The welterweight division is led by WBO titlist Terence Crawford, IBF and WBC champion Errol Spence Jr., WBA titleholder Manny Pacquiao and former champions Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter.
The knock heading into his April fight with Amir Khan had been that Crawford hadn’t faced a household name in the sport of boxing. And that was true.
Khan was supposed to be different. He was a former unified junior welterweight champion, an Olympic medalist and someone who had fought the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Garcia. He didn’t light the world on fire at the beginning of the decade, but Khan’s name carried cache due to his past accolades.
Crawford went in there and nearly blasted Khan out in the opening moments before starching him in the sixth round to retain the WBO welterweight championship. The boxing world was amazed at what Crawford was able to do once again and were hopeful that a marquee bout with one of the top names in boxing’s glamour division would be on the horizon. Crawford didn’t get himself too excited at the prospect of that happening.
“Nobody is really going to give me credit because they’re going to say, ‘Oh, Amir Khan is washed up. Amir Khan has changed’,” Crawford told Sporting News. “There’s always going to be people who will criticize my performance.
“Sometimes, it gets irritating. Sometimes I just brush it off and say these people don’t know what they are talking about. Everybody has those certain fighters they follow and that they really put on a high pedestal. They want to give the most shine that they possibly can. They look for any reason to break down a fighter’s performance to when it isn’t their favorite fighter in any positive thought.”
Crawford’s skepticism for his next fight proved to be correct. Spence beat Porter in September, Pacquiao isn’t returning until 2020, it’s unknown when Thurman will fight, and Garcia faces Ivan Redkach on Jan. 25. That left Crawford out in cold and having to fill a mandatory title defense, as he takes on Egidijus Kavaliauskas on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
After cleaning out the 140-pound division and becoming the undisputed champion in an August 2017 knockout of Julius Indongo, Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) beat Jeff Horn, who beat Pacquiao, albeit controversially, to win the WBO belt. He’s gone on to finish Jose Benavidez Jr. and Khan in lieu of this weekend’s bout with Kavaliauskas.
How come the guy some boxing pundits feel is the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet cannot secure a bout with the best the weight class has to offer?
One reason is the fact Crawford fights under the Top Rank banner, and Spence, Pacquiao, Porter, Thurman and Garcia compete for Premier Boxing Champions. Making significant bouts between two different promotional outfits can be difficult when it comes to high-stake affairs. Look at how long it took for Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to finally settle their score to see who the best of this generation was.
But the precedent is there with that fight and the rematch with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury on Feb. 22. Wilder is affiliated with PBC and Fury with Top Rank.
Seeing the battle to determine who is arguably the best big man in the sport with the rival promotions working together to make it happen only gets Crawford, who is typically mild-mannered and even-keeled in interviews, more irritated. He says it proves his point on why the people who run the PBC are keeping him at an arms distance.
“Because I’m a big threat,” Crawford said. “If I wasn’t such a threat and such a big threat to them and to their stable, then they wouldn’t be doing the things they have been doing right now. When you look at Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, there’s no problem making the second fight between them even though one is from PBC, and the other one is from Top Rank. When you look at fights like that, it lets everybody know what type of people those guys are. If Wilder and Fury can be made so can any other fight in the welterweight division and the PBC stable. But they know I’m the biggest threat than any of the other fighters in the division. So they want to say this ‘across the street bulls—’ and that I haven’t fought anybody. All I can do is sit and laugh at all the antics they are pulling and trying to keep me away from those types of fighters.”
The fight boxing fans want to see is Crawford and Spence. Two undefeated fighters in the primes of their careers. Whoever wins would be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. It’s one Spence and Crawford have talked about when they have seen one each other at events. It would seem pretty simple to tell their respective parties to figure out the logistics and get it done.
Too often in boxing, what a fighter wants doesn’t happen. In Crawford’s case, he feels the onus shouldn’t be placed on him for these battles not occurring.
“It’s a business move for them,” Crawford said. “At the end of the day, they want to keep as much of the money in house as they can. I don’t knock them for that, but at the same time but it’s bad for the sport to have that excuse to say, ‘Oh, he’s across the street so we don’t recognize the WBO as a world championship belt’. That’s just bulls— and pure nonsense.
“Listen, I was in the same stable as Manny Pacquiao,” Crawford added. “I’ve wanted that fight since 2015, and it didn’t happen. So those fights that aren’t happening that the fans want to see, I don’t believe too much energy into that because it’s not up to me. My job is to go in there and fight who is in front of me. I want the biggest fights possible. If guys don’t want to fight me, then I can’t get them. But it’s not on me. A lot of people talk about me saying, ‘I don’t want to fight this fighter. Why aren’t you fighting this fighter?’ It’s not on me. It takes a lot to make a fight. It takes two teams to get together and make a big fight happen. And if one party is open to fighting and the other isn’t then the fight isn’t going to happen.”
The 32-year-old is expected to take care of Kavaliauskas with relative ease. Then he will enjoy the holidays and start to plot his plan for 2020. While the goal remains to prove he’s the best in the world, the Nebraska native can’t forecast that 2020 will be the year it can happen.
“I’m not a psychic,” Crawford said. “All I know is that I want those fights.”