Crawford dropped Egidijus Kavaliauskas three times before stopping him in the ninth round Saturday night to remain unbeaten and defend his welterweight title at Madison Square Garden. “I wanted to give the crowd a knockout," Crawford said. “When I started letting my hands go, I started landing more fatal shots.”
Crawford knocked down the challenger once in the seventh round and twice more in the ninth before referee Ricky Gonzalez stopped it at 44 seconds of the round. Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs) absorbed perhaps more shots than usual but seemed to enjoy getting to show he has power, too, letting out a big smile as Kavaliauskas returned to his corner looking frustrated after one round late in the fight.
“I thought I had to entertain you all for a little bit," Crawford said. “He’s a strong fighter, durable, and I thought I’d give the crowd something to cheer for.” Kavaliauskas (21-1-1), a Lithuanian who was the mandatory challenger for Crawford's WBO belt, had some good moments in the first few rounds before Crawford took control midway through the fight and then poured it on late.
Crawford fought cautiously at the outset and Kavaliauskas showed why there was reason to when he landed a big right early in the third round and then a couple more punches inside as Crawford tried to hold on. Crawford ended up going to a knee but Kavaliauskas wasn't credited with a knockdown, the referee apparently determining Crawford had been pushed down.
Crawford said afterward he wasn't hurt by that shot and it wasn't long before he was the one doing more damage. Kavaliauskas kept throwing big punches that drove Crawford backward when they landed, but Crawford used his speed advantage to slip out of the way of many of them while landing his own combinations.
Crawford took a hard shot early in the seventh but then began answering and finally caught Kavaliauskas with a looping right near the ear that sent him to the canvas. Crawford finished it two rounds later, first using a three-punch combination to set up a right uppercut that sent Kavaliauskas to the canvas. He got up but Crawford then threw a right hook that returned the two-time Olympian to the canvas and the fight was immediately waved off.
The 32-year-old Crawford bristled this week when asked if getting in tougher fights would earn him extra appreciation, saying all that mattered was winning. But this fight certainly appeared harder than the skilled Nebraska native’s first three after moving up to welterweight, all stoppages, after he won all four major belts at 140.
He's still searching for better opposition in the deep 147-pound division and promoter Bob Arum indicated Crawford may look next to veteran Shawn Porter, who is coming off a competitive loss to Errol Spence Jr. in a unification bout in September.
A Crawford-Spence bout would likely be the most attractive possible, but Spence was injured in a car accident and it's unknown when he can fight again. That could leave Porter as the next choice. “Porter is the next best guy," Arum said. “He proved himself with Spence."
Crawford said he's ready for whichever fighter is next. “I’ll fight anybody. I’ve been saying that for I don’t know how long," Crawford said. Earlier, Teofimo Lopez won a lightweight belt with a second-round stoppage of Richard Commey, and Michael Conlan beat Olympic rival Vladimir Nikitin.
Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) was spectacular in his first title fight, wobbling Commey with a left hand early in the second round and then flooring him with a hard right hand. He finished the fight with a barrage of punches in the corner and perhaps next moves on to a 135-pound unification bout with two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) had lost to Nikitin twice as an amateur, including in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals. He blasted the international boxing federation for being corrupt after the decision was announced and extended his middle finger to the judges at ringside.
He had also lost a close fight to Nikitin in 2013 but the judges saw this one as no contest, giving Conlan a lopsided decision by scores of 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92.