Err Bud? Terence Crawford Beats Kell Brook, But to What End?

Calculating precisely where Terence Crawford fits along the spectrum of boxing’s superstars is something of a fool’s errand and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, entirely beside the point.

No sport is more tribal, more random in the focus of its fan adoration, nor more fickle in ascribing value to fundamentally flawed human beings — all of whom broker in the business of beating the shit out of one another. The process of sorting out boxing’s heroes and villains, as well as its A-siders from its opponents, feels as random as picking your first child’s godparent from the brunch-hour stage lineup at Crazy Horse Too. (Note to Big Five publishers: The teachings of Dr. Spock have gone uncontested for decades, and I can’t keep giving away these parenting gems for free.)

By far, the more interesting thought experiment concerning Crawford is considering the extent to which he has fulfilled his manifest destiny, both as a fighter and a potential crossover figure, and how much he’s left on the table. Crawford, 33, is a supernova talent — part Sugar Ray Leonard, part Beth Harmon. But objectively speaking, he hasn’t 1) landed a signature fight, 2) stress-tested the measure of his prodigious abilities 3) or publicly brought to bear the full weight of his business influence. It’s a loaded and perhaps unanswerable question — this is boxing, after all — but it comes down to this:

How much of this is on Bud?

Granted, Crawford (37-0) did his part in the ring Saturday in Las Vegas, laying waste to Britain’s increasingly brittle Kell Brook (39-3) in four rounds at the MGM Grand’s ubiquitous Bubble. What appeared to be a balanced, give-and-take contest through round 3 turned into a showcase for the finishing ability of Omaha’s finest, while immediately raising the same shopworn questions about Where Crawford Goes From Here.

Brook, 34, initially appeared ready to write another narrative. Despite having been beaten silly in back-to-back encounters with Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr. in 2016 and ‘17, during which he’d had his left and right orbital bones turned to mush, Brook entered the Crawford fight seemingly healthy, game and cut up like a CrossFit influencer. If, following a string of get-well fights, Brook were going to prove he had anything left at the world level, he was as ready as he’d ever be Saturday in Vegas.

It wasn’t remotely enough. Brook flashed a stinging jab, outlanding Crawford in the first couple rounds and forcing Bud, a natural lefty, out of the orthodox stance he sprung on Brook to start the fight. But as Crawford turned southpaw and crept gradually into the pocket, his lead foot finding increasingly favorable position and his timing beginning to land in syncopation with the fight rhythms, he cracked open Brook’s defenses just enough to find the space he needed to slip in the blade.

Less than a minute into the 4th, Brook offered a hanging jab feint before squaring up to deliver a short right hand. Crawford seized on the moment, landing a power jab to Brook’s left eye as the Brit leaned in, exposed at levels that would make Jeffrey Toobin seek confession. The shot sent Brook pitching sideways, past sidestepping referee Tony Weeks and into the ropes. Crawford gave chase, following up with a pair of hooking left hands to the body as Brook clung to the middle rope with the bend in his elbow, prompting Weeks to step in and call it a knockdown.

When Weeks turned them loose again, Crawford had switched on his stalker mode. From an orthodox position, he swept Brooks’ guard open with a looping left, then chopped him up with a right hand upstairs, followed by a series of power left hands that again sent Brook reeling through the ropes and again summoned Weeks, who this time called it for good.

For all the pound-for-pound headz who had sensed slippage from Crawford — or maybe just the encroaching presence of Naoya Inoue, Oleksandr Usyk and Teofimo Lopez — this performance should have been a successful referendum on the fighter’s status at the top of boxing’s theoretical food chain. But for many, it won’t be. Fans, naturally, want to see Crawford matched with the world’s best welterweights, all of whom, for the moment, are out of his reach due to promotional ties. No one doubts Bud’s brilliance, and it’s worth noting that he has knocked out six straight opponents —including four respectable, previously unbeaten foes. But at this point, cracking the compromised shell of Brook doesn’t feel like progress. Julius Indongo isn’t Manny Pacquiao, and Egidijus Kavaliauskas isn’t Spence.

Crawford can’t be faulted for his in-ring efforts. He’s a technician, an artist and a showman. When they set ‘em up, he knocks ‘em down. Those gifts, though, are currently being all but wasted on second-tier competition, even as the 147-pound division bulges with talent and depth. The less rumination on promotional politics in general, and on Top Rank and Bob Arum specifically, the better. (I’m not above a gratuitous Toobin reference, but I have some dignity left.) But if Crawford is authentically interested in certifying his eminence — and I believe he is — it’s time he cashes in whatever chips he possesses.

Fighters need less, not more, career advice. The skin in the game belongs to them, and them alone, so I’d no sooner call for Brook to retire (though I believe he should) than I would demand that Crawford begin forcing his way into legacy-gilding fights (though I wish he would). I’m a doughy middle-aged writer who hasn’t been in a scrap in 25 years. I’d be worried for Crawford if he did start listening to me.

Still, I do know this: Even if he isn’t ready to launch a Canelo-style coup against his contract holders, Bud is running out of time to lay bare whatever incontrovertible truth he sees as his place in boxing’s hegemony. It breaks my heart to watch Crawford avoid rocking boats when a kid like Ryan Garcia, still wearing his floaties in the shallow end, can piss down his promoter’s leg to get his way. Forget what I think, or even what the fans want. If Crawford is as great as he believes himself to be (and I think he is), he should prove it to himself. And not a moment too soon.

(Terence Crawford post-fight; via)