NEW YORK — Welterweight world titleholder Terence Crawford has emerged as one of boxing’s pound-for-pound best — first as a lightweight champion, then becoming the undisputed junior welterweight champion in 2017, followed by a 2018 move up to welterweight, where he won yet another title.
He has collected six world title belts in all in three weight classes. He has won the Fighter of the Year award. He remains unbeaten and made millions. He is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He has already accomplished so much, but what Crawford wants now is the biggest fights possible, and that means facing big names.
Manny Pacquiao didn’t want to fight him when he was still being promoted by Top Rank, and the other world titleholders at welterweight — Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter — are not available to him.
Enter Amir Khan, one of boxing’s biggest names and an immensely talented fighter known for his speed and power as well as a crowd-pleasing style. Top Rank and Crawford figured Khan, who has never lost at welterweight, would be an ideal opponent for Crawford to face in the main event of the first Top Rank Boxing on ESPN pay-per-view card on Saturday (9 p.m. ET with prelims on ESPN2 beginning at 6 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden.
“Amir Khan has been in there with a lot of great fighters. Me beating him will put me on another level in the welterweight division,” Crawford said. “I’m expecting the best Amir Khan to show up.”
England’s Khan, a former unified junior welterweight titlist who has never backed down from a tough opponent, also wants the biggest fights possible and was gung-ho to challenge Crawford, even turning down more money for a long-anticipated rivalry fight with countryman and former welterweight titlist Kell Brook to take on the more dangerous Crawford.
To Khan, who never did get potential fights that were talked about with Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, the bigger the risk, the greater reward.
“I wanted this fight because I wanted to fight the best,” Khan said. “Terence Crawford presented the greatest challenge to me at this point in my career. Listen, the Kell Brook fight was there, but fighting Terence gives me the opportunity to show I am a pound-for-pound fighter.
“I am confident I can win this fight because he has never fought anyone like me. I have power, speed and movement, and he has certainly never fought a welterweight like me. I’m not just another number on Crawford’s record.”
As for Crawford, who will be making his second title defense, he said he has one thing on his mind as he continues to make his case that it is he who should be viewed as boxing’s pound-for-pound No. 1.
“I’m just here to seek and destroy,” Crawford said.
This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:
Crawford at his peak
Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), 31, of Omaha, Nebraska, would be the favorite against any welterweight possibly with the exception of Spence, considered more of a 50-50 fight. Crawford is in his absolute prime and wants credit for what he has already accomplished. He believes a win over Khan will help.
“I feel like I’m already the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Beating Amir Khan would only solidify my place in the sport,” he said. “Amir Khan is undefeated as a welterweight and can’t be underestimated. He has great hand speed, movement and some power as well. I want to showcase all of my talents in this fight.
“I am on a high level right now, and the way I beat people makes it seem like they don’t belong in the ring with me. Against Khan, I will show everyone again why I’m the best fighter in the world.”
Crawford ranks No. 2 on the ESPN pound-for-pound list behind Top Rank stablemate and unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who impressively destroyed Anthony Crolla last week. Now it’s Crawford’s turn to impress.
“Sometimes it bothers me [that I don’t get credit], but that just shows how dominant I am,” he said. “When you got undefeated gold medalists and world champions, where before the fight a lot of writers and fans think that they’re going to steamroll me or they’re too big for me, and this is going to be the toughest fight of my career. After the fight, they say, ‘He wasn’t that good,’ or, ‘He was a stand-up fighter,’ or, ‘He was slow,’ or, ‘We knew you were going to do this; we just had to hype up the fight.’ So they discredit me. When you look at the fighters I’ve fought, most of them haven’t been the same after they’ve fought me.
“I just want people to respect me for my talent and the skills that I have, and the willingness to go in there and fight everybody that’s available.”
As talented as Khan is — he won an Olympic silver medal at 17 and has had many major fights — his chin has failed him at times. He has been knocked out in rough fashion in three of his four losses and has been on the deck other times.
In 2008, he was starched in one round at lightweight by Breidis Prescott, who lost a one-sided decision to Crawford in a 2013 junior welterweight fight. In 2012, Khan was manhandling Danny Garcia when he got stopped in the fourth round and lost his unified 140-pound title. In 2016, Khan moved up two weight classes for shot at Canelo Alvarez’s middleweight title and boxed very well until running into a massive right hand and getting knocked out cold in the sixth round.
As much as his chin issues have been a part of Khan’s identity, and as good of a puncher as Crawford is, Crawford said he does not believe the fight will come to him landing a big shot and Khan crumbling.
