Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Terence Crawford fights for a title vouchsafed for him by Top Rank ever since “Bud” made clear his intent to invade the welterweight division. Against Jeff Horn, Crawford is a (-1000) betting favorite and should win in a manner that reflects those odds, sounding the alarm that marks the end of Horn’s fifteen minutes of fame and puts all welterweights on notice.
Crawford is that good. Good enough that winning an alphabet title, or even four of them over a seven-fight stretch—a feat Crawford accomplished in ransacking the junior welterweight division—does little to ratify him. He is already a fighter defined by more than titles; one subject to the heightened scrutiny applied to the best fighters in a sport often marked by watered-down champions, where belts so often make the fighters instead of the other way around. Want proof? How excited were you when Crawford gutted Julius Indongo last August to become the undisputed lightweight champion? Better yet, how surprised were you? (And here note the relationship between surprise and excitement in a spectacle of unscripted drama.) Yes, Crawford, 32-0 (23), is that good, and he knows it, hence his disdain of opponents and that seductive mercilessness in his treatment of them. It is also why he’s doing what fighters should when they scalp a division; when however inviolable, however “undisputed” their dominance, they become tedious, strangely unremarkable: he is tempting the mischief of the scale.
Jeff Horn, rough, awkward, is a fitting introduction to the welterweight division because he will not go meekly to his fate and because he is dangling the title he won from Manny Pacquiao last July. One would think those bells and whistles, hushed though they may be, would be enough to secure the fight a platform befitting its quality. Vasyl Lomachenko, a (-1400) favorite when he butterflied Jorge Linares last month, did so in primetime on ESPN. Crawford, however, has been relegated to ESPN+, a subscription app.
Perhaps this is because Horn, even with his disputed win over Pacquiao, is a relatively unknown opponent, and that, coupled with the competitiveness implied in the odds, made the fight app-worthy. Perhaps part of the negotiations that extended Top Rank’s ESPN deal by an additional twelve fights broadcast the ESPN+ app included an agreement to add Crawford and Lomachenko among the dozen. If Top Rank indeed owes ESPN+ a “Bud” fight, then his challenge of Horn is a worthy throwaway, especially since it strengthens Top Rank’s relationship with the one network they remain in business with. Besides, it may be time to get creative with Crawford given the stillborn event that was his first, only, and last pay-per-view: a humdrum decision over Viktor Postol in 2016.
But make whatever arguments about the future of sports broadcasting you like—and many of those arguments have genuine merit—is there any chance at all that a fight between Crawford and Manny Pacquiao gets the same treatment? Of course not, and that speaks to the blunder Top Rank made in delaying the future. Since Oscar De La Hoya, the only two fighters who could single-handedly provide an opponent the exit velocity to settle among the stars are Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao—both of whom owe their arrival in the sports world’s collective consciousness to wins over “The Golden Boy.”
When Arum sent Pacquiao down under, he deep-sixed a chance to hand the future to Crawford (an American fighter with a strong regional following) because not only did Pacquiao lose, he revealed for all what little remains of last decade’s signature fighter. No hand-wringing over the scorecards from Australia last July is going to change what became obvious under the Brisbane sun. Crawford would abuse Pacquiao—if only that outcome had become so obvious in a ring the two actually shared.
Welterweight holds real promise for Crawford, however, and he need not depend on a shopworn opponent to establish his dominance or profit in the process. What he needs are challenges, and he will find them against bigger men. No one who appreciates ambition in prizefighting would meet Crawford’s cleaning out that division with a shrug, which is precisely why a fighter as cocksure as Crawford should attempt it. True, he is a better fighter than anyone he can conceivably be expected to face, but the physics of 147 stand to mitigate his advantages, especially against Errol Spence—as clear a threat to Crawford as there has ever been and a fighter unlikely to let a challenge elude him for considerations conflicting with his pride. The road to Spence is likely to be winding given the stakes, but Crawford could further prove himself deserving of a Spence fight in the interim—perhaps by taming Shawn Porter or sparking the yet-to-be sparked Adrien Broner—by concretizing the already-pervading belief that there is but one fight for Crawford to make.
Alas, if only it were that simple. Spence, Porter, Broner, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman—all are members of Al Haymon’s stable, and Haymon is as likely to accept any offer of a Crawford fight as Arum is to table one worth accepting. People curious about what Crawford can accomplish in the ring may find that those are not quite the accomplishments his promoter is concerned with (in this respect Crawford and Spence are very much alike). It may be too much to ask that Arum and Haymon—stubborn, greedy, insular as they come—lay together the tracks that collide Crawford and Spence; too much to ask that, in the name of momentum and the intrigue wrought of it, the fight for welterweight supremacy happens in a timely fashion.
Let’s hope not. Because when the bell rings, nothing is too much to ask of Crawford.