Big defeat, big question marks for The Hornet

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SO WHAT now for Jeff Horn, whose boxing career hit a brick wall in Las Vegas? RON REED reports:

JEFF HORN didn’t lose too many friends when he surrendered his WBO welterweight world title to American Terence Crawford in Las Vegas on Sunday. He was comprehensively thrashed, alright, with the referee rightly calling a halt late in the ninth round, all of which Crawford had won, but retained respect by staying on his feet for as long as he did against a clearly superior opponent. His courage has never been in doubt, and that hasn’t changed. Even the leviathan promoter Bob Arum was impressed enough to suggest that he would be open to giving “The Hornet” some more exposure in the American big-time. In other words, despite the one-sided nature of the defeat, Horn’s career may still be alive and kicking. Like most beaten boxers, he immediately put his hand up for a rematch but that would seem unlikely, at least any time soon.

Just as one good win does not usually make a career in any sport, one bad loss is rarely enough to destroy it. Horn’s record is now 18 wins, 12 knockouts, one draw – and this first major setback. It includes the impressive scalp of Manny Pacquiao, but with a bit of an asterisk given the fearsome Filipino was past his best. There is, however, every reason for him to think hard about the pros and cons of going back to square one and attempting to blast his way back into world title contention again. It will be a hard road.

Horn is 30 and not likely to get much better – although he might get a bit smarter. He admitted he was “too predictable” for Crawford. The American is also 30 but, unlike Pacquiao, he looked to be so on top of his game – in his absolute prime – that he seems unlikely to get any worse any time soon. It is going to take a better man than the Queensland folk hero to prevent him dominating the division for the foreseeable future, having now become the sixth fighter in history to win titles at lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight. If he is not now the best boxer on the planet, he is certainly in the conversation. It was far from a disgrace – and not a surprise –  for Horn to lose to him.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 09: Jeff Horn and Terence Crawford battle in the fifth round. Pic: Steve Marcus/Getty Images
LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 09: Jeff Horn and Terence Crawford battle in the fifth round. Pic: Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Horn escaped with a payday of about $2m, taking his career earnings to at least double that, and was quick to assure his family and fans that Crawford had not inflicted any serious physical damage. So you wouldn ‘t blame him for giving serious consideration to the pros and cons of taking the money, and his health, and living happily ever after, knowing that Australian sports fans will always have a soft spot for the story of the determined kid who got sick of being bullied at school and decided to learn to fight back and went all the way to the top of the world. He has captured people’s imagination well beyond the ring. He has been the best thing to happen to Australian boxing, always desperate for good news stories, for quite a long time and if he did choose to walk away now, the sport would be left without a world-class focal point.

So where would he go from here? That’s a question with no obvious answer. In Australia, where boxing struggles for exposure and, therefore, money, the risk/reward equation might be a trifle lop-sided. Perhaps a match-up with the not-quite-dead man walking, Anthony Mundine, might generate some interest and dollars, but if he lost that Horn would really be sliding into oblivion. Such a fight would have no international cachet so perhaps Arum’s stable is still his best bet.

There was absolutely no dispute about any aspect of the proceedings at the MGM Grand casino, where this column has happier memories of watching then“new” Aussie Kostya Tszyu win his first world title bout against a Puerto Rican named Jake “The Snake” Rodriguez back in the early 90s. After an even first couple of rounds – you might generously have split the points 10-10 in the second, but probably only if you were barracking for the Australian  – Crawford was never in the slightest trouble. Striking with extraordinary speed and, eventually, precision, he landed 155 punches to 58 – a massive margin — and over the final two rounds connected with 47 of 77 power shots as Horn began to wilt. Horn took a standing eight count in the ninth after dropping to his knees – “slightly unbalanced,” he said – and the end came quickly with referee Robert Byrd waving Crawford away with 27 seconds of the round remaining. While Horn was still on his feet and attempting to fight back, it was definitely the correct decision. The fight was well beyond Horn’s powers of recovery and nothing good was going to come of continuing.

“I wanted to be there at the end but the referee said he had my best interests at heart,” he said. “I’m sure my wife Jo is glad he stopped it when he did.” Despite some uglier than usual trash talk from the American camp during the lead-up, Horn was dignified and gracious in defeat, confirming his status as one of nicest guys in boxing, which is in little danger of becoming over-populated with that species. “Well done to Terry Crawford, he’s a great fighter,” he said. “I’m disappointed but not hurt at all. These things happen. I could have kept him guessing more. Maybe I was a bit predictable. He’s a classy fighter, hopefully he shows some humility.”

That was a forlorn hope. Midway through the fight, Crawford was smirking at Horn’s corner and poking his tongue out. He poked it out again at the end and his first words were all about himself with hardly a second glance for his vanquished opponent. From all reports, he struggles to convince even American fight fans to like him. He’s a better fighter than The Hornet, no argument about that, but that’s not the only definition of class.

mm

Author: Ron Reed

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.

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