Terence Crawford doesn’t look very intimidating, given the right setting.
Yesterday at noon, he was lounging in Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, wearing a grey sweatsuit and a blue and white skullie that said CREIGHTON. His primary workout was posing for pictures and listening to music on headphones. At one point, a scrum of HBO cameras and photographers surrounded the ring to record him giving boxing lessons to a group of veterans, for about 20 seconds each. He would mime a punch or two, and they would comply by mimicking him, and then he would smile and pose for a picture with them. This will almost certainly be part of the pregame video for his fight this Saturday night on HBO, meant to make him more endearing.
Crawford doesn’t actually need help to be endearing, though. His nickname is “Bud,” which is one of the more endearing nicknames in any fighting sport. He has an easy smile, big eyes, and a gap between his front teeth. He’s a little bow-legged, and very small. Several of the trainers remarked on how small he was. A bit stick-like, even. In boxing, this means you’re in good shape. It means that you have drained every extraneous ounce of fat from your body and left only bone and muscle and sinew so that you can maximize your fast-twitch fibers at a certain weight.
“He look like he in good shape,” one trainer whispered.
“He should be!” sputtered a nearby fighter. “Fighting Saturday!”
Crawford is expected to win this weekend against Hank Lundy, a talented Philly fighter with fast hands and knockout power who never quite managed to crack the very top ranks of the sport and is now on a gentle downslope, tough enough to put in a good fight against the best guys but probably not to win. Crawford is easily one of the 10 best boxers in the world—one of only a small handful of true Complete Fighters, good at everything, not reliant an any one attribute like super knockout power or flashy speed to win. The most important thing that complete fighters are good at is decision-making. At all times in the fight, they are evaluating the situation and thinking ahead and making the correct move, the smart move, the move with more foresight. Fighters who are great at one thing can be beaten if that one thing is stopped. Complete fighters, unless they catch a ridiculous piece of bad luck or lose it mentally and start partying all the time instead of training, can only be beaten by another complete fighter. And there are only so many complete fighters in the sport, so they very well may never come up against another one in their own weight class in the course of an entire career. Floyd Mayweather was a complete fighter. He retired at 49-0. Andre Ward is a complete fighter. He is 28-0. Guillermo Rigondeaux is a complete fighter. He is 16-0. The point is that complete fighters are rare, and very hard to beat, because where’s the weak spot?
Terence Crawford is 27-0. Ironically, nobody really knew who the fuck he was until 2013, when he stepped in as a last-minute replacement to fight Breidis Prescott, a long-armed knockout puncher from Colombia, and beat the hell out him. He beat the hell out of Prescott, a bigger man with greater reach, using deft in-and-out footwork and precise punching and perfectly timed aggression mixed with defensive artistry. He boxed the shit out of him, in other words. It was such a dominating and unexpected performance that the boxing world took notice. One reason Crawford’s ascent was so unexpected is because he comes from Omaha, which is “not a boxing hotbed,” as a sportswriter would say. Now, he’s the second-most famous person in Omaha, after Warren Buffett.
After that, Crawford was fed an increasingly good series of opponents, and he ate them all up. In 2014 he got a fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa, one of the most ethereally talented fighters since Roy Jones, so fast and strong and overwhelming he could generally fight with his hands down and still knock people out while looking bored. Gamboa was overwhelming early, but Crawford made adjustments, as complete fighters do, and began timing him, and began landing counterpunches, and in the second half of the fight began knocking Gamboa down repeatedly and knocked him out for the last time in the ninth round. It’s one of the best fucking fights you’ll ever see; a pure demonstration at the very highest level of the ability of thinking and boxing to overcome even the most intimidating level of physical skill. Crawford’s adjustments in that fight are not highlight film moments. They’re just a turn of the shoulder, or a slightly different spacing, or the decision to start a punch at a certain moment to catch the opponent’s open head while he’s throwing a hook. Watching Terence Crawford fight, you don’t necessarily see him doing anything that much more spectacular than the other guy, except that he lands a lot of punches that the other guy tends to miss, and his punches land on just the right spot, and what appeared to be an even fight suddenly turns to a blowout. (His only readily apparent talent is that he can fight just as well either left or right-handed, which is about as rare as a pitcher who can pitch equally well with both hands.) Crawford has a touch more aggression than other complete fighters, making him more of a fan favorite. But like all complete fighters, he always makes the right move. This small subset of fighters are the Grandmasters of boxing. Their form of intelligence should not be considered any less admirable than that of a chess genius or a great artist. And, I might add, they exercise theirs under much more extreme conditions.
At Gleason’s yesterday, all of the fighters who train in the gym surrounded Crawford and asked him to pose for pictures with them. “Hey Terence,” they would say, “can I get a picture?” In the context of a boxing gym, a request like this has an unspoken context.
“Hey Terence, can I get a picture? [I recognize that you could beat my ass.]”
Everyone got their pictures.