A throwback to the old days, Crawford is on the path to joining the greats
Terence Crawford knew that he would have to make it on his own, take some risks in fights he was meant to lose and defy the familiar odds as a shooting victim and ignored fighter from a boxing outpost.
On Saturday Crawford takes New York City when he walks to the ring in the very heart of Madison Square Garden’s big room to defend a world title and make his claim as the finest fighter in the world right now. He will float across the canvas on the most iconic fighting stage since the blood pits of the Romans, treading lightly in the vanished boot prints of the legends and climbing through the ropes like a man entering a time machine of sporting dr eams.
Crawford fights Bolton’s Amir Khan, the WBO welterweight title is the glitter some will view as the prize, but Crawford has his eyes on something far more glorious and lasting - and elusive - when the first bell sounds in the domed battling hall. Crawford is unbeaten in 34, has won world titles at three weights and he wants to be remembered as a truly great fighter and not a fortunate scrapper, lucky to be earning his crust at a time of too many belts, too many tricky matches and too many convenient fighters with their ability to fill a corner only. Crawford wants the status, the recognition and respect the ancient fighters received. He is a leather-soled fighter in rubber-soled times, his claims have weight and beating Khan in style will add to his desires.
“I’m just a kid from Omaha,” said Crawford. “I had to work hard to get here, won my first world title overseas, kept winning, beating everybody put in front of me. Khan is just the latest.”
Crawford was shot in the neck one night as he sat in a car after a dice game on the wrong side of Omaha. The bullet’s ricochet was luckily not lethal, Crawford survived and his boxing mission started. He was on the edges for a long time until taking a late-notice fight in 2013; Crawford travelled to Las Vegas, beat Breidis Prescott against the thinking of the gathered sages and that was the fight that changed it all. On that night Crawford was just one win from the promised land and just one punch from nowhere, but he was in the big game.
He was matched hard in back-to-back fights after beating Prescott, winning in Dallas and Orlando. It was a three-fight sequence, in just over six months, that would not be out of place in the 1970s, but is certainly a rarity in the modern game of transparent mismatches and comfort. Crawford was ready, made in shadows, prepared in the old ways for a business now heavy with preening selfie fools and their promoters with an increasing ability to click their fingers and deliver titles. It’s hey presto boxing. The modern game is like magic for the blessed; Crawford was not blessed.
In 2014 Crawford went to Glasgow and beat local fighter Ricky Burns to win the WBO lightweight title, he made two defences, won a version of the light-welterweight title, made six defences and unified the four belts before moving up last summer to win the WBO welterweight title. The Khan fight is his second defence.
“I can do it all in the ring,” added Crawford. “Either hand, going back, coming forward - I’m comfortable with anything. I face all tests. I’m the best fighter in the world. That’s a fact.” On Saturday night Khan is the test; Khan is big, strong, too brave and dangerous because he is desperate for his old glories. It could be the end for Khan if Crawford chops him down Crawford has stopped, knocked out and left bloody his last five opponents in world title fights. He has finished nine of twelve quick in title fights, good figures and he is enjoying himself in his fights.
“I’m doing the things the other champions are only talking about,” said Crawford. “I’m getting my business done, fighting everybody put in front of me. That is the only way to be a champion, the only way.” He is certainly starting to seriously resemble a very fine boxer indeed and his big Garden visit will add to his claims as more than just a fine fighter in this quite remarkable epoch. Each week, it seems, another boxer reaches out for the mythical best pound-forpound belt.