By Jake Donovan, photos by Mikey Williams
His pair of sold-out shows at CenturyLink Center in 2014 was proof that Terence Crawford has what it takes to become a star in boxing.
This weekend’s showdown with Dierry Jean has shown that he has so much more to offer the world besides what he can do in the ring.
“Boxing won’t always be here,” recognizes Crawford (26-0, 18KOs) who has managed to add an incredible amount of layers to his career in the span of a single fight week. “What’s going on now… it’s so much more than boxing.”
It’s quite a statement coming from a boxer who has captured world titles in two weight classes, and is coming off of a career-best year in 2014, hailed by Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) as Fighter of the Year.
But that’s just who Terence Crawford has always been.
The story that has been repeatedly told – but that never gets old – is how he overcame a gunshot wound following a wild night gone horribly awry to become a one man pro sports franchise in college football-crazed Nebraska.
It’s a story he doesn’t mind retelling, as it’s a reminder of where he came from and what he has since become – a hero whose measure goes far beyond his undefeated record.
Make no mistake, Crawford’s meteoric rise to stardom in 2014 undoubtedly played a huge part in shining a positive light on his corner of the world. It also allowed him to reconnect with a past influence on his life, who now plays a huge role in what his future has in store.
Jamie Nollette was Crawford’s 4th grade teacher in Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha. Like Crawford to boxing, Nollette has always taken pride in representing more than her present occupation, even as valuable as a teacher can be to any given community.
Some 17 years after having him in her classroom, Nollette recognized the name and face following his homecoming win over Yuriorkis Gamboa last June. The fight marked the first defense of the lightweight crown he captured on the road in Glasgow, Scotland just three months prior. In bringing the title home to Omaha, Crawford provided the city with its first title fight in more than 40 years and for HBO, its first ever live boxing telecast from the city.
Seeing an old student make something of his life prompted Nollette – who also organizes missions through her “Pipeline Worldwide” non-profit organization - to seek him out through social media.
“I messaged him on Facebook and congratulated him on his win,” Nollette said of the simple exchange, from which she didn’t even know to expect a response. “I didn’t even know if he remembered me. He replied, “I remember you; come to my next fight.” I was going to be Africa at the time and let him know when I returned that I would take him to lunch.”
Instead, it turned out to be something that changed both of their lives. Crawford joined Nollette on a mission to Africa last August and then again earlier this summer. The purpose of her non-profit is to provide clean water for impoverished regions in Africa. It’s something that many claim to be familiar with, but a subject you can’t appreciate until experiencing firsthand how it affects the lives of others.
“They have so less but they got so much,” Crawford observed of the residents during his time in country. “We take things for granted like water, clothes, food, when we don’t have that. When you see how happy they (are), how good of (people they are), you just be like ‘Wow!’ If that was me, I couldn’t wake up as happy as they are.”
“I only knew a little bit about it, from what I’ve seen on TV. Once you are there, it’s a totally different scenery. You really get to see how beautiful it is, how people embrace what they’re fortunate enough to have.”
The relationship Crawford and Nollette enjoy isn’t limited to the occasional mission trip. The two are part of a local mission, to ensure the safety and well-being of the youth in Omaha.
Crawford and his head coach Brian “BoMac” McIntyre are co-owners of B& B Boxing Academy in Omaha. It’s served as headquarters for media workouts during fight week, but the center was the focal point during a fundraiser held on the eve of Crawford’s latest appearance on HBO’s World Championship Boxing series.
The modest charity event was held in a ballroom at Hilton Omaha, the hosting hotel for fight week. Crawford was made well aware by his team – including Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, whose Top Rank Inc. sponsored the session – that he needs to get his rest before Saturday’s main event.
Still, the reigning super middleweight champion remained on hand long enough to remind all of what was really at the forefront on this particular Friday evening – building a center to better the surrounding community.
The gym once shared space within a massive storage warehouse. Crawford and McIntyre bought out the remaining space, with needed renovations running north of $1 million from cleanup to showcase.
For the service it will provide, it’s worth every penny.
“We had to come up with not having the right things you need in the gym,” Crawford recalled of his early years as an amateur boxer. “It's a place to go to (stay) out of trouble or change your life. Everyone knows that North Omaha is not a normal place to grow up as a kid. There's a lot of violence, there's a lot of crime.
“We figured if you put something in North Omaha to attract the kids and save their lives, something as simple as a gym can be that outlet.”
Any required proof of what such a center means to its future occupants could be found at the entrance of Friday’s fundraisers. A group of youths eagerly passed out spiral-bound booklets that contained plans for the center, as well as the company’s mission statement and how to contribute to the cause.
The elevator summary of the gym is that of a “community-based athletic center that builds body, mind and character. Expert, caring coaches help members reach goals inside and outside the ring. Positive, structured activities teach confidence, discipline and healthy habits for a lifetime. Learn the winning edge at B&B, the home gym of world champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.”
A slogan appearing below the company logo perfectly encapsulates what Crawford and his team strives to achieve – build a gym; give youth a fighting chance. The fact that the message comes from the champion himself and not just his name being used to drive a project, is what really hits home.
“It represents a lot of opportunity,” Nollette says of the project. “Terence has a dream. I always said it’s impossible to lead if you don’t believe. Terence believes in what’s possible for Omaha. It’s bigger than the building. It’s what happens in the building that’s so special. It’s not just Terence, it’s his coaches and everyone he’s surrounded himself with determined to provide a better way of life for these kids around here.
“To have someone who’s come up from North Omaha is such a big deal. To have someone who’s been there done that and is from there, it’s a big deal to kids there. He’s an insider who has tremendous influence that (people from outside the area) can never claim to have. He’s bringing to people together. He’s also helping with the economy - there’s a number of things he’s doing to help Omaha.”
Far too often, those in the public spotlight are quick to soak in the glory, offering the occasional shout out to their hometown if only to lend the suggestion of never forgetting where you came from.
Crawford’s rise to fame has produced the exact opposite effect. With each big win – especially coming in front of a sold-out crowd at home – comes building intrigue towards the type of fights that could thrust him into mainstream superstardom. Already in discussion for 2016 is a potential superfight with future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.
Even if the passing of the torch fight never happens, Crawford’s future – with a win on Saturday of course – is burning bright. The manner in which he’s hailed by his community would have you think he could walk on water, yet he always remembers to allow his feet to touch the ground.
“I’m more humble and never taking anything for granted,” Crawford says of all that he’s experienced, touched by a world far beyond the one that has allowed him to inspire others.
For those who wish to get involved – via donations or any other way you wish to contribute, please mail to:
Goracke & Associates
Attn: B&B Boxing Academy
12110 Port Grace Blvd, Suite 100
LaVista, NE 68128
For inquires, contact [email protected]
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox