STILL THE champion, now Australia’s only world champion boxer Jeff Horn has to step up to bigger, more dangerous and more lucrative challenges, writes RON REED:
BOXING EXPERTS are in two minds about Jeff Horn’s likely next move after successfully defending his WBO welterweight title for the first time, stopping English challenger Gary Corcoran in the penultimate round of a scrappy but tough encounter in his home town of Brisbane. Now, it seems almost a done deal that he will take on unbeaten American Terence Crawford in Las Vegas in April, a fight that could lead to a hugely-lucrative mainstream career in America – if he wins.
His army of fans would love nothing more for that to happen, and so would leviathan American promoter Bob Arum. But on social media the morning after disposing of Corcoran in emphatic fashion, many were wondering whether Horn might be biting off a tad too much with the accomplished Stewart, who has won world titles at lightweight and junior welter-weight – unifying all four titles in the heavier category – and who is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, to employ a boxing cliché that doesn’t really make all that much sense. It just means he’s bloody good. He has won all his 32 fights, 23 by knockout.
Crawford, 30, doesn’t have any doubts – naturally – about the outcome, saying: “Jeff Horn did what he had to do to get the job done but I’m a totally different fighter than Gary Corcoran. I have more power and more speed than Corcoran. When (Horn) steps into the ring with me it’s going to be a very different story.”
The popular Queenslander lost no admirers with his first outing since stunning the boxing world by taking out superstar Manny Pacquiao in July, a feat that has earned him a long list of awards and accolades as the year has rolled on. Among them were the Sport Australia’s The Don award, which celebrates not just performance but inspiration of the nation, and this column has added him to a shortlist for the Breakout of the Year at the highly prestigious Laureus international awards – the so-called sports Oscars – which will be announced in Monaco early next year.
Corcoran proved to be a worthy opponent – a colourful one, too, given his exotic background as a travelling Gypsy – and with his rough and ready style he had the best of the first few rounds, if only narrowly. In the pre-fight trash talk, he had claimed Horn was a head-butter and, sure enough, their heads did clash in the middle stages but neither man could be accused of being responsible, and both emerged with bleeding cuts. As it turned out, Corcoran was in worse shape than Horn, and his wounds kept getting opened up more and more to the point where he could no longer see clearly. So his corner threw in the towel. By then, Horn was comfortably in front, 97-95, on my card, having won four rounds in a row and in complete control. Corcoran looked disappointed by the early finish but soon admitted it was the correct call by his corner.
“There were too many cuts,” he said. “He’s a good fighter. I’m a tough fucker (but) what’s the point taking shots if you can’t see them.” Horn, who had to lose 4kg in a hurry before the weigh-in and who was watched by his heavily pregnant wife at ringside, admitted he had struggled early, saying: “I was off in my timing. I knew he was tough.”
Horn is now 18-0 with one draw and has become one of Australia’s most popular sportsmen, and a huge asset for his sport, which struggles to keep its head above water in terms of media and public support. A schoolteacher who took up boxing to prevent himself being bullied as a kid, he is now on track to become very rich. He earned $1m for this fight and the Crawford encounter would be in multiples of that. There is even talk of picking up “an easy $2m” with a non-title hit-out against the ageing Anthony Mundine, who was supposed to have retired after his loss to Danny Green a year or so ago, but who just won’t go away.
Certainly, Arum – grinning like the cat who got the cream during the centre-ring celebrations – believes he has unearthed a money-spinner. “He can be a major mainstream star in the US, “Arum said. “Boxing has been crying out for a kid like this for so long. He’s a great fighter, a good-looking, clean-cut schoolteacher married to his high school sweetheart. A lot of people in boxing don’t necessarily speak well or politely but butter wouldn’t melt in this kid’s mouth. He’s a great role model for young fighters.”
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.