Crawford, Lundy Ready to Rumble in the Concrete Jungle

Photos: Will Hart

Photos: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

It’s one of the most prestigious, yet unwanted, unofficial titles in boxing: most ducked fighter. And everyone who follows the sport knows who has held that title the last few years. But in the shadow of that Kazakh destroyer is another man who has opponents running in the other direction: a lanky switch-hitter from Omaha whose last eight fights have gone an average of more than nine rounds.

No, Terence “Bud” Crawford doesn’t fit the stereotypical duck-worthy profile. But try telling that to all the guys who’ve come up with excuses not to fight him.

From Manny Pacquiao to Ruslan Provodnikov to Viktor Postol to Lucas Matthysse to Mauricio Herrera, all were offered opportunities to be the undefeated junior welterweight’s first opponent of 2016, and all declined for one reason or another. Now some of them may have had more legitimate excuses than others, but the fact remained -as Crawford prepared to make his New York City debut, he found himself avoided by everyone.

Everyone, that is, except “Hammerin’” Hank Lundy. This isn’t the high-profile opponent that the 2014 Fighter of the Year was hoping to kick off his 2016 campaign against at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, but Lundy is the toughest, hungriest 140-pounder who made himself available. And the 32-year-old from Philly is no pushover, as he’ll gladly inform you if you put a microphone anywhere near him.

“I guarantee that in this fight, you’re going to see him get exposed,” Lundy said of Crawford at a recent public workout. “Everybody put him up on a pedestal. But I can do it all. Southpaw, right-handed, banging. I’ve been in there with every style there is, and I can fight every style there is. So really, I have a big advantage.”

Lundy doesn’t just talk trash in his opponent's absence. He was even more confrontational at the kickoff press conference. “We can take it to the streets, and you don’t want none of that,” he barked at Crawford. “I’m gonna beat your ass. It’s gonna be bad.”

Crawford, increasingly becoming known for his ability to pivot on a dime from soft-spoken gentleman to blustery badass, came hard with the counters. “You’re like the boy who cried wolf, Hank. You’re always wolfing. You talk a good game, but then when you lose, it’s always some [excuse],” Crawford responded. “Shout out to your coaches. I think I’ve seen y’all in the amateurs, when I was in the U.S. Nationals, when Hank was getting beat up. You remember that, Hank?”

Anecdotal though Crawford’s reference to their amateur days may be, it speaks to the perceived talent gap between the 28-year-old pound-for-pound entrant and the man he’ll be facing on Saturday night. But how wide is that gap actually?

When it comes to Crawford’s side of the equation, perception and reality are fairly well aligned. He’s unbeaten in 27 fights, with 19 knockouts. His brilliant 2014 campaign saw him claim his first alphabet title by outboxing Ricky Burns, outslug then-unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa in an absolute thriller, and dominate veteran Ray Beltran. He kept the momentum going in 2015 with a couple of knockout wins, beating up both Thomas Dulorme and Dierry Jean. Three years ago, Crawford was fighting eight-rounders. Two years ago, he was thought to be a dull technician. Now he’s one of the hottest fighters around, a small-town ticket-selling phenomenon ready to crash the biggest of big cities.

“Terence Crawford is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters out there,” opined retired former belt-holder David Diaz, whose final fight was a loss to Lundy in 2011. “I mean, that guy’s got it all: boxing, movement, and he can slug if he wants because he has a nice punch to him. He can get to the top of the pound-for-pound list. He’s the real deal.”

As far as Lundy is concerned, it’s certainly safe to say he’s better than his record of 26-5-1 with 13 KOs would suggest. He’s beaten the likes of Diaz, Richar Abril, Dannie Williams, and Olusegun Ajose. More importantly, he’s been competitive in every defeat and gotten a little unlucky in some of them. Lundy’s first loss came in 2010, when he’d won probably eight of the first 10 rounds against John Molina but got sloppy, got caught, and got TKO’d in the 11th. In 2012, he dropped a majority decision to Beltran. In 2013, he lost narrowly to the excellent Postol on the Ukrainian’s home turf. In 2014, he came out on the wrong end of a split decision to Dulorme. And last year, he out-hard-lucked “Hard Luck” Herrera, losing an inconclusive five-round technical majority decision.

Lundy, like Crawford, is a right-handed fighter who will switch stances frequently. He is also a road warrior and a short-notice specialist when he has to be. In his last 17 fights he’s fought in 11 different states plus Canada and Ukraine, taking on two unbeaten opponents and seven foes with a single loss apiece.

“Most of the guys who come up in the fight game have the silver spoon in their mouth with a big promoter pushing them,” Lundy said at his media day. “But everything I did was through hard work, no big-time promoter. Never let a loss get you down in your career or get you down in your life. Never give up. That’s one thing I never did. I never gave up.”

“Lundy’s a guy that doesn’t back down from nothing,” Diaz seconded. “He’s a fighter. He’s a warrior. He comes to put on a good show every time he fights. Even when he gets knocked down, the guy gets back up and finishes the job.

“But against Crawford, he has to be at his absolute best from round one all the way until the end. He can’t make mistakes and lose concentration, because of Crawford’s ability to pick people apart and hit with power and catch you. Lundy is a tough guy, but he’s facing a young lion who is coming to take over boxing.”

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Diaz could describe the featured undercard fighter, Felix Verdejo, the same way. The 22-year-old lightweight is widely regarded as the top prospect in the sport, a Puerto Rican on the verge of becoming the next major Garden attraction. (This will be his fifth fight there.) But he’s taking perhaps his most dangerous assignment yet in the Crawford-Lundy co-feature, kicking off what he and his handlers at Top Rank hope will be a breakout year against undefeated Brazilian William “Baby Face” Silva.

The records are similar: Verdejo is 19-0 and Silva is 23-0, both of them with 14 KOs. Silva is relatively untested, but we know he’s not one of those South American boxers who implodes the minute he leaves his homeland; he’s already won three times in the States and once in Verdejo’s backyard, Puerto Rico. He’s tall for the 135-pound division—built somewhat like the late Diego Corrales at 5’10½”. Silva has been boxing since age nine and, as a pro, has gone the 12-round distance twice.

Put simply, this has the potential to be a test for Verdejo. A little over three years into a pro career in which he’s barely lost a round so far, that’s exactly what the Puerto Rican needs.