Terence Crawford dazzled hometown supporters in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday night by shellacking the previously unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa. After a close first four rounds, Crawford solved the Gamboa puzzle and took him apart in Rounds 5 through 9, knocking the former Cuban-amateur standout down four times on the way to a Round 9 technical knockout.
It was a stunningly brilliant performance. If the boxing world didn’t know Crawford before, it certainly does now. But is the 26-year-old on the path to superstardom?
Some think so.
In his Monday column, 15Rounds.com’s Bart Barry extolled Crawford as a rare commodity in today’s boxing world, a kind of virtuoso who possesses all the essential elements of superstardom:
Terence Crawford is a rarity among contemporary prizefighters: A talented fighter able to sell tickets at home though nevertheless willing to travel anywhere and make real fights against real fighters. He is a monument to how Top Rank alone can build a fighter when it wishes to, when it takes a nothing-much-to-lose approach and moves him properly, making sterner tests steadily, and giving him a chance to surprise himself and others when his moment comes.
Crawford certainly deserves recognition for what he’s accomplished. He’s made a name for himself the right way, taking fights against solid competition over the last year and performing well in the clutch.
In March, Crawford snagged the WBO lightweight title from Ricky Burns in front of the latter’s home crowd in Glasgow, Scotland.
On Saturday, Crawford knocked out Gamboa, a talented, hard-hitting fighter who had never before tasted defeat.
It wasn’t just that he beat Gamboa, but how he did it. While Gamboa had been inactive over a year, no rust showed during the first five rounds of the fight. In fact, Gamboa appeared to be on his way to an upset win.
BoxingScene.com’s David Greisman broke down the statistical edge Gamboa had going for him through Round 4:
In the first four rounds, CompuBox credited Crawford with going just 30 of 135, a 22 percent connect rate, including 20 of 54 with power punches, a 37 percent connect rate. Gamboa was 41 of 129, a 32 percent connect rate, including 36 of 94 with power punches, a 38 percent connect rate.
But Crawford adjusted to Gamboa’s tactics wisely. He changed from a conventional stance to southpaw and used his natural lankiness, as well as the distance advantage a southpaw almost always enjoys over a conventional fighter such as Gamboa, to catch the Cuban flush as he tried to close the distance.
In fact, as the fight wore on, it was Crawford who became the marksman with Gamboa resigned to being little more than a target.
Greisman noted Crawford’s resurgence in Rounds 5 through 8:
In rounds five through eight, however, Crawford was 94 of 177, a 53 percent connect rate, including 62 of 89 with his power punches, an astounding 70 percent connect rate. Gamboa was 33 of 178, a 19 percent connect rate, including 30 of 135 with power punches, a 22 percent connect rate.
Besides displaying goods inside of the ring, Crawford appears to also have the right people behind him outside of it. When it comes to building stars, is there any better promoter in boxing than Top Rank? Love or hate them, the people at Top Rank know what they are doing.
Yahoo’s Kevin Iole likes how the company has managed things with Crawford so far, especially the move of matching him against the solid Gamboa in front of his home crowd in Omaha:
In order to develop a fighter into a legitimate, ticket-selling star, a promoter must first establish a base for the fighter. That’s what Top Rank did on Saturday by bringing the first world title fight to Omaha in 42 years. ... Top Rank gambled by bringing the bout to a locale which wasn’t a traditional boxing hotbed. It bet on the fact that it could get the word out and that locals would come out to see their hometown hero make the first defense of his title.
It worked. According to those present at the arena, such as HBO’s Kieran Mulvaney, the scene was absolutely electric, and the raucous crowd was made even more so by the performance of its man, Crawford.
There certainly is a lot to like about Crawford. He’s fast. He’s skilled. He has good power. He knows how to adjust to what is in front of him. He has the right people around him and appears to be headed toward a bright future.
But here’s a cautionary warning to those seeking to crown Crawford king of the world: There have been other impressive-looking prospects to make it to this point and never pan out.
Fernando Vargas appeared to be on track to stardom in the early 2000s, but he got hammered by Oscar De La Hoya in 2002 and never quite looked the same.
Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was a similarly celebrated fighter who washed out fast and furious after getting mishandled by Top Rank and then manhandled by Bernard Hopkins back in 2008.
Not long ago, Juan Manuel Lopez was considered a future star. But knockout losses to rugged veteran Orlando Salido in 2011 and 2012 dashed those hopes, and Lopez has never really been able to get back to where he once belonged.
The list goes on and on.
One wrong move can ruin a fighter’s career. One bad matchup can expose a fighter’s weaknesses to the world. In boxing, even one punch can change everything.
He might be on the path toward superstardom, but let’s allow Crawford time to get a little further down that road before hailing him as a sure bet to get there.
Kelsey McCarson contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel.