Terence Crawford could become one of the most capable operators the sport has seen in the past decade. Yes, I absolutely mean that. Not only do I mean that, I also feel he gets nowhere near enough recognition as the fighter he is with the potential he has. And that is despite the media acclaim he receives from boxing’s top commentators.
His amateur career wasn’t bathed in the glory enjoyed by some of his sporting co-stars, winning an estimated 52 of 70 fights, but since then he has lit up the professional ring with incredible ease. He waltzed his way to convincing points wins over tough contenders Bredis Prescott and Andrey Klimov, as well as stopping rugged WBO NABO holder Alejandro Sanabria in 6 rounds, before ascending to the world stage to take on the elite.
His first title shot came in early 2014, when he travelled to Glasgow and outclassed the incredibly solid but too-predictable Ricky Burns, returning to his hometown of Omaha with the WBO lightweight belt. If that performance didn’t put him firmly on the radar, then his next one certainly did: a brawling masterclass against then-undefeated Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa, who was put down in the 5th, the 8th, and twice in the 9th which eventually ended the enthralling contest.
Since then, he won nearly every round against Raymundo Beltran (who was unlucky to get a draw against the aforementioned Burns a year earlier), before moving up to super lightweight and knocking out Thomas Dulorme, Dierry Jean, and Henry Lundy. These victories brought his record to 28-0, with 20 KOs. Don’t be fooled by the increasingly protected ‘0’, though; he’s also willing to take risks. The fight with Gamboa was an excellent showing for both men and more recently, the first few rounds against Lundy were real shootouts. He has managed to achieve the immensely tricky balance between ringcraft and grit, which has resulted in scintillating performances.
So why does he get so much criticism? What criticism do people level at him? “He hasn’t fought anyone of note,” the naysayers cry. “His previous opponents were complete mismatches”. One observer deemed it necessary that he jump up three weight divisions and fight Canelo Alvarez because, although “he might get beaten up a little… I think it would help his career”.
Let’s ignore that ridiculous last statement and take the others into consideration. “He hasn’t fought anyone of note”. Well… you can make a case for that, but it’s a harsh one. He challenged Burns in 2014, in his first bout outside the US. He took it in his stride and the result on the scorecards should have been far greater in his favor. Gamboa had been out of the ring for 12 months when they faced one another, true enough. But that isn’t exactly unheard of in today’s game. He was still an excellent, unified world champion with a diverse skill set, and was still perfectly fresh (and was also unbeaten).
He does, however, remain Crawford’s most dangerous victim. His last four opponents had two world title shots between them prior to facing the Nebraskan and while the same can be said for the records of other fighters, it does represent a slight drop in pace from the back-to-back wins over Gamboa and Burns.
“His previous opponents were mismatches”. This is simply untrue. They were underdogs, not mismatches. Henry Lundy was, apparently, the only opposition available after WBC champ Viktor Postol and former WBO champ Ruslan Provodnikov declined the opportunity, in favor of competition elsewhere. Beltran is an aggressive, come-forward fighter who really should have won the title from Ricky Burns 6 months before Crawford managed to and Dierry Jean, having claimed & defended the NABF lightweight several times before meeting Crawford, proved that he is of worthy pedigree to at least challenge for a world title.
‘Where next?’ is the question people should really be asking of Crawford. He was one of the men shortlisted to face Manny Pacquiao for the Filipino star’s swansong match in April, only to be rejected in favor of a rubber match with Tim Bradley. As frustrating as that was both for Crawford and for the fans, those are exactly the sort of fights Crawford needs. I don’t know that they are there for him at super lightweight however. A fight with Postol would generate interest, as would a fight with Adrien Broner, but beyond that, the division doesn’t seem broad enough to cater for his obvious talent.
A move to welterweight, a division thick with possibility, may soon be on the cards. Fights against Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Kell Brook & Timothy Bradley (whom he has sparred with extensively) should provide good value entertainment and once Pacquiao bids the sport farewell, the 147 pound class would be ripe for a new king and by the looks of things, that is a bill that Crawford fits rather well.