By Ryan Songalia (photo by Tom Casino)
An unbeaten record often leads to the question, "Who has he fought?". Still, sometimes it isn't who, but rather how they fight that is important.
Henry Crawford of Paterson, NJ has been a pro for five years, racking up a 22-0-1 (9 KO) record that has for the most part evoked little passion with boxing fans. The reason has little to do with his prison stint earlier this decade but rather with the lackluster manner in which those victories have been reached.
"Whoever put it in his head that as long as he wins that's what matters gave him bad advice," says Kendall Holt, former junior welterweight champion and fellow Paterson native. "This is entertainment and the suits at the networks are looking for ratings. If you're not on television you're not going to make money."
Crawford, age 28, gets a chance to put those perceptions to rest Friday night when he faces Antwone Smith at the First Council Casino in Newkirk, OK. The bout will be televised on ShoBox: The New Generation on the Showtime network. The bout will be promoted by Main Events.
For Crawford, it will be his first televised bout since 2007 when he stopped Jeremy Yelton on ESPN2.
"I ain't really gotten the showcase across the networks yet," says Crawford. "I want to show everybody who Henry Crawford is. If you look at my career, I haven't been moved softly and they're still giving me tough fights."
As Crawford puts his unbeaten record on the line in his first scheduled ten rounder, he faces the pressure of trying to make something of a thus far undefined pro career before age catches up with him. From Crawford's perspective, his inability to make noise has to do with the fights his promoters have picked for him.
"They aren't moving me right," says Crawford. "This is an entertainment business and we have to entertain the networks. I don't wanna downgrade them but they're supposed to be promoters so promote me right. It's entertainment and I have to fight a Joe Donut and crush him on TV."
Crawford points to his last bout in July on the undercard of Tomasz Adamek's cruiserweight championship title defense against Bobby Gunn as evidence of poor matchmaking. In that fight - against Philadelphia lefty Kaseem Wilson - Crawford's inability to capture the attention of a rabid near-capacity audience in Newark did not go unnoticed by the abundant media in attendance.
"Why did I fight a southpaw at this point in my career? It'll always make you look shitty. He was like a Cory Spinks, he didn't really come to fight. I don't think I looked good. I think they're judging me by my last fight. When it comes to next Friday night they're going to see something totally different."
Crawford has good things to say of Main Events, too.
"As far as keeping me active, yeah, they've been doing a great job. Some guys have been around 4-5 years and only have 10-11 fights."
Crawford, who works the night shift at the Food Town supermarket as a stock boy in Paterson, nearly gave up his career in favor of full-time employment last year. Crawford took a fight on three days notice against Jerome Ellis and scored a shutout decision.
Crawford was galvanized by his performance and continued to fight.
Most significant about this otherwise un-noteworthy fight is that Ellis is the only common opponent between the two; Smith scored a majority decision a few months later.
It wasn't until before his last fight that he finally signed with a manager. He feels a third party will help maintain checks and balance between his interests and his promoter's.
"[Main Events] said if you got the promotion you don't need a manager but you need someone to watch the promoter while you watch the manager."
Crawford's opponent Smith, 16-1 (8 KO) of Miami, FL, is six years younger with only three years of pro boxing under his belt. Aside from youth, Smith also has quality of opposition in his favor. In his last two fights, Smith has come in as the opponent on ESPN2 to score upset victories over unbeaten Norberto Gonzalez and fringe contender Richard Gutierrez. Smith is now signed to Dibella Entertainment.
"He likes to do the Floyd Mayweather peekaboo but it ain't for everybody," Crawford analyzed. "He comes to fight and he's a tough guy. He gets aggressive when he wants to. He tries to come at you and smother you with his left shoulder."
"When you put a guy on the 'B side' over and over and he keeps winning, it shows he has lots of determination," says Mike Skowronski, who has trained Crawford for the last three fights.
Skowronski says that he has noticed a marked improvement in Crawford since picking up where former trainer Nettles Nasser left off.
"He used to slap with his punches, his jab was nonexistent and he tried to load up on every shot when he wasn't a knockout artist."
One area where Skowronski has worked on improving Crawford is in his activity level; Though lightning quick with his shots, Crawford has sometimes allowed his punch count to drop below 30 or even 20 in some rounds.
"The other day I made him do ten rounds on the bag. I had another guy count his punches per round. He was averaging 335 punches a round. I told him if he would let half of them go in the fight, he'd be a legend. I think he's definitely confident in his conditioning or I can only hope so because I haven't seen him do it yet."
In addition to Holt, Crawford has sparred with junior middleweights Pawel Wolak and Ossie Duran extensively for this camp. Lesser known prospects Glen Tapia and Jeremy Bryan have also given Crawford some hard rounds in the gym.
"This Henry that has been taking all of the pressure from the sparring partners is the best I've ever seen him look and I've been watching him since he's 12 years old," says Holt.
Both Holt and Skowronski agree that Crawford is still a few more fights away from legitimate contention. The talent is there, they believe, but the experience and confidence of a world class fighter still must be developed.
Says Skowronski: "When I think of world class fighters, I'm thinking of [Shane] Mosley and [Floyd] Mayweather and those guys. He just doesn't have the confidence that they have. I'd love to see him win a small title and fight a Delvin Rodriguez or Mike Jones. I'm thinking of Mosley and Mayweather and those guys. We're just waiting on his confidence to match his physical attributes."
"I think three good fights and he could be a title contender," Holt says. "It starts with your mentality. Once you get your mind right and he gets that experience, he can be in title contention by the end of 2010."
With five children aged between two and eight and a fiance' waiting for a wedding date, Crawford has a lot on his shoulders heading into a pivotal fight in his career.
"Every opponent is taking food out my kids' mouths. I'm living in an apartment; I need to get a house with a white picket fence. I'm getting older and it's do or die.
"I ain't gonna be putting on no spectacular boxing show. You're going to see a totally new Henry Crawford."
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .