Terence Crawford – In search of a standout name

IN the grand scheme of things, seven pounds isn’t an awful lot of weight. Weight Watchers members would…
Terence Crawford

IN the grand scheme of things, seven pounds isn’t an awful lot of weight. Weight Watchers members would rightly pat themselves on the back if they managed to shift this total over a couple of weeks. Seven pounds is the equivalent weight of 21 Guadeloupian bananas or 2,442 balloons¹. In boxing, seven pounds is the formal stretch between super-welterweight and welterweight. When you’re Jeff Horn, every last ounce of that 147 restriction weighs heavy on mind and body. In the very lowest of weight classes, seven pounds can quickly vaunt you up a couple of divisions.

Terence Crawford negotiated that very stretch to almost perfection on June 9 when he dominated the aforementioned Horn for nine rounds and relieved the game, but tame, Aussie warrior of his WBO strap. Spanning 33 professional outings, Crawford has proven that he is a fantastic fighter. The Nebraska native’s acute use of his vast athletic ability, mixed with perceptively canny ring craft and a dark competitive edge have rightly helped lift him into the pound-for-pound conversation. Crawford is now a three-weight world champion whose skills and intangible characteristics pass the eye test.

The one remaining problem: he has yet to add a standout name to his record.

Let’s take a look over Crawford’s achievements in comparison to a couple of other champions in and around his weight class. Firstly, we shall rate Crawford’s wins alongside the accomplishments of welterweight division rival Errol Spence Jr who beat Kell Brook in 2017. Even though my initial instinct would be that Spence is further behind in his development than Crawford, I would argue that upon closer inspection there is virtually nothing between the better names on their respective slates and Spence, in fact, boasts the single best win between the pair, in the form of Brook.

Therefore, let’s say that we are going with Crawford’s four best wins being: Jeff Horn, Julius Indongo, Viktor Postol and Yuriorkis Gamboa. Spence’s four best wins are Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson, Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu. Throw in for Crawford an away day win over Ricky Burns, a solid victory over Felix Diaz and push Rey Beltran, Henry Lundy and Dierry Jean together and he has a solid body of work. The consistency of names and performances over time does give Crawford the edge but Spence, as illustrated, boasts good wins of his own, so the two are not a million miles apart.

Crawford’s TV numbers are warm but not roasting hot; his live attendance numbers, Omaha aside, are lukewarm and he has not yet developed into must-see viewing for American boxing fans.

Aside from maybe Deontay Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua, I cannot think of another fight I would anticipate with as much excitement as a Crawford vs Spence Jr matchup. Spence is an explosive champion, but Crawford is an eminently streetwise operator who turned pro in 2008, four years before Spence switched codes, in 2012. Crawford has spent those years maturing and seasoning into the 33-fight, three-time world champion that graces the screens of American TV today. It was Billy Nelson’s job to devise a game plan for his then-fighter Ricky Burns when the likeable Coatbridge champion defended his WBO lightweight title against Crawford in 2014. The experienced Scottish trainer recently remarked how Crawford found an answer for everything they came up with and his adaptability under duress was a prime asset.

Secondly, look at Crawford’s record parallel to that of another Top Rank superstar – Vasyl Lomachenko. The chances of these two meeting are practically non-existent as Lomachenko is plainly too small for the 147-pound weight class and Crawford would enjoy sizeable advantages if Loma were to ever appear at such a lofty limit. Therefore, discussions around their records is pound-for-pound conjecture with achievements and names being used in separate contexts to hopefully help provide a clearer picture as to who has achieved more thus far.

As mentioned, Crawford currently sits on 33 fights in total (all wins) while Lomachenko has 11 wins out of 12. This is one of Lomachenko’s strengths in the argument given that his victories and accomplishments are diluted into a third of Crawford’s. This is not a knock on the Omaha man but shows how impressive the Ukrainian’s rise to prominence has been (hardly surprising seeing as he was one of the best amateur boxers ever to pull on a pair of gloves). I would propose that Lomachenko’s single best win is over Gary Russell Jr. That is a stronger name in my opinion than anything on Crawford’s resume, which, as we have already posited, is built on sustainability and longevity rather than huge victories against “names” of the sport. Lomachenko has also defeated Jorge Linares, Roman Martinez and Nicholas Walters. Guillermo Rigondeaux was, of course, undersized, but are Miguel Marriaga or Jason Sosa really that much worse than the likes of a Beltran, Dulorme or Lundy?

Terence Crawford was always a resounding favourite in his 147-pound debut against Jeff Horn, and many ardent fight fans expected him to get the job done early, with only a sizeable Aussie betting contingent willing to buck that trend and pile some heavy money down on their compatriot in the lead up to the contest. I credit Horn for seeking out the most significant challenges, and I credit Crawford for stepping straight in with a champion and not feeling his way into the weight against a couple of no-hopers before stepping up in class. Entering as the challenger, ‘Bud’ took a couple of rounds to figure his opponent out before establishing himself as the stronger man, even if he was not physically the bigger man. Horn attempted to implement his perceived size advantages, but Crawford was an immovable force, instantly ticking the question boxes and showing that he will have no issues with size up at his new weight class. Taking on Horn from the southpaw stance, despite Horn’s success against the ageing Manny Pacquiao, was a cunning move from the Omaha man and his training team as it allowed Terence the room and range to whip home straight lefts and uppercuts as the Brisbane champ bulldozed forward. That display showed if nothing else that any talk of Vasyl Lomachenko moving up to 147 and eventually taking on someone like a Crawford is fanciful and unrealistic.

