By Jake Donovan
Terence Crawford still has to get through the first defense of his super lightweight title versus Dierry Jean this weekend, but talks are already surfacing of what’s next in store for the unbeaten rising star.
The reigning Fighter of the Year jumped off to a strong start in 2015, knocking out Thomas Dulorme in April following a successful blitzing of the lightweight division. However, a lack of notable fights and available TV dates resulted in his having to settle for just two fights on the year.
Still, he plans to go all in versus Jean in what serves as the third hometown appearance in his last four fights, as the two headline at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska (Saturday, HBO, 9:30 p.m. ET). Given his star potential, how Crawford (26-0, 18KOs) looks far exceeds simply maintaining his winning ways, as big plans are in store for 2016.
“First, he has to win on Saturday. But assuming all goes well, we have to get him a marquee fight,” Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum told BoxingScene.com of the plan to advance Crawford from unbeaten two-division champ to future boxing superstar. “(Yuriorkis) Gamboa was sort of on that level. But we need to start working towards that big marquee fight.
“A fight with Manny Pacquiao is that marquee fight.”
Even in the wake of his 12-round loss to Floyd Mayweather and a 3-3 mark over his past six starts, the wildly popular Filipino remains the most recognizable name in the sport today among boxers who plan to keep fighting. However, it won’t remain that way for much longer, as Pacquiao is already eyeing an exit from boxing to make a run as a Senator in the Philippines.
There exists a short list of names for who will serve as that potential final opponent. Crawford is on that list, and such a fight serves as a potential passing of the torch moment for Top Rank.
Of course, the unbeaten southpaw has to beat Pacquiao in order to achieve that mark. In fact, he has to win this weekend before entertaining such an idea. His showdown with Jean is a less daunting task on paper, but more so than the fight itself is the local support he gains.
The college football crazed region is once again rallying behind its one-man pro sports franchise, with a sold-out crowd expected for the third time in as many home games for Crawford.
It began with his 9th round knockout win over Yuriorkis Gamboa last June, selling out the CenturyLink Center for the first title fight in Omaha in more than 40 years, and the first time ever that HBO televised a boxing event live from Nebraska. His subsequent performance proved it wasn’t too much of a good thing, as the very same venue was sold out beyond capacity for his 12-round win over Raymundo Beltran last November.
Certain fighters are bred for stardom. Arum has seen it all through 50 years in the game, and knows what he has in his latest potential superstar, which makes a Pacquiao-Crawford matchup as the fight to sell.
“I saw it with Donald Curry in Ft. Worth, with Marvelous Marvin Hagler in New England, with Ray Mancini in Youngstown, Ohio,” Arum said of past stars whose local fans helped initiate the transition from great fighters to must-see attractions. “Terence Crawford has made that happen in Nebraska.
“When the day comes where he goes to Las Vegas for a big fight, you're damn well sure that 4,000 fans will follow him to see him fight there.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox