It’s a slam dunk. Or at least I thought it was.
When word began circulating last week that Terence Crawford was in deep negotiation for a late-spring fight with Manny Pacquiao in Dubai, my initial reaction was that the Filipino was in for a beating.
After all, Crawford is taller and longer, closer to his prime, hungrier for career-defining recognition, and, when it comes to the crop at welterweight – the baddest man on the 147-pound planet.
And truth told, I didn’t think I’d be alone in that belief.
Sentiment aside, and with all due respect to the most prodigious ladder-climber in ring history, it was hard for me to fathom too many non-relatives giving Pacquiao anything beyond a lip-service chance.
But when I made my journalistic rounds to solicit opinions, the decision was not unanimous.
In fact, the respondent with the most between-ropes street cred thinks it’s anything but a sure thing.
“No, I disagree,” said Ray Mancini, a former WBA titleholder at lightweight who doubled as one of boxing’s biggest attractions in the early 1980s. “Pac Man is an anomaly, a freak of nature. Crawford’s a very talented fighter and can do a lot of things, but nothing that Manny hasn’t seen.
“Not sure that you can say the same about Crawford. He’s never fought anyone like Manny. Crawford’s strong but not stronger than Thurman and Manny handled him just fine. I know that Crawford’s a different style and a better all-around fighter than Thurman but again, not as dangerous a puncher.”
Indeed, Pacquiao, now 42, was a mere 40 when he took the measure of a then-unbeaten Keith Thurman – also taller and longer, but to less of a degree than Crawford – in earning a 12-round decision when they met in pre-pandemic Las Vegas nearly two full years ago.
Thurman was a month shy of 10 years younger than Pacquiao.
Crawford, incidentally, is 14 months older than Thurman. So Mancini’s not crazy.
“Not the fighter he once was because of the natural progression of age but still good enough to beat most,” he said. “Remember, he was a pound-for-pound guy for two decades and though he ain't the same, tell me what world-beater has Crawford beaten? That’s no knock on Crawford. He’s top three pound-for-pound but his opposition ain't in the same league.
“Manny has defied the odds before. I think that Crawford sits back a little too much. Just a slight edge because of where he’s at at this point in his career, but the resume of opposition that he’s faced.”
He makes a worthwhile case. I can’t argue the validity of his opinion.
But it doesn’t change my expectations.
And it turns out a few pretty smart guys go my way, too.
Former HBO broadcasting stalwart Jim Lampley, who called several of Pacquiao and Crawford’s fights on the premium cable giant, sees the prospective match as a one-sided demolition in favor of the fighter whose approach he labeled “clever, productive arrogance.”
“Current Pac vs. current Crawford? Egregious mismatch,” he said.
“Crawford could beat him from either stance, especially left-handed. Pacquaio at peak – vs. Barrera in San Antonio (in 2003) – would be a logical favorite. But that was decades ago. Spence is only real candidate under 160 unless I am brain dead on someone. That fight should happen but Al Haymon is reluctant. Crawford has a mean streak which opponents find intimidating, more than a little.”
Making it a split decision in Crawford’s and my favor was Randy Gordon, whose lengthy resume includes a stint as editor at Ring Magazine, chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and host – along with two-time heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney – of “At The Fights” on Sirius/XM.
“Manny is an all-time, first-ballot Hall of Famer. They should open a special wing for Pacquiao,” he said. “But you can fight Father Time only for so long. It's hard to visualize Pac Man beating both Father Time and Terence Crawford on the same night.”
Sorry Manny, I hope we can still be friends.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior bantamweight title – Uncasville, Connecticut
Jerwin Ancajas (champion/No. 5 Ring) vs. Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (No. 3 IBF/Unranked Ring)
Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KO): Ninth title defense; Stoppage wins in six of nine career title bouts (8-0-1, 6 KO)
Rodriguez (22-1, 16 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Mexico
Fitzbitz says: The “Pretty Boy” seems at or at least near his competitive prime and shouldn’t have a huge amount of trouble with a guy who’s never had success on a championship level. Ancajas in 9 (95/5)
Vacant WBO light heavyweight title – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Joe Smith Jr. (No. 1 WBO/No. 4 Ring) vs. Maxim Vlasov (No. 2 WBO/Unranked Ring)
Smith (26-3, 21 KO): Second title fight; Lost shot at WBA title in 2019 (UD 12)
Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO): First title fight; Three straight wins since return to light heavy (3-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Russian is a big guy with a lot of experience and he’s unbeaten since coming back down in weight. But I like Smith. I’m rooting for him. And that’s enough. Smith in 8 (75/25)
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Akhmadaliev, Herring)
2021 picks record: 10-2 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,166-377 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.