Thursday afternoon, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum compared one of the young fighters in his stable to an understudy who gets the call when the lead in a big play calls in sick.
At least in that instance, the understudy knows his lines.
Saturday night, Nebraska’s Terence Crawford will be ad-libbing his way through his first real test, and on major television no less, as he fights veteran gatekeeper and relentless power puncher Breidis Prescott. What’s more, Crawford will be testing the waters in a foreign weight division.
Previously, Crawford (19-0, 15 KOs) has campaigned almost exclusively as a lightweight, where he possesses a number of alphabet rankings at the moment. But when WBA 140-pound titlist Khabib Allakhverdiev pulled out of a fight with Prescott due to injury, Crawford didn’t hesitate to jump into the HBO co-feature.
“I feel good about the fight,” the quiet Crawford told RingTV at Thursday’s press conference. “They called my phone for a reason, and this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.”
Crawford could possibly be the best kept secret in boxing—this despite being handled by the most prominent promoter in the sport. None of his nineteen wins were on any form of television. His most challenging opponent to date was a past-it David Rodela last June.
There’s another fighter from the Midwest who took an equally large leap in his level of opposition, in his premium cable debut no less. Ohio’s Adrien Broner went from fighting the pedestrian John Revish to going ten rounds with the formidable Daniel Ponce De Leon.
Though Broner struggled with that assignment, he learned from the experience and hasn’t looked back since.
Broner was 21 at the time he fought Ponce De Leon. Though Crawford is a bit further along in age, his potential is just as unknown. The extra life experience may do him some good, just as Broner’s experience might have helped him prepare for reaching stardom in his mid-twenties. But recent incidents indicate Broner still has some growing up to do, while Crawford is a no-nonsense guy without a rap sheet.
Prescott (26-4, 20 KOs), of Colombia, hasn’t been easy work for anyone at 135 or 140 pounds. Given the situation Crawford has been tossed into, coming away with a clear victory would go a long ways to establishing his credibility.
It wasn’t as though Crawford wasn’t preparing for a fight. Crawford was on the card from the gate, and was projected to fight tough Robert Osiobe, a journeyman who was on a nice win streak and a tough out for any young fighter. That fight would have been Crawford’s stiffest test by a mile, the kind of fight that tells you whether your next move is a Prescott-type fight or a step backwards into confidence boosters.
A telling point regarding Crawford was the read you could get on Top Rank executives’ thoughts when asked about the fight.
Without disclosing exact words, some of the important cogs in the Top Rank machine seemed uncertain whether Crawford was ready for the test.
“We don’t manage fighters, we offer them fights,” said one Top Rank executive memorably. “It is ultimately up to them if they are ready for it.”
Given how quickly Crawford agreed to jump in to fight Prescott, his team has all the confidence that he’ll get the win Saturday.
“I answered immediately,” responded Crawford to a question of how long it took him to decide to take the fight.
When asked about future plans and the weight they would be discussed at, Crawford made it evident he’d like to make this a temporary appearance in the ultra-deep junior welterweight class.
“My main goal is to get the title at 135 first, and then move up,” said Crawford.
Though it is always important to look good when you get an opportunity out of left field to fight on a network like HBO, in a situation like this, it is fair to adopt the Al Davis train of thought. “Just win, baby,” the late Oakland Raiders owner used to declare famously.
“I think once I win, they’ll want me back on,” said Crawford. “Anybody at 135 with a title can get it.”
It’s a shame that the rift between Top Rank and rival Golden Boy Promotions exists. Who knows, perhaps a Broner-Crawford fight in Cincinnati could do big numbers in a few years. It’s a fight that Crawford has already been pondering.
“I’m right there with him,” Crawford told RingTV’s Mike Coppinger in a recent issue of RING Magazine, with Crawford being profiled as a ‘New Face.’ “No question, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”
Crawford has to pass one test before he even gets into the ring, though. How his his inexperienced psyche handles watching footage of Prescott obliterating Amir Khan in one round will be telling.
But if Crawford is weak minded, he’s done a great job hiding it so far. Saturday night, it is very likely that the boxing community finds out if Crawford has a strong stomach to go along with it. Prescott also battered Mike Alvarado, who fights in the main event Saturday against Brandon Rios, nearly costing him his eye. Prescott was unable to finish the job and Alvarado overcame early odds to stop his opponent late in the fight.
Saturday night, you’ll find out how much Prescott has in his relatively deep tank. You’ll also likely have a firmer grasp on how deep Crawford’s tank is, whether or not he is equipped with the miles per gallon of a hybrid or a pickup truck. It’s the kind of fight that HBO’s Boxing After Dark used to feature on the regular.
It’ll be hard to upstage the main event, a rematch of one of 2012′s greatest bouts. But should Rios and Alvarado falter later on, it could be Crawford’s performance that everyone is talking about Monday afternoon.
An impressive enough performance could allow him to skip all the self-hype that Broner took on after he had difficulty with Ponce De Leon. Unlike Broner, Crawford will try and make an impression solely with his boxing skills.
A win will get Crawford back in the spotlight. An impressive win will have people wondering where he’s been hiding, and when they can see more.
Mark Ortega is the boxing columnist for the Martinez News-Gazette and is a member of the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America and the RING Ratings Advisory Panel. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com well as followed on Twitter @MarkEOrtega.