Jeff Horn spent much of the post-fight discussion crafting a narrative of woe. The Aussie complained about everything from wrongly sized shoes that led to a sore toe (David Haye, cough, cough), to heat exhaustion from the baking Vegas desert climate. Having visited Sin City in the past I can certainly attest to the latter, but it wasn’t my job to shed any excess body fat down in a professional manner, and Horn is, after all, a man who comes from Australia. The main problem for Horn was the fact that Terence Crawford was in the opposite corner, as opposed to a diminished version of Manny Pacquiao, a heavy-handed but flawed Randall Bailey or any of the other welterweight hopefuls (or no-marks if one wishes to be disparaging) that Horn had faced before their early June date with destiny.

It’s worth labouring the point that Crawford is an astute thinking man inside the ring and is able to adapt to his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses; all of which makes comparisons to Floyd Mayweather Jr not quite as outlandish as you’d first think. Crawford has bad intentions and goes in against this level of opposition with a one-track mind, seeking to ruthlessly exploit any fragilities and obtain a brutally satisfying stoppage. Floyd Mayweather was similar during his lower weight exploits. Remember the way he rough and tumbled with Jose Luis Castillo on two separate occasions? The way he put the late Diego Corrales and Angel Manfredy to the sword? Or how about when, stung by swathes of media criticism over some tepid back foot boxing displays, he responded by smashing South Africa’s Philip Ndou from pillar to post? Jeff Horn’s tactical approach left Terence Crawford slightly open to some of Horn’s flat-footed lunges but, like Floyd, when he moves up and steps in with better levels of opposition, Crawford will modify his approach and become less of a target.

Crawford can be found and hit, but that’s OK against the likes of Horn, and he is generally so much better than this type of limited fare (remember, Horn took 11 rounds to knock out Gary Corcoran). The likes of Guillermo Rigondeaux or Erislandy Lara don’t get hit either, but as a consequence, they don’t exactly go out of their way to excite the fans. If you consistently revert into a defensive posture and shell up, then you will avoid punishment but also serve to stink the place out. Crawford, on the other hand, goes for the knockout, and I enjoy that.

The fact that Viktor Postol took Josh Taylor into deep water last weekend is interesting, given that Crawford barely lost a round to Postol and dropped him twice. However, while Taylor is clearly a talented boxer, he was engaging in only his 13th pro fight while Crawford was 28-0 when he boxed Postol and already a two-weight world champion, so the Taylor-Postol fight is a weak reference point.

Crawford coaxed around 8,000 people into Las Vegas’ MGM Grand for the Horn bout. Is he classed as a big draw? In Omaha, Nebraska he certainly is, and that is one rabid fan base. Crawford would’ve got exceptionally well paid for the Horn fight, and it will be interesting to see the ESPN Plus app numbers if they are released. When comparing numbers, Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares II brought 12,500 into Los Angeles on the same night for their rematch. The strong Hispanic boxing connection on the West Coast has always been a substantial market though, ripe for tapping and used effectively for many years by street-smart promoters.

Terence Crawford
Photo Credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Crawford’s TV numbers are warm but not roasting hot; his live attendance numbers, Omaha aside, are lukewarm and he has not yet developed into must-see viewing for American boxing fans – dare I say it, not even like an Adrien Broner. While the wins have looked impressive, the names have not quite arrived, and some big rivalries may just push Crawford’s pulling power into the realms of what you’d expect for an arguable pound-for-pound top three fighter. Like Vasyl Lomachenko and Gennady Golovkin, Crawford visibly has the talent and is rightly lauded by fans and boxing writers alike, but do any of above three boxers truly have genuine appeal beyond the sport itself? The broader point before we wrap up this segment is, some of the fighters that hardcore fans drool over do not necessarily translate into sure-fire attractions as much as people might surmise. One fighter I always reference when making this point is Sergey Kovalev. His live numbers were never strong, although his HBO viewing figures were solid. His authority at the negotiating table was always precarious, and he was never in a position to storm into a room and make outlandish demands. There’s a reason why he regularly takes tough fights and tough opponents – this Russian isn’t an A-side player in the US market.

Does Crawford need a Manny Pacquiao type name on the record? Well, maybe not him because Pacquiao looks done. Lomachenko is a big name but too small to compete at 147 pounds. The big challenge for Crawford is Spence Jr. That fight should happen eventually, but it will marinate for a year to eighteen months first as both promotional entities build the hype and make fans become uncomfortable each and every time the respective combatants are announced to fight against anyone other than one another. It’ll need a bit of selling too. Neither man is dynamite on the microphone. Spence Jr is polite and humble but lacks the abrasive charisma of a Charlo-type. Crawford does his talking in the ring, which only goes so far when it comes to raking in the dollars and his mumbling, laconic delivery needs to move up a gear and get the pulses of wider sports fans and casual boxing observers racing a little more before they pull out their credit cards and invest in a Pay-Per-View attraction.

Crawford can still have an excellent Hall-of-Fame career. He’s won titles at multiple weights and amassed a solid record of one-sided wins over very good fighters. I would just love to see a couple of huge names on the record to truly cement his legacy.

¹ http://www.weightandthings.com/

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