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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: THE BEST OF TERENCE CRAWFORD AND THE WORST OF BOXING BUSINESS

By Paul Magno | November 16, 2020
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: THE BEST OF TERENCE CRAWFORD AND THE WORST OF BOXING BUSINESS

Fighters like Terence Crawford are why I love boxing. 

The WBO welterweight champ and Omaha, Nebraska native is dead serious about his craft, his skill, his conditioning. Best of all, conquest is hard-wired into his DNA, something that makes the fight game more fight than game for him. There will never be “just get the ‘W’ now and look good later” pussyfooting with “Bud” Crawford. The man is a conqueror and will keep destroying until he gets destroyed. That’s what boxing fans look for in the sport, no matter what they may say while publicly embracing “my team vs. your team” boxing business politics.

Saturday’s fourth-round stoppage of Kell Brook—the fourth defense of the WBO strap he took from Jeff Horn in 2018 and his fifth consecutive welterweight stoppage victory—showcased everything good about the man.

Unfortunately, it also showcased everything bad about the entire business/politics sarcophagus entombing him, something which keeps his greatness from being truly confirmed.

Although Brook came into the fight in-shape, focused, and with a sound, effective game plan that he was following to the T, he was still “just” Kell Brook. He was the guy who, literally, got his face broken twice, hadn’t fought at welterweight since 2017, and hadn’t scored a truly meaningful welterweight win since 2014. He was not the best challenger out there for Crawford, he was merely “the best available challenger.”

And, to put things into perspective, this has been the fourth straight “best available challenger” Crawford has fought since beating “the best available champion” to win his belt.

Crawford is tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of writing about it. But reality is reality. Brook, Jose Benavidez, Amir Khan, and Mean Machine were all respectable fighters. They were all, however, names selected for Crawford from the lower half of the Top 10-Top 15 deck. 

We can go ‘round and ‘round about who’s to blame for this dynamic. Crawford had his chance to dive deep into the 147 lb. talent pool, but opted, instead, to re-sign with Top Rank where he knew the opponent options would be slim. The Premier Boxing Champions welterweights (Spence, Thurman, Porter, Garcia, etc.) and the guiding forces behind them, meanwhile, are just fine with living in a world without Crawford. And Manny Pacquiao? Despite the post-fight BS shoveled by promoter Bob Arum, who insists that Crawford-Pacquiao was a thing and will be a thing again after the virus is wrangled, Manny is safe-distancing himself from Crawford like an immunodeficient senior citizen standing behind mask-less MAGA rally-goers at a supermarket checkout line.

There’s legitimate, common sense business logic behind everyone’s moves in this dynamic. Crawford was smart in taking the big ESPN money when it was offered to him, leaving the opponent options to his promoter. The PBC welters are smart for keeping things in-house and not bending over backwards to accommodate the making of the Crawford boxing legacy. Pacquiao’s smart for exploiting his options and position as a cash cow that everyone wants a piece of. 

But smart isn’t always good and it isn’t always conducive to creating positive vibes in a business that is supposed to be all about risk and hard-earned reward. 

What matters in the real world of boxing is what’s in black and white on paper. History is not bogged down with asterisks and “yeah, buts.” There’s just what DID and what did NOT happen. And, as of right now, Crawford’s run in the welterweight glamor division is filled with “did nots.”

The big question is whether this will change. 

The tides seem to be shifting a bit in the sport and there’s some reason to believe that maybe stars are aligning to facilitate a meeting in the middle between Crawford and some of the PBC welters. If nothing else, the reality that neither side has anywhere else to go—Crawford has zero quality opponent options left and PBC has pretty much exhausted all of their high-end pairings—should nudge both sides closer together.

But this is boxing. Sometimes when money pushes enemies together toward a common good, ego bulls in to ruin everything…and vice versa. If left to its own devices, the boxing business structure will keep floating things along, exploiting fan interest in the fighters in question and the interest in seeing them fight one another, until one (or both) gets defeated and attention shifts to another undoable superfight. 

Crawford, though, needs the PBC folk more than they need him. And he should be acting accordingly. 

Who knows what’s going on beneath the surface in their relationship, but Crawford—the generational talent and favorite of the boxing connoisseur, who just turned 33 in September—should be feeling a sense of urgency and putting some real pressure on Arum to get him the big money and big legacy fights he should be having. He should recognize when he’s being strung along, Arum-style, with flowery “he’s the best ever” praise and one busted lead to a major fight after another—who’s failure always seems to be the fault of the other guy in the deal. 

But maybe what makes Crawford a great fighter is also what makes it tough for him to turn the outside-the-ring stuff around. His steadfast focus, patience, and discipline aren’t necessarily assets in a business built around bluffing, hustling, and sleight of hand. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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