Terence Crawford is an enigma.
The softly-spoken 30-year-old hails from the boxing backwater of Omaha, Nebraska. Apart from former heavyweight champion Max Baer, who left for warmer climes on the west coast when barely a teenager, Omaha has little in the way of boxing history. Names like Ron Stander, Vince Foster, Ray Domenge, Carl Vinciquerra and Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss have long been resigned to the history books; more notable for who they faced than who they beat.
Crawford is guarded to the point of secrecy, but after five months of dodging media commitments as adroitly as he does punches for his upcoming fight for the WBO welterweight championship against Australian champion Jeff Horn at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, the mercurial challenger has finally found his voice.
“He’s viewing me as this small welterweight. Come fight night, he’ll see otherwise,” said Crawford matter-of-factly at Thursday’s press conference. “I just feel like that’s good for him. He’s coming in hungry and determined, and that makes for a good fight. I’m going to be prepared for whatever he brings. Come Saturday, he might get hurt.”
It was refreshing to hear Crawford speak after a fight promotion that has gone on for too long. The notoriously media-shy Crawford spoke without the air of menace that we have come to expect from our over-exaggerated cartoonish boxing heroes, from Mike Tyson to Floyd Mayweather Jr. His was the voice of the reluctant hero flushed out of hiding by sheer necessity.
Since the fight was announced in early January it has been the team of WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn who has carried this promotion.
Effervescent coach Glenn Rushton hasn’t missed an opportunity to deliver a sound bite for the evening news or wax lyrical at length over his kid’s tremendous fighting heart and sheer will to achieve. They have made media hay out of Crawford’s fight postponement due to a hand injury – citing the fact that the challenger’s team didn’t supply them with medical proof of the injury as reason to believe it was a fraud designed to buy more time to grow in the a fully-fledged welterweight – and created a media storm with the revelation that Crawford, injured mitt and all, would be using horsehair gloves in the fight; an issue, apparently, since resolved.
The long lead time has given us the opportunity to learn everything we might need to know and plenty we don’t about the 30-year-old champion from Australia. The former schoolteacher took up boxing in his late teens to protect himself against bullies; he made it through to the quarter finals at the London Olympics in the light welterweight division four years after his first fight; he married his high school sweetheart Jo and lives in a fibro house in the modest Brisbane suburb of Acacia Ridge with their five-month old daughter Isabelle; and his idea of an exciting night is playing board games and cards at home with family and friends. If he was brought up in the United States, his fighting moniker would likely be the “All American Boy”.
Instead, the “Fighting Schoolteacher” (a much more appealing sobriquet than the dull and overtly obvious “Hornet” tag that emblazons his gaudy orange-and-black t-shirts) find himself on the outside looking in, fighting for respect as much as his title belt in a foreign and hostile land.
“I’m surprised I’m as big of an underdog as I am for the fight,” said Horn at the presser. “I’m not surprised I am the underdog. Terence Crawford is a great fighter, pound-for-pound, wiped out the super lightweight division. That’s a tough division as well. I’ve made this mistake before. I underestimated a guy that was slightly smaller than me – in the amateurs – and he knocked me down a couple of times. I won’t be making that same mistake. Terence, I know he’s put on the size. He’s going to be a nice, strong welterweight. I can’t wait to get in there and prove the doubters wrong.”
Earlier in the week, Crawford voiced his frustration at the noise coming out of the Horn camp for the past three months, reaching a crescendo on fight week.
“They’ve been talking a lot and everybody knows how I respond on people who run their mouth,” he said.
The media hates a vacuum and as talented as Crawford is, it has been left to the Horn camp to keep journalists informed about the fight and generate the type of buzz a contest of this magnitude deserves.
Behind his quiet, brooding façade is a man who has suffered. He was whipped with cords and sticks as a child by his alcoholic mother, his uncle was stabbed to death, and he was once shot in the head as he sat in his car counting his winnings after an illegal dice game. Still waters run deep and there is clearly a lot going on in Crawford’s mind.
But that doesn’t help sell a fight.
Horn, who won the WBO title with a surprise win over former eight-division world champion and sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane last July, will be making a reported $2.5 million for this fight to Crawford’s $2 million – his highest payday yet. For his last four fights combined, he has made $6 million, a surprisingly small amount for a boxer being spruiked as potentially the best fighter on the planet pound-for-pound. But media engagement doesn’t just sell newspapers; it sells fights.
This week Crawford’s larger-than-life coach Brian “BoMac” McIntyre refused the Australian media contingent access to what was billed as an open training session, all but guaranteeing a slew of bad press for Crawford in Horn’s homeland.
It was a move that left Horn’s promoter Dean Lonergan of Duco Events aghast.
“I think Terence Crawford would be the worst-managed, worst-advised fighter in the history of boxing,” said Lonergan, perhaps over-egging the pudding a little.
“We’re in Las Vegas, on the strip there are thousands of entertainment choices – restaurants, theatre shows, concerts.
“The only way we’re going to get people out of the restaurants and into the arena is to talk to the media in a big way and make the fight interesting.
“The more you talk to the media, the more brand equity you’ll build in your fighter, the more money your fighter can make.
“Terence Crawford is nowhere near the global titan superstar he should be.
“Rather than making dominate-the-world type money, he’s making BoMac money. That’s the money you get which is 10 per cent of what you should be getting paid.”
As the fight has gotten closer, more and more people are warming to the underdog. Horn’s welcoming personality and easy accessibility is winning him friends if not favours in the gambling capital.
As guarded as Crawford is, you get the sense that he is frustrated by the amount of column inches given to the champion despite his own name appearing first in promotional material for the fight – a clear breech of naming protocol that calls for the champion’s name to be mentioned before the challenger’s.
“I got a strong will as well,” said Crawford. “Pressure breaks pipes. A lot of people came into the ring with me with a strong will, and they left with their tail tucked in.”
The quiet man from Omaha, Nebraska has finally spoken. But unless he wants to join Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss as an interesting footnote to boxing history, he’s going to have to do a lot more of it if he wants to earn the type of money his sublime skills deserve.