Terence Crawford, Natch, Votes for Himself as Pound-for-Pound Best

There is no way of definitively proving who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and maybe that has been the case since Sugar Ray Robinson was widely conferred with that unofficial but highly prized designation in the 1940s. Oh, there might be a consensus of popular opinion at any given point in time, but when all is said and done it still comes down to individual perception. People love to compile their own best-of lists, but they’re always subjective, likely to be markedly different from the next guy’s, and thus material for spirited debate.

Terence Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs), the former two-division world champion who makes his welterweight debut when he challenges WBO 147-pound titlist Jeff Horn (18-0-1, 12 KOs) on Saturday night at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, makes no bones about it. He considers himself the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, an iffy status he figures he can help solidify with a no-doubt-about-it thrashing of Horn, who rose to prominence by scoring a controversial unanimous decision over the legendary but aging Manny Pacquiao on July 2 of last year in Horn’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia. Horn followed the nod over Pacquiao with an 11th-round stoppage of Gary Corcoran on Dec. 13, also in Brisbane.

But although Crawford’s high regard for his own abilities is shared by more than a few knowledgable observers who also consider him the top pound-for-pound guy, the person he would most like to convince remains his own promoter, Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum. Apparently one to play favorites, Arum has publicly sided with another superstar member of the TR stable, newly crowned WBO lightweight champ Vasiliy Lomachenko, as the best of the best not only in the here and now, but maybe for all time.

While Arum has paid Crawford the high compliment of comparing him to the great Sugar Ray Leonard, in the wake of Lomachenko’s 10th-round stoppage of Jorge Linares at Madison Square Garden on May 12 he proclaimed that in his 50 years in boxing, he had “never seen anything like” Ukraine’s Lomachenko, who presumably has risen to a strata occupied only by himself. The night before he dethroned the very capable Linares, Lomachenko accepted the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as 2017’s Fighter of the Year at the Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Ceremony in New York City. Loma also was ESPN’s pick for Fighter of the Year.

Playing set-up man to Lomachenko apparently does not set particularly well with Crawford, who met with three invited members of the media – a fourth arrived a bit later – in a midtown Manhattan hotel suite the day before his primary rival for king of the hill took on Linares. The purpose of the gathering was for the reporters to speak to Crawford about his upcoming fight with Horn a month later, but, not surprisingly, some of the questions focused on the matter of which fighter has the more compelling case for recognition as Mr. Lb-4-Lb.

“It’s just people’s opinions,” Crawford responded when the matter was brought up, as he probably expected it would be. “But I label myself as the No. 1 fighter in the world. If you don’t think so, that’s your opinion.

“I recognize myself as the best. A lot of other people recognize me as the best. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it always fluctuates. Some people say Terence Crawford is pound-for-pound, some say Lomachenko is pound-for-pound, some say Gennady Golovkin (the choice of The Ring magazine) is pound-for-pound. But like I said, if I have a vote, I vote for myself.”

Joe Santoliquito, the current president of the BWAA, suggested that Crawford, indisputably the finest boxer to come out of Omaha, Neb., and arguably in the top three in any sport along with baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, has not been lacking for recognition, having received the Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year Award from the writers’ organization in 2014.

“I strongly feel that I should have won it the last two years (2016 and 2017) as well,” Crawford responded. “When (Carl) Frampton won (in 2016), he fought two times, one a split-decision win and the other a decision that arguably could have gone the other way. I whitewashed everybody that year, and I fought three times. Last year I fought only twice, but I beat an Olympic gold medalist (Felix Diaz) and I fought for the undisputed junior welterweight title (against Julius Indongo) and I stopped them both. So I think politics played a role in both instances. If another fighter had done what I did, he automatically would have been Fighter of the Year both those years.”

In a very real sense then, it not only is Horn whom Crawford is seeking to take down. On Saturday night he also is making his case that he is as good and maybe better than Lomachenko, and worthy of the perks that go to the fighter sitting on the throne instead of whatever falls to No. 2 or even No. 1A in the regal pecking order.

Another possible irritant is that Lomachenko-Linares played to a much wider audience on regular ESPN while Crawford-Horn presumably will be witnessed by far fewer viewers on ESPN+, a pay app that only recently launched.

In a teleconference with the media on Tuesday, Arum said that Crawford and Horn should be honored to be helping usher in a new technology that in time will become the most accepted way for fans to watch their favorite sports.

“You can’t hold back the future,” Arum said. “The future is direct-to-consumer. The future is ESPN+. I believe in the next 10 to 20 years everybody will be watching their entertainment on direct-to-consumer platforms like Netflix. ESPN+ will be delivering sports in abundance to fans now in the United States and eventually around the world. It is the future. Get used to it.”

But Crawford is fighting now, not 10 or 20 years hence, and it remains to be seen how he reacts to viewership numbers that almost certainly will again have him performing in the lengthening shadow cast by Lomachenko. That, however, might be another story for another day. For now, the 30-year-old Crawford – who describes himself as still “a work in progress” who isn’t even “close to being at my best” – will be highly motivated by the sight of Horn in the other corner. Horn and his support crew have taken some verbal shots at the former lightweight and junior welterweight ruler that might be described as Down Under the belt.

The fight, which originally was scheduled for April 14, was postponed when Crawford incurred a hand injury in training, prompting Horn, promoter Dean Lonergan and trainer Glenn Rushton to question the legitimacy of the postponement and, worse, Crawford’s heart.

“These Yanks are nowhere near as tough as they make themselves out to be,” Lonergan said when the date of the fight was pushed back. “I can’t wait for our boy to go up there (in his first fight in America) and kick (Crawford’s) ass.” Rushton was more or less in agreement, saying, “Crawford seems to me to be a little soft. Toughen up, princess. It’s just a slight hand injury. Get a bit of cortisone in it, just grind through it and get the job done. (Postponing a fight) is just not the Australian way. We would have proceeded if it was us.”

The guess here is that Crawford, vastly more talented than the gritty but rough-around-the-edges Aussie, delivers the kind of exclamation point performance that will, or at least should, lift him a bit closer to the pedestal upon which Lomachenko gazes down upon the rest of the would-be claimants. Whether the ESPN+ audience is extensive enough to move that needle much remains to be seen.

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