It’s been 14 years since we’ve seen an undisputed unified champion atop the junior welterweight division. The last time the unified champ defended all the titles was back in January of 2003 when Kostya Tszyu defended the WBA-WBC-IBF titles against Jessie James Leija. The fight concluded when Leija’s corner stopped the bout after the sixth round due to his perforated right eardrum. That’ll change this weekend after Terence Crawford 31-0 (22), who holds the WBC and WBO belts, touches gloves with his lesser known opponent Julius Indongo 22-0 (11) who holds the WBA and IBF belts.
This is obviously a big fight in the division, but it’s even more significant for Crawford (pictured on the left vs. Felix Diaz) who is 9-0 in title bouts, for a couple of reasons, mainly because he’s finally being recognized for the terrific ring technician that he is. It took a little long but that’s how it is in boxing. Vasyl Lomachenko, he of all 10 fights and not being undefeated, has already been called the greatest fighter in boxing (and way too soon) as opposed to Crawford who has fought 31 times and defeated much better opposition, fighting three different styles in doing so. Another reason the fight is monumental for Crawford is that there has been much speculation that he will move up to welterweight very soon, looking to challenge one, or perhaps both, of the fighters who hold the meaningful hardware and are considered the elite of the division: Keith Thurman 28-0 (22) and Errol Spence Jr. 22-0 (19).
Crawford facing either Thurman or Spence with versions of the welterweight title(s) on the line may well be one of the more anticipated fights of 2018. However, in order for that to become a reality Crawford must get by Indongo, and it would go a long way if he were to win in an impressive manner. The last time Crawford was matched against an opponent who was a little bigger than him and thought by some to be his equal it was against undefeated (28-0) Viktor Postol. Crawford took Postol apart, dropping him twice, and went on to win a unanimous decision without having one close call during the fight. That was back in July of 2016 and Postol hasn’t fought since, which is somewhat curious.
Indongo, who is 5-10 ½, is two-plus inches taller than Crawford and holds a slight edge in reach. However, Postol was more than three inches taller than Crawford and owned three inches in reach. As the fight proceeded it became almost painfully obvious that not only did Postol’s size advantage not aid him – it probably worked against him. Crawford is a pretty rangy guy himself, but what makes him so dangerous against a big bodied opponent is that he’s great at pivoting and finding the unprotected terrain. In many ways Indongo’s size can be a negative.
From the waist up Indongo will provide Crawford a big target. There’s a lot of body for him to try and hide and protect while he’s pushing the action, hoping to overwhelm Crawford in the process. Moreover, Indongo will probably be stymied from mid-range and on the inside, and if Crawford needs to buy time or wants a breather, Indongo will be that much easier to grab and clinch, thus putting the clamps on his offense.
Indongo is a fighter who usually does everything from his lead foot, which is his right foot due to his southpaw stance, to set up his power shots. His offense is pretty vanilla with one gear and if that doesn’t break Crawford down, it’s doubtful he can change it up other than to swing for the fence. I’ve picked up that he tends to fight on his toes, and if you move away from him in a straight line, he’s dangerous. However, Crawford never goes straight back. I’ve also noticed that Indongo leans in when he goes to the body, which will leave him vulnerable up the middle to Crawford’s counter to the head which will be right there.
Against most other fighters Indongo’s southpaw stance would be a stumbling block. But Crawford has the dexterity to switch stances from right to left and back like no fighter I can recall in recent memory and doing that can really offset the fighter who trained for a specific trait or style. Crawford looks to set his opponents up for finishing punches by setting traps from both sides and then gets a read a few times as to how they react. Once comfortable with what’s about to happen on his opponent’s part, he cuts loose with his heavy artillery.
Aside from Indongo’s height and physicality, these two aren’t on the same level. Crawford isn’t just faster with his hands and feet; his big advantage is his capacity to process what his opponents are doing or at least trying to do, and then feeding them a helping of whatever it takes to get them to go away from it. From what I’ve observed, Indongo is in a real catch-22 like almost everyone who faces Crawford. Based on his recent fights, Indongo goes at his opponents and lets his hands go and that’s probably his best chance against Crawford, but it comes with a price….because when fighters engage and initiate, that’s when they’re the most open. And regardless of what kind of a puncher Indongo is, trading with Crawford is something that Crawford feeds off. (But it’s better than trying the old wait and react routine, and then get dissected to death.)
Due to Indongo’s impressive record and physicality, the perception is that he’s close to Crawford’s equal — something I’ll have to see first before I will even consider accepting it. Yes, Indongo looks to be a very formidable opponent, even for a well-rounded and versatile fighter like Crawford, but it’s hard to find a path for him to win because Crawford can adapt to anything Indongo may throw at him. Those who feel Indongo will be a problem base most of that on his size, but sometimes that can work against a fighter and I think it will in this particular match-up.
My thoughts heading into this Saturday’s clash on ESPN are that it’ll take more than a good fighter with some physicality and big punching power to overwhelm Crawford. The way I see it – for three, maybe four rounds — Indongo will force Crawford to plot and think, but Terence will crack the code and then better him at every turn. Once he’s figured out what needs to be done, he will methodically remove the bullets from Indongo’s guns and when the fight has reached that point, the outcome will no longer be in question – only whether Crawford wins by stoppage or by a lopsided decision.
Lastly, there’s a terrific chance we haven’t seen the best of Crawford. He’s one of those fighters that if you leave him alone he won’t go out of his way to hurt or embarrass you for the most part. My sense is that Indongo is fully aware of how good and tough Crawford is, and to beat him he must go after Terence and project that he, not Crawford, is the alpha between them. And that could be what it takes to really get Crawford’s attention. So far Crawford has always had an extra gear to separate himself from whoever is coming at him. If he’s pushed hard by Indongo, there’s a chance he will deliver one of his most impressive performances.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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