Pound-for-pound lists are not to everybody’s taste, but regardless of how you choose to rank the best fighters in the world, there’s no denying that Terence Crawford is one of the most outstanding talents of the last few years. The pride of Omaha, Nebraska is now 15-0 in world title fights across three weight classes, winning his last eight contests all by stoppage. If anything, Crawford only looks to be getting better.
His latest victim, Kell Brook (39-2), boxed an excellent fight for three rounds, before being clinically dispatched at 1:14 of the fourth. The former IBF world champion from Sheffield, England, had not fought at welterweight since losing his title three and a half years ago, but he came into the fight in great shape, made weight comfortably and looked ripped and focused on the scales. The Englishman’s natural size advantage and world-championship pedigree made this an intriguing clash on paper, and “The Special One” did make a very positive start.
Brook stuck out a sharp jab in the opening session, measuring the distance well and landing most of the scoring punches. Crawford circled and began to press the action towards the end, but a lovely, clean counter-left hook from Brook got through as they exchanged in the final seconds, and the challenger clearly took the first round.
The Englishman kept his jab popping in the second and began to mix in a few right hands, even landing a crisp right uppercut at one point. Crawford also started to throw some exploratory right-hand counters, but then switched to lefty for the first time with about half a minute left in the round. The action was tense, but Crawford wasn’t really landing anything significant and appeared content to bide his time.
There was a sense that the champion was about to move up a gear in the third, though. Having made the switch to southpaw, he stalked more purposefully and began closing the space ever-so-slightly, landing his own right jab and firing quick counters. To his credit, the challenger adjusted too, using the right hand lead more effectively to deal with Crawford’s change in stance and landing some of his own scoring punches towards the end of another closely contested round.
At this point, it really did look like this could be turning into a tricky night for Crawford. Brook had banked at least a couple of rounds and the effects of his accurate jabs were apparent from a slight swelling on the champ’s right eye. Only weeks ago, we saw another pound-for-pound stalwart, Vasiliy Lomachenko, fall behind after a slow start and never make up the lost ground. But one thing that makes Crawford so impressive is that he brings a vicious streak to the ring that stands out even among the sport’s elite fighters.
Less than a minute into the fourth, as Brook jabbed and began to throw a right hand behind it, Bud read the move perfectly and stepped in with a beautifully timed, short, stiff right lead of his own. The punch itself wasn’t a devastating shot, but the speed combined with the force of Brook’s own bodyweight moving directly into it amplified the impact. Kell’s legs buckled and he stumbled, grasping at the ropes to steady himself like a falling drunk grabbing onto the side of the bar before toppling over. Bud followed up with two hard left hooks and another powerful right, and referee Tony Weeks saved a disoriented Brook by issuing a standing count, ruling only the ropes had prevented a legit knockdown. Brook nodded to signal he was okay, but the look on his face said, “What the hell just hit me?”
One thing that separates great fighters from good ones is the finishing instinct in the heat of battle, something Crawford possesses in spades. He makes instinctive adjustments with his feet to counter his opponent’s offense, but even more scary is the killer instinct he possesses when he smells blood.
Tony Weeks waved the fight back on, but with Brook stuck in a corner and Crawford in finishing mode, it was only a matter of time. A signature, two-fisted assault of arcing, slashing punches rained down and all Brook could do was cover up. As he fell back into the ropes yet again, he was mercifully rescued, still on his feet, but almost certainly saved from being brutally knocked out. In the blink of an eye, the contest had gone from a competitive scrap to another conclusive stoppage win from one of the very best boxers on the planet, pound-for-pound.
Afterwards, Brook gave credit where it’s due. “Never in my career, nobody has ever done that to me,” said the former champion, “not in sparring or anything. I got caught with a shot I didn’t see. I’m gutted because nobody could’ve gotten me in better condition.”
No doubt some will question whether Brook was a suitably tough challenger, given that he had taken heavy physical punishment in his losses to Gennadiy Golovkin and Errol Spence several years ago, but that is being too harsh on the Englishman. In addition to the fact that no other fighter has defeated Shawn Porter as convincingly as he did in 2014, it should be remembered that he boxed competitively against two elite operators, before succumbing to serious eye injuries on both occasions. The fact that neither Golovkin nor Spence achieved such an impressive, clinical finish over Brook speaks volumes for Crawford.
So, while it’s true that Bud’s career has suffered from Top Rank’s inability to get his biggest rivals at welterweight into the ring with him, the fact remains Crawford has overcome the best opposition available in most emphatic style. At 33 years old though, he doesn’t have loads of time to enhance his legacy in a major way and needs to face people like Porter, Ugas or Thurman sooner rather than later.
Crawford’s promoter, Bob Arum, indicated that a showdown with aging legend and rival champ Manny Pacquaio was almost sealed earlier this year, before the Covid-19 scuppered a planned event in the Middle East. The Filipino legend is almost 42 now, and it’s a fight that Crawford would be heavily favoured to win at this stage. Still, if that match-up could be rescheduled for the spring, it would certainly boost Crawford’s drawing power, and perhaps help build the cross-promotional bridges needed to make the fight we all really want to see – and the sport desperately needs – Crawford vs Spence.
Let’s hope reason prevails and 2021 sees those fights get made. In the meantime, we just have to appreciate Crawford for what he is: arguably the most talented boxer alive, pound-for-pound. — Matt O’Brien