By Kieran Mulvaney
This time last year, Terence Crawford was seeking to prove that he belonged: that he belonged at the top of the pile of touted contenders, that he belonged in the conversation over who was the best lightweight in the world, that he belonged on HBO.
Twelve months later, that mission has been accomplished in style, a breakout 2014 now capped with his coronation by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) as Fighter of the Year.
“It’s a surprise to me because that’s something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish,” Crawford said in response to his selection. “Now that it’s happened, it kind of feels like it’s not real. But I will say that my performance in the ring on those three nights last year brought the best out of me. I was as sharp as I could be. Everything fell into place at the right time.”
The first of those three nights fell on March 1, in Glasgow, Scotland. After an underwhelming performance against Andrey Klimov the previous October, Crawford knew he had to improve and impress if he had any hope of showcasing his talent on World Championship Boxing or Boxing After Dark. His fight that evening, against lightweight titlist Ricky Burns, was not televised in the United States; but the dominant way in which he wrestled the title belt from Glasgow’s native son ensured that his next bout would be.
That next fight, on June 28, was one of the fights of the year, a thrilling four-knockdown victory over Yuriorkis Gamboa in front of a raucous crowd of almost 11,000 in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. That performance – not to mention the atmosphere engendered by Omaha’s first world title fight in 42 years – ensured that Crawford and HBO would return to the Cornhusker State. When they did, on November 29, Crawford scored an impressive points victory over seasoned veteran Ray Beltran, bringing his year to a successful conclusion.
Despite having underlined his championship credentials and secured Fighter of the Year honors, the soft-spoken champion is in no mood to rest on his laurels.
“I’m looking for a big year again in 2015,” he said. “I’m going to continue taking the biggest and best fights out there. I don’t want to take no step down. I want to prove I’m the best fighter in and around my division, and one of the best in any division. To be great, you got to set your sights on the Pacquiaos and the Mayweathers. Those are the kind of guys I want to fight, and beat.”