This isn’t going to be another walk in the park for Terence Crawford. Sure, the two-division champion has made it all look easy so far in his iron-clad reigns at Lightweight and Junior Welterweight, but Felix Diaz wasn’t his first or second choice going into this weekend’s highlight bout.
Crawford’s team was hoping for Amir Imam or Adrian Granados before HBO nixed those stylistically ideal opponents for another dominating performance, but signed off on the tactically-minded Diaz in what could be an ugly style clash where victory alone might come with damage. Diaz has shown that he has the tools to compete at the highest level, having to move up to Welterweight to try his luck in establishing his presence, and now he has a chance to shine at the highest level against the one of the game’s best.
Diaz may be the most complete opponent Crawford has fought since Yuriorkis Gamboa a few years back, but he’s also going to be the shorter fighter who is going to have to work his way past Crawford’s heavy hands to land his own shots. Gamboa’s hand speed and pedigree allowed him to have that success early on, but he was weathered down and stopped later in the fight and Diaz is not as fast or as unpredictable as Gamboa was.
Both men start slow before choosing how to operate, ultimately bringing their heat later in the fight after they have made their initial adjustments. A slow first four rounds could very well indicate how the rest of the bout is going to go, especially if each fighter uses as much time as the other decides which game plan to implement.
Defeating Crawford is a tall order in of itself and it would be imperative for Diaz to abandon his slow start and try to score at all costs early. Many of Crawford’s opponents have been able to at least split the first third of the fight with him, but they begin to back off once he settles into his groove. Diaz is too short and not physically imposing enough to manhandle or mug Crawford to keep him off his rhythm; eventually, Crawford is going to get going and will find his range.
Depending on how soon or how late that comes will determine the outcome of the fight. Unless Diaz is going to catch Crawford early or score a knockdown at any point during the fight, Crawford has all the tools to take over the fight and pull away on points. If Diaz doesn’t give Crawford pause, it isn’t uncanny to think Crawford can lower the boom and bludgeon him to a stoppage later in the fight.
Expect Crawford to be tested, but also to pass with flying colors as he is able to weather a tough challenge from Diaz before turning up the heat late to earn a deserved decision in a bout that at times may not be kind to the viewing public.