by Hamilton Nolan
Terence Crawford (21-0) may well be the best lightweight in the world. Which is funny, because two fights ago, few people even knew who Terence Crawford was--and they still wouldn’t had Breidis Prescott’s scheduled opponent not injured himself just before their fight last March, allowing Crawford to step up from an undercard spot to fill in. He ended up dominating Prescott, and making the entire boxing world do a double-take. Now, he’s probably one fight away from a world title shot.
Crawford was a talented amateur and a 2008 Olympic team alternate, but his pro career was off to an uninspired start, and he seemed destined to have years more of undercard slogs ahead of him before he might actually land on HBO. That all changed when he used fast feet, intelligence, and strategic aggression to outbox the much taller and more highly regarded Prescott, who spent the night resembling a helpless giant under attack from an angry hornet. Crawford’s speed and power are both above average, if not superlative; what most sets him apart is his skill, and his ability to take control of fights and never let go. He uses offense as defense, putting just enough punches on his opponent to ensure that he stays on his heels, and using slick footwork to stay out of trouble. Crawford is hardly a Mayweather-esque flitting fly, however--in June, he handily TKO’d Alejandra Sanabria in six, in a sterling show of sharp punching that built round by round until it became unbearable. The lightweight division is characterized by action fighters. What sets Crawford apart is his ability to combine action with control.
His opponent, Andrey Klimov (16-0), is coming off a decision win over the fading puncher John Molina four months ago. Klimov, a Russian, fights in the starchy Eastern European style: high guard and straight ahead punching. He is tough, but not a noted power puncher. Crawford, with his lateral movement, in-and-out footwork, and sharp jab, should be able to box circles around Klimov, who will doubtless be looking to land a power punch that will turn the tide right from the opening bell.
Should Crawford win, the division is wide open to him. The British champ Ricky Burns waits on the horizon. It still sounds odd to say, considering Crawford’s relatively paltry pro pedigree, but an impressive showing against Klimov would probably guarantee that he’d be favored over any other lightweight in the world, champ or not. It’s a boxing dream story, so far. Now he just has to make it a reality.