The expected brawl didn’t materialize until the end of the night. And even though Terence “Bud” Crawford was way ahead on the scorecards, he chose to exchange with Jose Benavidez Jr. anyway.

That is who Crawford is. He may be the best boxer on the planet, but he’s still a fighter at heart.

And while coasting to the finish would’ve given him a one-sided decision victory, Crawford instead poured it on in the final minute to record a 12th-round technical knockout to retain his WBO title at the CHI Health Center.

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The unbeaten welterweight from Omaha landed a vicious right uppercut to topple Benavidez with 50 seconds left in the bout. Referee Celestino Ruiz stopped it at 2:42 during Crawford’s follow-up barrage.

Crawford improved to 34-0 with 25 knockouts with the victory. He is now 12-0 in world title fights and has stopped nine of the 11 opponents he’s stepped in the ring with since he became a world champion.

“I did all that I said I was going to do,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”

Crawford closed the fight by landing 17 of 35 power punches. He outlanded Benavidez (27-1) 186-92 overall.

The previously unbeaten challenger had fleeting moments early in the bout. One judge, Glenn Feldman, actually had Benavidez ahead 48-47 after five rounds. Levi Martinez had Crawford winning in a shutout.

Benavidez had been pursuing a fight with Crawford for a long time, claiming that the champion from Omaha had been ducking him since they were both fighting at junior welterweight. That belief sparked a verbal confrontation between the two prior to a Benavidez bout in Corpus Christi, Texas, in February.

The logistics for Saturday’s bout began to take shape this summer when Benavidez appeared on the undercard of Crawford’s victory against Jeff Horn to become a welterweight champion. The challenger knocked out unbeaten, and unknown, Frank Rojas in 84 seconds to put himself in line for a title shot.

Benavidez said, during that week in Las Vegas, that he wanted an opportunity to fight the Crawford-Horn winner. And it was clear, even then, that he was hoping that person would end up being Crawford.

The challenger arrived in Omaha three weeks before Saturday’s fight, well before Crawford returned from his training camp in Colorado Springs. The animosity between the fighters, and their teams, flared up the first time they were in the same place this week and continued in the days leading up to the fight.

Crawford coach Jacqui “Red” Spikes physically pulled the champion away as he tried to crawl up to the ring apron at Wednesday’s media event. The two teams shouted over the top of each other during the prefight press conference on Thursday. And Benavidez shoved Crawford following Friday’s weigh-in, which prompted the champion throwing a right hook in response. It didn’t connect but had intentions.

Benavidez certainly wasn’t the first opponent to get under Crawford’s skin prior to a title fight. In 2015, Dierry Jean’s crew from Canada angered the champ to the point that he asked a fallen Jean if he got what he was looking for after being knocked out. Four months later, trash-talking Philly fighter Hank Lundy was slumping in the referee’s arms when Crawford stuck his tongue out at him following a TKO.

The three-division champ has found intense focus, not distraction, from prefight antics. Yet Benavidez stirred the pot this past week by suggesting that Crawford was a dog that was willing to bark but had no bite.

“Come Saturday, he’s going to find out how hard I bite,” Crawford said Thursday.

An electric crowd of 13,323, the largest ever to attend a boxing match in Nebraska, was on hand for Crawford-Benavidez. And they were treated to a sensational performance by former Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson, who scored a first-round technical knockout against veteran Viorel Simion.

Simion, who had gone the distance and won rounds against former world champions Scott Quigg and Lee Selby, was supposed to provide a step up in class for Stevenson. Instead, the 130-pound training partner of Crawford dropped the Romanian three times and finished the fight at the first-round bell.

There was a long wait before Crawford and Benavidez entered the ring. And a longer one before the fireworks really started in the late rounds. By then Crawford was well ahead on all of the scorecards.

“Most fighters today in that position, having clearly won the fight, would back off in the 12th round, not take any chances and run out the clock — like the equivalent of taking a knee,” promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said. “Not him. He’s a performer. He wanted to close the show. And that’s what he did.”

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