“I wouldn’t say that. Amir Khan might be fast, and he might have good movement, but I am a great boxer myself and I am not the slowest fighter by any means. I believe in my skills and I don’t believe that it is my punching power that is going to lead me to victory,” said Crawford, who has won five fights in a row by KO. “I believe it is my whole overall skills and mindset that will lead me to victory.”
Brian McIntyre, Crawford’s trainer and manager, agreed, giving Khan credit for his skills.
“Well, we would want to say that going into the fight, but Amir Khan is still dangerous with the attributes he brings into the ring. We don’t know what he’s doing over there with (trainer) Virgil Hunter. We don’t know what he’s doing with his strength and conditioning coach. So, we would want to say that, but we can think that going into the ring. The only thing in our minds is getting a win.”
Khan has always been fearless and did make it through a tough bout with massive puncher Marcos Maidana despite being rocked repeatedly. He said he will be able to take whatever Crawford dishes out.
“This is a fight that can redeem my whole career,” said Khan, adding he needs not just a good performance but a great one to win. “Against Canelo, maybe I was biting off more than I could chew. I took that fight because it was a massive opportunity for me, and I believe in myself as a fighter. This fight, I see that it’s more fair. We’re similar weights. We’ve had similar experience. In my opinion, I’ll be able to take his punching power. He’s also a quick and a skillful fighter, so there’s a lot of advantages for me in this fight. In other fights, I’ve fought guys who are a lot stronger, a lot bigger in weight. That plays a big part. In this fight, I really think I have the style and everything it takes to win.”
Crawford: Five-fight knockout streak dating to December 2016.
Crawford: He’s 12-0 in world title fights (9 KOs).
Crawford: Connects 48% of his power punches, according to CompuBox, third-best among active fighters (welterweight average is 38%).
Crawford: Opponents land seven punches per round, according to CompuBox (welterweight average is 17.2).
Khan: Two-fight win streak after losing to Canelo Alvarez at middleweight in May 2016. He’s 4-0 at welterweight.
Khan: Connects 45% of his power punches, according to CompuBox.
Khan: Opponents land 37% of his power punches according to CompuBox.
Khan: Tenth career title fight (6-3 record, lost past three).
Khan (33-4, 20 KOs), 32, trained with Hunter for several years, but when Khan came back after the loss to Alvarez for a pair of fights in 2018, Hunter was not in his corner.
Khan knocked out Phil Lo Greco in 39 seconds and then won a wide but shaky 12-round decision over Samuel Vargas in which Khan got dropped. He won both fights with the well-respected Joe Goossen in his corner. He had been pressed into service because Hunter was sidelined with a medical issue. But now Hunter is back with Khan.
“Maybe my last performance got me this fight. To me, that wasn’t the best performance,” Khan said. “That wasn’t the best Amir Khan. I’m now back with my old trainer, Virgil Hunter, where I’m happy and he trained me the best. And he knows me better than any trainer out there. We know we’ve done everything we have to do for this fight.
“Every fight with Virgil I’ve learned something from, win or lose, and he’s brought the best out of me. I needed to get back with someone who could bring that respect back for the sport of boxing and also make me work harder.”
Spence looms, or does he?
Backstage at the Hooker-Saucedo fight, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. get into an argument that ends with Crawford saying he could knock out Spence.
Crawford-Khan is an intriguing fight. When Spence fought lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia, who moved up two divisions last month, it also was an interesting fight. But the big fight in the welterweight division — and one of the biggest in boxing — would be Crawford-Spence.
It’s not easy to make by any means. Crawford is with Top Rank/ESPN. Spence is with Premier Boxing Champions and broadcast partners Showtime and Fox. Throw in the fact that Top Rank chairman Bob Arum and PBC boss Al Haymon have a poor relationship, and it’s a rough one to make.
Arum insists he is ready to make the fight next. Crawford and Spence have both said they want it and Crawford maintains hope that it will happen soon.
“Of course it is makeable. I believe it would be the biggest fight in the welterweight division, but I have this fight against Amir Khan,” Crawford said. “After the fight, we can talk about Errol Spence and Al Haymon and Top Rank doing business together. But right now I am not even thinking or worried about Errol Spence.”
Said McIntyre: “Bob is doing his thing, trying to make the fight happen. So, hey, let Bob do his thing and let us do our thing, and when the fight is done we’ll sit down with Bob, and hopefully the other guys will come to the table.”
Rafael’s prediction: Crawford by knockout in eight or nine rounds.