By Jake Donovan
OMAHA, Neb.--As far as homecomings, Terence Crawford couldn't have delivered a better performance in his 10-round destruction of Dierry Jean at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
As far as the unbeaten super lightweight champion pleading his case for the biggest fight of his career, his team couldn't have asked for a better audition than what came of the HBO-televised headliner.
Few boxers will dare disrespect an opponent by looking past him toward the opportunity waiting down the road. All through fight week, Crawford's name was mentioned as one of a small list of boxers who will land in the opposite corner for the final fight of Manny Pacquiao's career.
Included on that list for such a fight is the winner of the November 7 welterweight clash between Timothy Bradley and Brandon Rios. However, both guys have already faced Pacquiao - Bradley with a controversial win and a split decision loss, Rios with a landslide defeat. With that, the winner would have to deliver a mind-blowingly spectacular performance in order to garner consideration.
That was before Crawford stepped into the ring on Saturday, visually pleading his case for a major fight right out the gate in 2016.
"It was just perfect," noted Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum of Crawford's latest ring achievement. "He showed a lot of skill, a lot of smarts and a lot of patience. It showed that a fight with Pacquiao would be a hellacious type of fight."
The bout was just Crawford's second of the year, a bit of a letdown considering the Fighter of the Year-level campaign he enjoyed in 2014. The unbeaten fighting pride of Omaha ran the tables in the lightweight division before moving up in weight earlier this year.
Saturday's bout with Jean was just his second of 2015, coming six months after tearing through Thomas Dulorme in six one-sided rounds.
If all goes as planned - at least the way it was told at the tail end of fight week and repeated after his performance - then it could be another 5-6 months before his next fight.
Of course, it could be well worth the wait if it turns out to be a career-defining showdown with one of the most iconic fighters of this generation.
"If that's the fight presents itself, then I'm pretty sure it will be properly handled by my promoter and my managers (Cameron Dunkin and Bryan McIntyre) acting in my best interest," Crawford (27-0, 19KOs) told BoxingScene.com of such an event. "We'll see what happens, but whenever and wherever it needs to take place is fine."
The beauty of the perceived passing of the torch fight is that Crawford might not have to jump through hoops in order to land the opportunity of a lifetime.
"If that fight happens, it will probably be at 140," Arum told BoxingScene.com, emphasizing that Crawford's title would be at stake. "Manny is coming in at 144 lbs. but he has to eat five meals a day in order to keep his weight up. He's most comfortable at 140, so I have to imagine it will be for Terence's title."
Crawford was making the first defense of his super lightweight title which he acquired in the aforementioned win over Dulorme earlier this year. Given his frame, his ceiling appears to be at welterweight, but is comfortable making 140 lbs. and - barring whatever terms come in negotiating a Pacquiao showdown - doesn't have any other desire to leave the division anytime soon.
"I'm a lot more comfortable at this weight," Crawford told BoxingScene.com both prior to the weigh-in earlier in the weigh-in and again after the fight. "I'm not cutting muscle like I was at lightweight. I can eat normal, train to fight and not to make weight. I'm a lot stronger at this weight and I feel it in my punches."
Jean felt it in Crawford’s punches all night, beginning with a knockdown towards the end of round one. Just when it seemed the local favorite was content to box, something clicked. Perhaps it was the charge that came from the 11,020 in attendance – his third consecutive sellout in as many fights at CenturyLink. Maybe it was the fact that Jean and his team called Crawford by name and insisted that the title was heading back to Canada.
Whatever the case, Crawford immediately shifted from boxer to big game hunter. A sharp right jab was immediately followed by a straight left hand to put Jean down for an eight count.
Two more knockdowns would come – late in round nine, and then the fight-ending sequence in round 10 as Jean was trapped along the ropes before referee Tony Weeks halted the contest without issuing a count.
In between came a lot of leather from Crawford, most of which was thrown with mean intentions – in part because he had something to prove in selling himself as a leading candidate for the biggest fight to be made in the first quarter of 2016.
There was also the part of issuing a harsh lesson in being careful what you wish for.
“Them two guys over there, they called me out twice, asking for this fight.” Crawford noted to HBO’s Max Kellerman, looking at Jean and manager Camille Estephan before asking a question of his own.
“Did you get what you was looking for?”
Crawford most certainly did, and now it’s up to his team to get what he needs, whether he’s looking for it or not. The undefeated two-division champ is a man of few words when it comes to his own boxing career and is never the type to call out another fighter. In fact, he won’t even entertain the idea of ever facing fellow two-division champ and reigning welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr., simply because they are friends through the sport that no dollar amount can compromise.
What he does want is continue to strive to be the very best, perhaps for himself but mainly for those who so strongly believe in what he can achieve. As highlighted throughout fight week, Crawford’s rise to fame is only partially attributable to what he’s accomplished in the ring. Make no mistake, it’s what brings a packed house to CenturyLink whenever he fights, and what makes the front page of the sports section in the local papers the following morning.
But it’s his contributions to his community and society at large that has made him so endearing. In those mediums – be it restoring gym space to provide a way of life off the streets for the youth in the North Omaha area in which he was raised, or partaking in mission trips to Africa in search of better water solutions for impoverished areas – the boxer will passionately engage.
As for the boxing side, he’s fine in leaving his career in the hands of those whom he trusts the most. That team is now anxious to turn one of the sport’s top rising talents into one of its biggest attractions.
“Look, the people here absolutely love him, and what’s not to love,” notes Arum. “These are the kids I want. We have it with Jose Ramirez who does unbelievable work with fighting to bring water back to the California Central Valley. We have it with Felix Verdejo, who has already grown into a huge icon with the Puerto Rican fans.
“We have it with this kid, an unbelievable fighter who grows more in stature every time he comes here. No, we can’t do a fight like Pacquiao here. But we can make it as attractive as possible for the great fans (in Omaha) - and we believe 4,000 will make the trip – for a big event in Las Vegas.”
That’s IF Pacquiao chooses Crawford for what the wildly popular Filipino insists will be the final fight of his Hall of Fame career.
Pacquiao’s suggested final fight could happen anywhere from early March to no later than April 9, as noted in a breaking story from USA Today’s Mike Coppinger prior to fight night. The hard deadline is to allow the aspiring politician, who already holds a congressional seat, to make a serious run for a Senate seat in the Philippines. Holding such a position means giving up anything else you do for a living, which of course for Pacquiao means no more boxing.
Whether it’s Crawford, Amir Khan or the winner of Bradley-Rios, someone will have to be in the corner for the final fight of his career. Who better than the guy who among that bunch has the best shot at serving as the brightest star of the future?
“It would be one hell of a fight,” Arum points out. “The next step would be for Manny to review the tapes that we plan to send to his adviser Michael Koncz. We also have to wait for the results on November 7. Then we will regroup and review all the results after that.
“But if you’re asking me… Manny said he wants to fight the best guy out there. We all saw (Saturday night) who’s that guy.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox