WHAT was supposed to be a stroll in the park for WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford instead turned into a fast sprint – but nevertheless he got the job done in impressive fashion, turning back the spirited challenge of Egidijus Kavaliauskas at 44 seconds of the ninth round in front of 10,101 at Madison Square Garden (Top Rank promoted).

In the early going the Oxnard-based Lithuanian proved to be a genuine threat, matching the champion’s skill-set by effectively counterpunching off a tight defence.

Then shockingly in the third round a right stunned Crawford, who clinched and took a knee. It was a borderline call, but Crawford got the benefit of the doubt from referee Ricky Gonzalez, who ruled it a slip.

From that point on the man from Omaha changed gears and carried the fight to Kavaliauskas with a sustained fury that the challenger was unable to match, try as he did.

Gloves held high, Crawford moved forward and unloaded his full arsenal. Kavaliauskas fired back, making his presence felt, but despite the difficulties he was having Crawford would not be denied, willing to take punches to land his own. 

Crawford’s breakthrough occurred late in the seventh when a right dropped Kavaliauskas. The challenger made it through the eighth, but early in the ninth was floored by a left hook. He bravely got up, but when a right sent him down for the third time in the bout it was stopped.

At the time of the stoppage Crawford was up on the scorecards 78-73 and 79-72 twice.

“He’s a strong fighter, durable. I wanted to give the crowd a knockout,” said Crawford, who responded magnificently to the tougher-than-expected challenge. 

Terence Crawford
Crawford responds well to the pressure Mikey Williams/Top Rank

There are many big fights that will be made in 2020, but none will be more intriguing than when Teofimo Lopez takes on Vasiliy Lomachenko to unify the lightweight title.

The spectacular manner in which Lopez won the IBF version by halting Richard Commey at 1-13 of the second round sets up the mouthwatering clash with Lomachenko, tentatively set for April.

Lopez has brazenly been targeting Lomachenko for some time. Now it becomes a reality. Lomachenko would be wise to be in top form, because Lopez’s power is devastating.

Until a right down the slot dropped Commey in the second, the Bronx-based African had been holding his own and effectively jabbing. But once tagged, Commey never recovered.

Up at three, Commey was wobbly, but gathered himself enough to convince referee David Fields to allow it to continue. However, Brooklyn’s Lopez was emboldened by the turn of events and unleashed an attack that Commey could not survive. Powerful hooks from both hands landed and when Commey sagged on the ropes defenceless it was stopped.

“You all know who I want to fight next,” said Lopez, referencing Lomachenko. “The Takeover has arrived and you haven’t seen anything yet.” 

There were no histrionics this time around when Michael Conlan left the ring following his fight with Vladimir Nikitin.

Conlan famously flipped the judges the bird three years ago in Rio, when he was deprived of a decision most felt he clearly deserved over the Russian. Although Conlan can never go back and get the Olympic gold medal that had been within his grasp, he took care of unfinished business on this night by unanimously outscoring Nikitin over 10 rounds.

The scores of judges Bernard Bruni at 100-90, Pasquale Procopio 99-91 and Kevin Morgan 99-91, underlined that Olympic decision withstanding, Nikitin has not closed the gap on Conlan as a professional.

Still, despite the disparity in the scoring it was a tough fight for Conlan, who was rocked with a powerful blow now and then while sustaining a deep cut over his right eye. But the Belfast man’s classy boxing and overall work rate were too much for Nikitin to overcome.

Both drew warnings from referee Harvey Dock throughout, but Nikitin, whose face was a mess at the end, was more to blame.

“I needed to right this wrong,” said Conlan. “Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. Now we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”

The Verdict Crawford proves he has guts as well as skills, while Lopez makes a huge statement.

Terence Crawford (147lbs), 36-0 (27), w rsf 9 Egidijus Kavaliauskas (146 1/2lbs), 21-1-1 (17); Teofimo Lopez (134 1/2lbs), 15-0 (12), w rsf 2 Richard Commey (134lbs), 29-3 (26); Michael Conlan (126lbs), 13-0 (7), w pts 10 Vladimir Nikitin (126lbs), 3-1; George Kambosos, Jr (134lbs), 18-0 (10), w pts 10 Mickey Bey (132 1/2lbs), 23-3-1 (11); Julian Rodriguez (141 1/2lbs), 19-0 (13), w pts 8 Manuel Mendez (141lbs), 16-7-3 (11); Edgar Berlanga (165lbs), 13-0 (13), w rsf 1 Cesar Nunez (165lbs), 16-2-1 (8); Josue Vargas (140lbs), 16-1 (9), w pts 8 Noel Murphy (138lbs), 14-2-1 (2).