In its early build-up, Terence Crawford versus Amir Khan -- scheduled for April 20 at New York City's Madison Square Garden -- has proven it’s a boxing fight that revolves around skill and respect rather than nonsensical trash talk and politics, a breath of fresh air in the world of combat sports.
Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), the former WBO lightweight and light welterweight champion, is breaking boxing’s mold by fighting in his third weight class at welterweight. The 31-year old Crawford is a man of few words, and doesn’t engage in the hoopla and sideshows that are often seen at fight press conferences. The Omaha, Neb., native does his talking inside the ring.
Crawford’s fights involve non-stop chaos. Crawford spins his opponents into a web of confusion, switching stances and throwing unpredictable counter shots to the body and head while pushing an unrelenting pace.
Crawford, the No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound boxer in the world (Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is No. 1), has a chance to go down as an all-time great. He received high praise from his famous promoter, Bob Arum, during the first Crawford-Khan press conference in London in January.
“When I talk about Terence, he is certainly the best welterweight I’ve seen since Sugar Ray Leonard,” Arum said. “I’d make him comparable and maybe a little bit of a favorite if back in the day had he fought against Ray.”
Crawford is several years and a few signature wins away from surpassing the legendary Leonard, who lifted the profiles of smaller fighters with his stylish victories in the 70s and 80s, but to be in the same sentence -- even a sentence uttered by a guy who's trying to sell a fight -- speaks volumes of Crawford’s ceiling.
Khan (33-4, 20 KOs), an experienced 32-year-old Brit who has held belts at super lightweight and welterweight and battled the likes of Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi and Danny Garcia, will be Crawford's toughest challenge to date. Khan has won two consecutive fights since returning to welterweight and has regained confidence since a vicious knockout loss to Alvarez three years ago that spurred a two-year hiatus from boxing.
In the heyday of Floyd Mayweather Jr., there were few fights between evenly matched, marquee fighters; everyone was trying to avoid losing that “0” in the second column of their record. But the boxing community was exhausted with Mayweather’s antics during five years of negotiations with Manny Pacquiao, which culminated in a boring, $100 pay-per-view fight. That ended an era. Recent fights such as Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin and Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder came together without much posturing, a blessing for fans of the sweet science.
Khan deserves credit for taking on the risk in this fight against Crawford. Khan is arguably the bigger draw, and could have spent more time rebuilding his brand following the high-profile loss to Alvarez. Instead, he's flying across the pond to meet a highly dangerous opponent. This is where boxing is successfully taking a cue from MMA: making the best fights instead of "protecting" fighters and letting them hide behind their promotional teams.
Will the brilliant technician Crawford outclass Khan and show he deserves the top spot on boxing’s pound-for-pound list? Or will Khan, with little to lose and everything to gain, show that he can take a licking and keep on ticking in his career?