Bryan Armen Graham: The Omaha fighter tabbed to succeed Mayweather as Americas next big thing readies for his Madison Square Garden debut
The next big thing in American boxing descended the narrow staircase of the Mendez Boxing Gym on Wednesday afternoon clad smartly in a black sweatsuit, blue Creighton knit cap and pair of white Kobe Xs. He fielded boilerplate queries from the modest gaggle of media, orbited by the dozen or so family members who trail him everywhere, before climbing into the ring and skipping rope absent-mindedly, a wrinkled glob of Doublemint dangling from his gap-toothed smile. Just another day at the office.
Terence Crawford, the almost famous junior welterweight champ of the world, was typically cool ahead of Saturdays title fight at Madison Square Garden, breezing through a light workout amid the blur of activity in the subterranean Flatiron gym. The easy tenor was a stark contrast from only minutes earlier when the challenger, a South Philadelphia boxer-puncher named Hank Lundy, had filled the room with blustery promises of Crawfords demise Hes all nervous energy! Ive got him right where I want him ! before vanishing into the gray downpour outside.
In his assessment Lundy is practically alone. He wasnt the first or third or even fifth option for Crawford, who is unbeaten in 27 professional bouts and widely regarded as presumptive successor to Floyd Mayweather as Americas next pay-per-view superstar. An entire platoon of the 140 lb divisions uppermost names passed on the invitation to face him, among them WBC titleholder Viktor Postol, Ruslan Provodnikov, Lucas Matthysse, Mauricio Herrera and even Manny Pacquiao, who opted for known quantity Timothy Bradley over the young lion from his own promotional stable. Oddsmakers have priced Lundy as a 10 -1 longshot, lending the occasion of the champions New York City debut the subdued feel of a stay-busy battle. Not that it concerns the Omaha native.
Im a fighter, he said. Im not a promoter and Im not a director so I leave that up to my director and my promoter and I only fight.
And how. The slight, sinewy Crawford is a highly intelligent and complete operator, dependent on no one attribute. The tactical aptitude and mental dexterity that sets him apart a preternatural sense of timing and distance, an uncanny ability to adjust to an opponent throughout a fight and create or change his game plan as needed might not evoke the primal anxiety of a Gennady Golovkin or a Sergey Kovalev, other popular claimants to Mayweathers vacancy atop boxings pound-for-pound pecking order. But a scalpel can finish you just as decisively as a hammer.
Crawfords adaptability includes the capacity to change between southpaw and orthodox postures during the course of its battles. He delivers with equally formidable power and precision from either side, a ability he developed when he fractured his right hand in local schools oppose as an 11 th-grader and persisted at the gym despite the cast. That switch-hitting ability inordinately rare in upper-class prizefighters was the difference-maker in Crawfords signature knockout of the gifted Cuban defector Yuriorkis Gamboa, where he floored the Olympic gold medalist immediately after switching postures in the fifth round and thrice more before aiming it in nine. The wildly entertaining scrap was the second of three wins during Crawfords breakthrough 2014, when he burst from oblivion to capture fighter of the year honors, shortlisting himself among the worlds best regardless of weight class.
The 32 -year-old Lundy, more of a gatekeeper than bona fide contender after losses in four of his last eight, has flashed his Philly credentials to cast the champ as a farm boy out of his depth, but Crawfords formative experiences elude the cornfed stereotypes of flyover country. He survived a gunshot to the head while sitting in his automobile after a dice game in September 2008. The slug connected behind his right ear, their own lives spared merely because the closed rear window altered the bullets trajectory. The sangfroid thats served him so well between the ropes immediately kicked in: he drove himself to the emergency room while calling his family along the way to let them know what happened.
The near miss, which expensed him a fight that would have been his television debut, inspired his withdrawal from the Omaha streets and a wholesale recommitment to his craft thats paid off handsomely. Now one of HBOs most prized assets, he will earn a career-high handbag of $1.21 m for Saturdays bout.( Lundy will collect $150,000.)
Crawfords growth has inspired largesse both at home and abroad, only widening his scope as his profile has risen. He opened the B& B Boxing Academy in his hometown to help keep at-risk children off the street and has embarked on charitable missions to Uganda and Rwanda with a former elementary-school teacher. Hes also brought championship boxing back to his hometown, drawing near-capacity mob in three title fightings at Omahas 18,320 -seat CenturyLink Center, where native son Warren Buffett has become a gallery regular.
The tempered degree of difficulty underpinning Saturdays fight might not move Crawford any closer to the crossover stardom he seems bind for, but it could be the last chance to watch one of the athletics very best without plunking down $60 for the privilege.
Im looking forward to putting on a great performance, he said. Its always special to fight.
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