By Jake Donovan
Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford was barely two years old by the time Bruce ‘The Mouse’ Strauss retired from the ring in 1989. The only common bond the two have is their ties to boxing and to Omaha, Nebraska.
Strauss was a loveable loser in the ring, best known for being knocked out on more continents (five) than any other fighter in history. The list doesn’t extend to seven only because the middleweight never made it to Asia or Antarctica over the course of his journeyman career, nor did he ever enjoy any real success in the pro ranks.
Through six years as a pro, Crawford has proven to be a bona fide winner. Yet it’s curious that when his upcoming showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa was formally announced to take place in his hometown, the first thought that came to mind… was a loss.
“2006, Jesus Mendez,” Crawford recalled when thinking back to his last fight in Omaha. “Man, I still ain’t forgot.”
The fight with Mendez was for the National Golden Gloves championship in 2006, which happened to take place in Crawford’s hometown. The local favorite settled for the Silver medal that day, watching Mendez claim top honors in his own backyard.
Eight years later, Crawford brings his own version of the gold, his lightweight title as he defends versus unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa. The bout headlines live on HBO from the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The event marks the first time in its 40-plus year history that HBO will televise a boxing event from Omaha, and just the city’s second time in history hosting a major title fight. The only other occasion came in 1972, when then-lineal heavyweight champ Joe Frazier knocked out local heavyweight Ron Stander in five rounds.
Stander had never lost in his home state prior to that point, having even knocked out Earnie Shavers – albeit early in both of their careers – in 1970. He wouldn’t win again at home for another three years, only winning six of his final 10 bouts in Omaha after his lone shot at the title.
As far as champions go, Crawford is one of a grand total of two from the Cornhusker state. The other is Perry ‘Kid’ Graves, with his welterweight championship winning effort coming up on its 100th anniversary in July. The reign didn’t last very long, nor did it ever touch his hometown. In fact, Graves never fought at home until late in his career.
The only other champion with ties to Omaha is Max Baer, whose connection to the city comes only through birth. The former heavyweight king moved to Colorado with his family at age two, and later to California’s Bay Area, which he represented during his Hall of Fame career and until his passing in 1959. His road to the championship included a knockout win over Omaha’s Tuffy Griffith in 1932.
Historically, Omaha – or anywhere in Midwestern United States, for that matter – isn’t generally associated with breeding successful boxers. Crawford has proven to be the exception, throughout his exceptional amateur career and so far through six years as a pro.
The closest he’s come to losing since turning pro came outside the ring, an event that nearly cost him his life. A bad boy as a kid who needed boxing more than the sport needed him, Crawford took a while to finally grow up. Unfortunately, it required a bullet literally bouncing off his head, when a dice game gone horribly awry resulted in shots fired.
A car window turned out to be his saving grace, slowing down the bullet just enough to graze his flesh rather than penetrate his skull. It was enough to cost him a planned appearance on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights and slow down his career for a couple months. Once he was able to return, Crawford hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back.
His career came full circle this past March, flying across the Atlantic to dethrone lightweight titlist Ricky Burns on the road in Glasgow, Scotland. The feat came 11 months after he was first introduced to a wider audience, serving in the HBO-televised opener to the rematch between Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios last March.
Crawford accepted the assignment on short notice, moving up in weight to take on Breidis Prescott in a scheduled 10-round bout in the 140 lb. division. The risk proved rewarding, with Crawford taking a wide decision win while fully convincing his promoter that a star was truly on the rise.
“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,’” recalls Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. “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.”
Ticket sales strongly suggest Crawford will be well-represented on Saturday. A crowd of more than 9,000 is expected to file into the CenturyLink Center this Saturday for a title fight with both champion and challenger boasting the same record – 23-0, with 16 knockouts each.
To his credit, Crawford recognizes the challenge he has in front of him.
“It's gonna be a good fight. I know it. Gamboa is a truly incredible champion,” Crawford says of his opponent, a Gold medalist for Cuba in the 2004 Olympics and a former featherweight titlist in the pro ranks. “I have nothing bad to say about the man.
“The only thing I can say about the man is, he shouldn't have taken this fight.”
Had that been the case, then Crawford’s local fans would have been deprived of a rare occasion – a chance for their fair city to be associated with winning.
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