There’s more than football and cornfields in Nebraska. In fact the state has produced an array of products and people that have helped shape American lifestyles on so many levels. Kool-Aid, the Vice Grip, the Hallmark Card, and Malcolm X come from Nebraska.
So does WBO lightweight champion Terence Crawford. The 27-year-old prize fighter is “the Pride of Omaha” and will be making his second title defense in front of his hometown supporters on Saturday Nov. 29th against No. 1 contender and mandatory challenger Raymundo Beltran of Mexico.
The fight pits the speed and boxing prowess of rising star Crawford (24-0, 17 knockouts) against Beltran’s (29-6-1, 17 KOs) forward-marching, punching power. To Crawford’s advantage, the fight will go down in his back yard—the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. It will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark.
With Crawford being THE RING’s No. 1-rated lightweight and Beltran, THE RING’s No. 2-rated 135-pounder, their clash will anoint the winner as THE RING champion in his weight class.
Beltran is 4-0-1 in his past five fights (the controversial draw cost him the WBO title against Ricky Burns) but he is running out of championship fight opportunities. Beltran will undoubtedly put all his chips to the middle of the ring and go for broke.
“I see this fight as an opportunity for me to achieve the recognition in the boxing world and the public’s eye. This is my moment,” Beltran asserted in a recent press conference.
In facing Beltran at CenturyLink, Crawford is returning to the site where he scored his ninth-round technical knockout victory over former unbeaten featherweight belt holder Yuriorkis Gamboa in June. Rapper turned “boxing expert” 50 Cent, said Gamboa would not only win, but floor Crawford. The complete opposite occurred.
Stick to music and Vitamin waters bruh.
The scientific slugfest was lauded as a prime candidate for fight of the year and cemented “Bud” Crawford (nickname his mom gave him when he was young) as a show-stopper in the arena of prize fighting.
“The Gate City” had not seen a championship fight since 1972 when Joe Frazier had defended his title against Ron Stander. Crawford has not only lit the fight flame in Nebraska, but his impact on his hometown is transcending the ring and the ropes.
Crawford’s title bout inspired youth all over Omaha, especially many of the at-risk children who come from the same humble beginnings as the champ. They see Crawford’s journey as tangible proof that they can make it out of Omaha and impact the world as well.
After his win over Gamboa, Crawford’s name was buzzin’ throughout the state and hundreds of kids instantly developed a strong connection to boxing at south Omaha’s Victory Boxing Club.
It’s a place where kids can get away from the gangs and drugs that plague their city. A safe environment that facilitates positive growth, and of late, some aspiring boxers.
At Crawford’s B & B Boxing Academy in north Omaha, space is quickly becoming a problem. On a recent local news interview, he said they were looking for a bigger facility to accommodate the influx of boxing hopefuls that have come out of the woodwork.
Just a few years ago (September 2008), while Crawford was transitioning away from the hood life that was an immovable object in his adolescence, he was grazed in the head by a bullet after a local dice game turned testy. Crawford says he learned from that experience. It’s a way of life that many of the at-risk youth he councils face every day.
The only bullets Crawford will be ducking on Saturday night are the potentially-debilitating shots of a hungry and desperate Beltran.
Crawford is climbing up the ladder of superstardom one electrifying fight at a time and Raymundo is another obstacle in the path of a man motivated to mangle, maestro mass mayhem and do it with a flair that captures the incomparable beauty of boxing.
I spoke with the “Pride of Omaha” leading up to his fight on Saturday, to give TSL fans a quick introduction to a boxer they will hear a lot more from in the future.
TSL: How did growing up in Omaha, Nebraska spark your thirst for boxing?
Crawford: I think boxing was something that was just always in me, because I was always fighting in the streets and fighting family members so that was something that was always in me.
Growing up in Nebraska was hard (for African-Americans). I think it’s one of the hardest places to grow up at. For one, everybody knows each other and so much crime happens here. Being that it’s so small, it’s hard to get out.
TSL: Who initially cultivated your boxing talents?
Crawford: I started boxing when I was 7. A guy by the name of Carl Washington had a boxing gym and he actually lived right behind me. One day he just saw me walking and he pulled me to the side and was trying to talk to me and I told him I couldn’t talk to strangers. He was trying to ask me to box and I was just like, “nah I don’t talk to strangers.”
Then he actually came to my house and he knew my mom and he knew my dad because my dad used to box. They said it was up to me. I said yes and it always stuck with me. I come from generations of boxers. My dad, my grandpa, my uncles, they all used to box but they all boxed as amateurs. I’m the first to go pro.
TSL: Is Beltran your toughest fight?
Crawford: Could be, but we have no way of determining that until we fight. He’s a good, crafty veteran. He knows what he’s doing in there so at all times he can be dangerous. You have to be able to look out for everything that comes with him. Beltran can be rugged. He can be smart. He can try to box you. He’s not just one-dimensional.
TSL: Your battle with Gamboa was a classic. He staggered you in that ninth round, but your boxing skills and ability to switch and go southpaw as well as your unwavering cool, enabled you to outmaneuver a boxer with elite speed and ability of his own and put him on his ass several times.
Jim Lampley called it a “starmaking performance of the highest order.” Is that the kind of effect you’re trying to get every time you step in the ring?
Crawford: I just look at any fight as I’m trying to do better than my last fight. I’m trying to take what any fighter brought out of me from my last fight into my new fight. So I just go in there and try to do the best I can TSL:
TSL: Is there a boxer that you compare yourself too?
Crawford: I always felt like I had my own style. A lot of people compare me to other fighters but I always tell people I have my own style. I just try to be me. Some people say Marvin Hagler, some people say Pernell Whitaker when I’m boxing.
TSL: After this fight, for the most part you’ve cleaned out all fighters at 135-pounds, but there’s still WBC lightweight title holder Omar Figueroa and British lightweight champ Terry Flanagan and WBA titleholder Richar Abril. But you’re moving up in weight after this fight. So why wouldn’t you try to dust them off and unify the title before bouncing. Is it a money thing?
Crawford : I been fighting at this weight since I was 17, so that’s 10 years. No it’s not really a money thing. I’ve been boxing at that weight since I was 17, so that’s 10 years. I just figure it’s the best move for my career. If one of those other champions was available for me to fight, then we would have been fought. You know?
TSL: As an amateur you beat WBC-WBA super lightweight world champion Danny Garcia, WBO junior lightweight world champion Mikey Garcia, and rising 130-pound contender Diego Magdaleno—but you had a heartbreaking loss to Miguel Gonzales at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
The Last time you actually lost in Omaha was the 2008 Golden Gloves Finals. How did defending your WBO title in your hometown against the undefeated Gamboa on June 28th serve as vindication for the prior Golden Gloves loss in front of your hometown audience?
Crawford: Well being that I lost that fight it just pushed me to do better every time I fight because I felt like I won the fight. I just didn’t get the decision. So it just pushed me to try and do better.
TSL: Other than your boxing academy which has grown along with your success, do you talk to the kids or get out of the gym and into the community in Omaha or other areas of Nebraska?
Crawford: Most definitely. We go talk to schools, we do an anti-bullying tour. We try to reach out and talk to a lot of kids. We go to the Omaha Home For Boys and talk to the boys that are there and things like that.
TSL: Since this is your last fight at 135, do you see a fight with Manny Pacquiao on the horizon. Rumor has it he might drop back down a bit in weight to end his career. Would you like to fight him?
Crawford: I’m going to tell you like I tell everybody else. As long as I’m in shape and prepare myself to the best of my abilities I’m ready for everybody.
I always leave everything up to my manager and handlers. They do their job outside the ring in setting up fights and picking opponents and the business aspect. When it comes time… I do my job in the ring.
TSL: You sold 10,943 tickets for your first successful title defense against in Omaha. One Direction couldn’t draw those digits for a music concert. Are you looking to make Nebraska a hotbed for world championship boxing?
Crawford: Boxing used to be big here. It kind of fell off. I’m just trying to build it back to life because there’s a lot of great people here that’s older than me and they know they’re boxing, and they always used to ask me when I was little, “When are you going to fight here again,” and I’d always say, “I don’t know. It’s not my call.”
When I got the chance to fight here, everybody was eager to get their tickets and show support because they saw how much talent I had as an amateur. They just want to see how far I can take it.
TSL: Tell us one thing outside of boxing that people don’t know about you.
Crawford: I just love to be around my family man. That’s it. It depends on the day because some people have to work, but on the weekends there can be like 12 of us there; mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins…everybody.
TSL: Is your family known in Omaha outside of the boxing arena?
Crawford: I would just say most of my family members were known in the streets and all that. We don’t have any real big athletes that took it to the pro level and really made a name in our family.
TSL: Can you think of any other guys who play pro sports that are from your hood or grew up with you ?
Crawford: I wouldn’t say I grew up with these guys because they are a few years younger than me, but we got Washington Redskins TE Niles Paul and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Philip Bates. Those two guys are the closest two guys I really know…Oh yeah, we also have Minnesota Vikings cornerback Shaun Prater. All from Omaha.