By Cliff Rold
A fight to unify all four major sanctioning body titles in a weight class is so rare that it’s only happened once since the WBO was born in the 1980s.
In 2004, the already undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins knocked out Oscar De La Hoya to become even more undisputed. He added the WBO strap to his WBC/WBA/IBF trifecta. He kept all four belts for one fight, losing to Jermain Taylor in 2005.
Taylor couldn’t keep all the belts together long enough for the Hopkins rematch.
The winner on Saturday (ESPN, 10 PM EST/7 PM PST) will be the first male fighter since Taylor to hold all four belts simultaneously and they may not do it long. In another era, the possibility of four mandatories in a calendar year might be feasible.
This isn’t another era.
It won’t matter. Entering the fight, Terence Crawford is already perceived in many circles as the rightful champion at Jr. welterweight. Whoever exits the ring with their hand raised will have eliminated any doubt.
In this division, there will truly be only one champion.
Let’s go to the report card.
Title: Lineal/TBRB/Ring/WBC World Jr. Welterweight (2016-Present, 2 Defenses); WBO light welterweight (2015-Present, 5 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring lightweight (2014-15)
Weight: 140 lbs.
Hails from: Omaha, Nebraska
Record: 31-0, 22 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 6 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Ricky Burns UD12; Yuriorkis Gamboa TKO9; Viktor Postol UD12
Title: IBF light welterweight (2016-Present, 1 Defense); WBA super lightweight (2017-Present, 1st Attempted Defense); IBO super lightweight (2016-2017, 1 Defense).
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’10 ½
Weight: 139 lbs.
Hails from: Windhoek, Namibia
Record: 22-0, 11 KO?
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Eduard Troyanovsky KO1; Ricky Burns UD12
Pre-Fight: Speed – Crawford A; Indongo B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Crawford B+; Indongo B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Crawford A-; Indongo B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Crawford A; Indongo A
Indongo’s path to this fight is a testament to striking when the iron is hot and having the character to embrace a moment. Saturday he goes on the road to the other man’s home turf for the third straight fight. Each of the last two times, he left with a belt. If he wins this weekend, the only belts left will have to come in another division.
How can Indongo pull off his third big road win in a row? For the Namibian, it will start with using his physical strengths. He has rare height and length for his class and uses them well. His jab is snappy, he works it smartly to the head and body, and it says here his grade may be too low for speed. Crawford appears just a hair quicker, and more fluid in motion, but if Indongo finds his rhythm it might not matter.
Indongo’s jab could wreak havoc on the shorter man if Crawford struggles to get past it early. The sometimes over extended, and sometimes arching, left hand of Indongo could give Crawford countering opportunities. Another avenue to will come by way of body attack. Crawford is an excellent body puncher. It’s one element of a fighter who isn’t just crafty.
Crawford comes across as downright mean sometimes.
There is a chip on his shoulder. Inside the ring, it’s an endearing trait.
He fought Felix Diaz in his last fight almost exclusively southpaw just because he could.
And he whupped Diaz good.
In Indongo he faces a southpaw again and Crawford’s ability to fight from any stance could help to keep Indongo off balance. While Indongo is a feel good story heading in, Crawford is a sizable step up from the last two champions he’s faced in Troyanovsky and Burns.
So far, both men have shown solid beards and neither has been shy when the lights got brighter. Crawford performs as well at home as he does anywhere else and Indongo’s two biggest wins came on the road. In terms of intangibles, what we know about both men so far is strongly positive.
Also, so far, the man we know more about is Crawford. It’s hard not to have some small voice in the back of the head almost pulling for Indongo. This guy has gone from Russia, to Glasgow, and now to Nebraska in three straight fights. If he wins this one, it’s one of the best stories in boxing in the last few years.
It’s just hard to see how he writes that last chapter. Indongo does a lot of things well. He doesn’t appear to do as many things well as Crawford. Crawford can fight going in any direction and appears the more dangerous puncher on a consistent basis. One can envision a scenario where Indongo finds the right range, keeps Crawford pinned down, and fights tall for enough rounds to win the fight.
The more likely outcome is Crawford solves the height and reach and begins to time a more predictable attack from his opponent. The pick is Crawford.
Report Card Picks 2017: 26-12
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]