By Jake Donovan
Terence Crawford couldn’t help but soak in the atmosphere during Thursday’s press conference to promote his June 28 showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa. The fight will take place at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Crawford’s hometown which hasn’t hosted a world title fight since the late Joe Frazier came to town to successfully defended his heavyweight championship in 1972.
It’s also the first time Crawford fights in his hometown since turning pro in 2008, having since fought just once in his home state – a 1st round knockout of Anthony Mora in Grand Island, Nebraska. The memories of his last fight in town quickly surfaced, ironically as Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum ran through his fighter’s brilliant amateur.
Arum mentioned Crawford’s amateur wins over current unbeaten champions Danny Garcia and Mikey Garcia, as well as a win over 130 lb. contender Diego Magdaleno. The moment he turned over the mic, it was his fighter who pointed out a significant loss in the amateur ranks.
“2006, Jesus Mendez,” Crawford stated. “Man, I still ain’t forgot.”
The loss to Mendez came during the 2006 National Golden Gloves finals, which were held in Omaha. Crawford settled for the silver medal in the competition, which marks the last time he had the pleasure of fighting at home.
He’s rewarded with a homecoming in the first defense of his lightweight title, which he had to hit the road to obtain. Crawford traveled to the proverbial lion’s den, facing Ricky Burns in the defending champion’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland and coming up big in their lightweight title fight this past March.
The win ran Crawford’s record to 23-0 (16KO), the same record as Gamboa, also a gifted amateur who captured an Olympic Gold medal before going on to enjoy title success at featherweight and ‘interim title’ wins at super featherweight and lightweight.
Crawford’s success in the pro ranks has come to light in the past 15 months, dating back to his surprise HBO appearance in March 2013.
An unbeaten lightweight prospect at the time, all Crawford had to do was accept a last minute assignment at super lightweight versus dangerous Breidis Prescott. Not only would have to take on this challenge, but was reminded of the importance of not just winning but giving network brass reason to have him back. This, while serving as the chief support to Mike Alvarado’s points win over Brandon Rios in a rematch to their Fight of the Year-level thriller.
Crawford came up aces, fighting well enough to earn two more appearances on the network. He also earned immediate respect from his promoter, who made a promise that both would ultimately keep.
“When Terence did his first fight on HBO some time ago, and after he won that fight as a late substitute. I said to him, ‘You're going to win the world title, and your first defense will be here in Omaha, Nebraska,’” Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum revealed during Thursday’s presser to officially announce the June 28 bout. “It's been a long time coming for Nebraska. I'm sure the fans from Nebraska and throughout the Midwest will rally behind this champion.”
The local fans have rallied behind Crawford’s every move, even when the rest of the industry wasn’t as overwhelmed. Wins over Alejandro Sanabria and Andrey Klimov lacked entertainment value, but were enough to put him in position to challenge for a title.
With the win over Burns, Crawford became the first fighter from Omaha to claim championship status in nearly 100 years, when Perry ‘Kid’ Graves picked up a portion of the welterweight title with a knockout win over Johnny Alberts in July 1914.
The lineage of the welterweight title during that time has often come into question, nor did Graves ever enjoy the thrill of a championship homecoming.
Some things are just worth waiting for. Crawford’s win over Burns was enough to prompt his team to create history for its fighter’s hometown – and for Crawford, long overdue redemption.
It won’t come against Mendez, who is just 3-4 as a pro and who hasn’t fought since last May. For Crawford, it’s a personal journey and a piece of the past that he refuses to forget.
“(The 2006 National Golden Gloves) was the last time I was in this building,” Crawford reminded his local faithful. “I ain't going out like that.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox