With every passing month, Terence Crawford is climbing closer to the pinnacle of his sport: the No. 1 spot in the pound-for-pound rankings. With the top two fighters set to face each other next month (Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev) and the tandem of Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez showing signs of slippage, it may be just a matter of time before "Bud" will fully bloom. For now, he'll focus on unifying the 140-pound title, and should he, as expected, beat Felix Diaz on Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET/PT, HBO), that goal will be just one fight away, as Julius Indongo recently won Ricky Burns' WBA strap in Scotland just five months after winning Eduard Troyanovsky's IBF title in Russia. Onward and upward.
Crawford vs. Southpaws: Crawford hasn't faced a world-class full-time lefty like Diaz. However, he has fought a spirited switch-hitter in Hank Lundy, who, following a troubling first round, Crawford dominated before earning a fifth-round TKO thanks to a straight left that scored a knockdown and a follow-up barrage. Crawford had no problem landing the jab (34.8 thrown/8.5 connects per round) or many of his other punches, as he led 89-47 overall, 40-16 jabs and 49-31 power as well as 38% overall, 25% jabs and 59% power (to Lundy's 22%, 13% and 37%, respectively). The latter defensive number should be a source of concern; however, because Diaz is not a big puncher (nine KOs in 19 wins), it shouldn't be an overwhelming worry for Crawford.
But Diaz is also aggressive, which, because he stands 5-foot-5, is borne of necessity rather than preference. Against aggressors, Crawford has been superb. He's coming off an impressive ninth-round TKO over the gutty John Molina Jr., whose courage only extended the beating he absorbed. Crawford led 184-41 overall, 75-19 jabs and 109-22 power while compiling monstrous accuracy gaps of 44%-14% overall, 37%-20% jabs and 50%-12% power. How dominant was Crawford? Molina never landed more than seven total punches in a round while Crawford never landed fewer than 16.
Strong Finisher: Diaz is an attrition fighter who has banked on being most effective down the stretch. Diaz pulled out a majority decision over Adrian Granados thanks mostly to his surge in rounds 7-10 (99-57 overall, 96-55 power) that led to connect leads of 203-163 overall and 191-145 power. And he impressively pulled away from Gabriel Bracero in rounds 8-10 (68-15 overall, 60-14 power, adding knockdowns in rounds eight and nine). That fight saw Diaz out-land Bracero 176-92 overall and 148-68 power.
The strongest case for a Diaz win against Lamont Peterson took place in rounds 11 and 12 when he led 30-22 overall and 29-19 power. The raw numbers over the entire fight, however, told a different story as Peterson out-landed Diaz 234-168 overall, 52-29 jabs and 182-139 power. Plus, Peterson, the former 140-pound champ, also was more accurate in all phases (33%-22% overall, 19%-14% jabs, 42%-25% power). But nine months later against Sammy Vasquez the tables were turned slightly for Diaz as Vasquez led 41-31 overall and 27-20 power in the final two rounds. The good news was that, by that time, Diaz had built a lead big enough to withstand the mini-surge, and the fight ended with Diaz connect leads of 161-149 overall and 120-90 power as well as a narrower-than-reality unanimous decision (95-94 twice, 96-93).
In fact, had it not been for a point penalty against Vasquez for spitting out the mouthpiece, the fight would have been a majority draw. But there was a statistical point of concern: Despite being dominated in many rounds, Vasquez still landed 47% of his power shots. Against a sharp-shooter like Crawford, that is very bad news.
Inside the Numbers: Crawford's 14.1 plus/minus rating ranks No. 4 among CompuBox category leaders. Opponents land just 20% of their total punches against Crawford (No. 5 on CompuBox list) and just 7.1 punches per round (No. 3 on list and 10 fewer than the junior welterweight average). Further, opponents land only 4.9 power punches per round (No. 5 on list and 7.7 fewer than junior welterweight average) against the Omaha native. Working behind an accurate jab (6.9 landed per round), Crawford landed 46.1% of his power shots -- nearly 10% higher than junior welterweight average. Diaz is all about the power shot: 84% of his landed punches are power punches (CompuBox average: 72%) and 71% of his thrown punches are power shots (CompuBox average: 59%).
Prediction: Crawford tends to start most fights deliberately and he'll probably do the same against his left-handed foe. Expect Crawford to neutralize the lefty advantage against Diaz by turning southpaw himself. From there, his height, reach, power and class will take over. Crawford on points.