Some say the hardest thing in sports is to hit a major league slider. And maybe that is so, if the slider was thrown by Hall of Famer lefthander Steve Carlton, master of the pitch. But even Carlton gave up the occasional home run on his signature delivery, which made a given batter’s chance of smacking one over the fence very difficult but not impossible.
Contrast that with the herculean task faced by boxing’s alphabet champions, who speak often of their desire to fully unify their weight division’s splintered realm but seemingly are stymied at every turn by the various organizations’ penchant for protecting their own turf . Since the WBO came into existence in 1988, only two fighters – middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor – have managed to simultaneously hold the WBO, WBC, WBA and IBF belts. All others have had to be satisfied with just one or two slices, sometimes even three, of a cake divided into quadrants. The roundup process, if even undertaken, can be arduous and more maddening than a color-blind person trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
All of which makes the challenge confronting 140-pound rulers Terence “Bud” Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs) and Julius “Blue Machine” Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs), who square off Saturday night in the ESPN-televised main event at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., brimming with implications of boxing history and personal legacy. Barring a draw, whoever emerges victorious will become just the third member of a highly exclusive club, and the first since Taylor in 2005.
Although it seems likely that the successful aspirant will be WBC/WBO super lightweight king Crawford, a 29-year-old Nebraskan who will have the benefit of raucous home-state support and an advantage in natural ability, Indongo, 34, a native of the African nation of Namibia who is coming off an impressive unification victory over Scotland’s then-WBA champ Ricky Burns (Indongo went in as the IBF ruler), is hardly a gimme.
“He’s a good boxer. He’s got power,” Crawford said of Indongo, a southpaw. “He’s tall, rangy knows how to use his reach and his height (at 5-10½ the crafty African is 2½ inches taller). He’s a legitimate champion. It won’t be a walk in the park.” But comparative walks in the park have been common for the Omaha resident, who is 9-0 in world title bouts and 5-0 in matches staged in his home state, including four title fights in Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city. This will be Crawford’s first appearance in Lincoln, the state capital, and he expects a full house in the 15,500-seat arena, located just 53 miles away from Omaha. Odongo no doubt should expect the sort of frosty reception visiting teams get when they take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in nearby Memorial Stadium.
Crawford understands that, in many ways, Saturday’s fight is the most important of his career. He has designs on moving up from top-five status to No. 1 on most unofficial pound-for-pound lists and, well, there is that little matter of adding the other two super lightweight belts to his collection. “It’ll mean a lot to me and to my career,” Crawford said of fully unifying his weight class of the moment, which would go a long way to furthering his already-solid credentials as one of boxing’s best. “Being undisputed champion is going to take me to the next level, and, eventually to the (International Boxing) Hall of Fame.”
Crawford’s repertoire of skills is impressive, and his ability to seamlessly switch from orthodox to a lefthanded stance makes him especially difficult to prepare for. He is the fight game’s quintessential switch-hitter, with good power, more Mickey Mantle than Pete Rose. In fact, he went southpaw all the way in his most recent bout, a 10th-round stoppage of Felix Diaz on May 20 in Madison Square Garden. Diaz, a former Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic, is lefthanded, so it would shock no one if Crawford turned around for the duration once more against Indongo. But then the man who arguably is Omaha’s most celebrated athlete in any sport since Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers isn’t inclined to tip his hand too early.
“I’m all-around,” he said of his effectiveness in either configuration. “I can go lefty. I can go righty. I’ve been doing that since I was little. It’s just repetition. I can figure out which side is better at a particular point in the fight and adjust accordingly.”
Previously, Crawford was the WBO lightweight champion. Should he annex all the super lightweight titles, it has been speculated he will immediately, or at least soon, move up to welterweight, a deeper division that might afford him more high-profile, big-money bouts. Then again, he might like a chance to revel a while as the undisputed king of the super lightweight mountain.
“That’s in the future,” he said of any career plans that have yet to be finalized for him by his promotional company, Top Rank. “Right now my focus is completely on unifying all the 140-pound titles. God willing, if I get the victory we’ll all sit down then and talk about my next move.”
Bernard Hopkins, the inaugural member of the four-titles-in-the-same-weight-class club, has seen enough to Crawford to become a fan.
“Having all the titles is a very big accomplishment, and I’m sure Crawford is aware of that,” B-Hop said. “it’s a legacy thing. It’s historic.
“I really like Crawford. He’s just an excellent fighter. He’s legit. Can he become the No. 1 pound-for-pound guy? It’s certainly right to have him in that conversation.
“But I hear this Indongo dude is someone who shouldn’t be taken for granted, and I know Crawford won’t do that. When you go up against someone who’s a two-time world champion himself, you got to respect that. Bottom line, though, is that a fight is like a car race and to me, Crawford is a revved-up Ferrari.”
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