by Kieran Mulvaney
Promoter Bob Arum was almost overcome with enthusiasm and glee.
Leaning over the ringside media tables following Terence Crawford's victorious HBO debut in March, he enthused that the young prospect, who had just completed his first 10-round bout, was ready to "beat the shit out of [lightweight champion Adrien] Broner right now."
The crowd at the Mandalay Bay, it must be said, hadn't exactly ululated in appreciation of what they had seen. They had shown up in anticipation of a blood-and-guts slobberknocker from headliners Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios, and had no patience for an appetizer of fistic artistry. Their occasional boos as Crawford outboxed Breidis Prescott led veteran boxing scribe Ivan Goldman to note that "Las Vegas attracts some of the least knowledgeable crowds around."
What Crawford achieved that night was quite remarkable. A relatively untested and unknown lightweight prospect, he had stepped in at just a week's notice to move up a weight division against a man who had previously knocked Amir Khan silly in one round and taken Alvarado to the very precipice of defeat. Yet Crawford stepped in against the much bigger, much more experienced man and proceeded to spend 10 rounds making Prescott look befuddled and bereft of ideas, as if the hapless Colombian and not the Nebraskan upstart were the ingénue.
As a result of that performance, Crawford makes his sophomore appearance on HBO on Saturday, when he takes on Mexico's Alejandro Sanabria in the chief supporting bout to Mikey Garcia's featherweight title defense against Juan Manuel Lopez in Dallas. The praise he has received, not just from his promoter but from fellow fighters such as Andre Ward, Timothy Bradley and Nonito Donaire, is encouraging. His emergence as a name fighter is all the more impressive given that, as a result of string of bad decisions on one day five years ago, Crawford had come perilously close to becoming just another statistic, with a name that would remain forever unknown except to readers of crime blotters.
Those bad decisions culminated in him joining in a dice game that he knew, deep down, he should stay away from. When the game grew heated, he decided to leave; but as he sat in his car, he paused to count the money he had won. That was when the gunshot rang out, and the bullet shattered his car window and struck his head.
Covered in blood, he was nonetheless able to drive himself to the hospital where he learned that, incredibly, the bullet had not penetrated his skull: the window pane had slowed it down just enough.
It had been the ultimate close shave, and for Crawford it was a signal to focus on positive pursuits, including a professional boxing career that was then just a few months old, and the girlfriend with whom he now has a two-year-old son, Terence Crawford III. Now there is an eager expectation that Crawford may well prove to be one of the very brightest prospects in boxing – and certainly one of the most promising pugilists to ever emerge from the relative boxing coldbed of Omaha, Nebraska.
First, however, Crawford must overcome Sanabria, whose 34 wins include a 2011 defeat of former world title challenger Rocky Juarez, who has lost just one of 36 outings, and who is on a 10-fight winning streak. On paper, it seems a tough ask; but no more so than the last-minute challenge of Prescott that launched him into the spotlight. But then, for anyone who can take a bullet to the skull and survive, presumably few trials seem insurmountable: not stepping in to the ring against Prescott, not taking on Sanabria, and not "beating the shit" out of any opponent placed in his path.