against a tough chal­lenger, Be­navidez who at 6-2, is six inches taller with a three-inch reach ad­van­tage. Be­navidez has a 27-0 record, with 18 KOs. He, too, has worked hard to get to where he is. Only two years ago, Be­navidez was shot twice by a gun­man while walk­ing his Schnau­zer dog and an ex­pen­sive cat. One bul­let struck the femoral artery and shat­tered his fe­mur in the right leg. The other slightly hit the pinky of his right hand. Be­navidez was left for dead, bleed­ing pro­fusely. He was brought to the hos­pi­tal for surgery and a metal plate with screws was in­serted in his knee. Doc­tors said his box­ing ca­reer was over and he wouldn’t be able to walk for two years. But in a re­mark­able re­cov­ery, Be­navidez was back in the ring af­ter 18 months.

Be­navidez’ father Jose, Sr. taught him how to box at six. Jose, Sr. mi­grated to the US from Mex­ico and took to steal­ing ra­dios from cars and sell­ing drugs un­til set­tling down with a real job as a dish­washer in a ho­tel. With sons Jose, Jr. and David, he thought of box­ing as their way out. Jose, Sr. stud­ied film of Tito Trinidad, Os­car de la Hoya, Julio Ce­sar Chavez and Naseem Hamed, learned from their fights and taught his sons how to be like them. Jose, Sr. ap­pren­ticed with Fred­die Roach for four years and brought his sons to train at the Wild Card Gym. Be­navidez be­came the youngest-ever US Golden Gloves cham­pion and David the youngest ever WBC su­per­mid­dleweight ti­tlist. Grow­ing up, Be­navidez honed his skills spar­ring with Amir Khan, Sugar Shane Mosley and Manny Pac­quiao.

Be­navidez warmed up for Craw­ford by knock­ing out pre­vi­ously un­beaten Frank Ro­jas at 1:24 of the first round in Las Ve­gas last June. He could be the hard­est puncher Craw­ford will have ever faced. An­other in­trigu­ing point in this fight is Craw­ford and Be­navidez are in Pac­quiao’s weight class so it’s dou­bly in­ter­est­ing to imag­ine how ei­ther would match up against the WBA 147-pound cham­pion.

Post­script. The last in­stall­ment of the se­ries on un­her­alded play­ers now mak­ing waves in the PBA Gov­er­nors Cup will be in this Tues­day’s col­umn.

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