Elite fighters look different from good ones when they’re in action. They have a glow.

WBO 140-pound champion Terence Crawford has a glow. BoxNation subscribers had the opportunity to witness him in the ring on 27 February when he dismantled Hank Lundy in five rounds. But they might not be aware of how unlikely Crawford’s rise has been.

Terence Crawford

Crawford comes from Nebraska. That’s a largely-rural state in the heartland of America better known for cornfields and meat slaughterhouses than boxing.

Max Baer was born in Nebraska in 1909 but moved to California at an early age. That’s it for Nebraska’s previous boxing royalty.

Bob Boozer is the only person born in Nebraska to have averaged more than 5.4 points per game over the course of a National Basketball Association career. Boozer was born in 1937.

Nebraska born Major League Baseball players include Sam Crawford (1880), Grover Alexander (1887), Richie Ashburn (1927), Bob Gibson (1935), and Wade Boggs (1958). That’s five Hall of Famers since professional baseball was inaugurated 140 years ago.

Malcolm X, Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda, and Warren Buffet round out the list of the most famous Nebraska-born notables. Of that group, only Buffet chose to spend his adult years in the Cornhusker State.

“In the amateurs,” Terence Crawford notes, “people would look at where I was from and say, ‘Nebraska. That’s an easy win.’”

Crawford started boxing when he was seven. “I was always the littlest guy with the biggest heart,” he says. “I never liked school. I was on the streets a lot. I got into trouble. I can’t say where I’d be now without boxing.”

Terence turned pro on 14 March 2008, and, after four consecutive wins, found more trouble. As recounted by Steve Lillis:

“Crawford’s life changed in September 2008 after a wild day that started when he was attacked by bouncers with Mace spray and a night stick after trouble at a party. He had rowed with his mother earlier because he should have been in the gym, so didn't bother going home and went to play the dice game that almost cost him his life. While Crawford sat in a car with his loot, a gunman fired the bullet that hit him in the head behind his right ear.”

“That's when I sat down and just thought about life,” Crawford told Lillis. “You're supposed to be in the house getting ready for a fight, and you're out shooting dice and getting shot. You hang with those types of people, that's what happens. The only reason that [the bullet] didn't go through my skull was because the window slowed it down. Ever since then, I've got a purpose. I didn't want my son growing up with his dad in jail, dead, or him seeing me do negative things. I just stopped everything to be a better role model for my son."

“Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people,” Crawford says today. “I was doing stupid things where I shouldn’t have been when I should have been home sleeping. But it taught me a lesson. I look on life now like I don’t take anything for granted.”

On 1 March 2014, Crawford journeyed to Scotland and captured the WBO lightweight crown with a twelve-round decision over Ricky Burns. Next came a star-making performance in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska: a ninth-round stoppage of Yuriorkis Gamboa. Victories over Raymundo Beltran (a workmanlike decision), Thomas Dulorme (KO 6 for the WBO 140-pound title), and Dierry Jean (KO 10) followed. That left the 28-year-old Crawford with a 27-and-0 (19 KOs) record.

 

No less an authority than Frank Warren recently called Crawford “the most talented of the American boxers now that Floyd Mayweather Jr claims to have retired” and added, “Crawford is a slick, clinically-punching fighter much in the mould of the early Mayweather but without the egotistical baggage. He is also more exciting, with fast switch-hitting hands and well-honed technique.”

On a personal level, Crawford has a likeable manner, answers questions in a direct thoughtful way, and seems comfortable with who he is. He and his live-in girlfriend have had three children together and also live with her child from a previous relationship. Apart from boxing, his passion is fishing.

“I’m not into fancy things,” Terence says. “Me showing off money is making sure my family is okay and buying my mom a new car.”

Crawford-Lundy and was contested in The Theater (the small arena) at Madison Square Garden. Everyone knew Terence could sell out a venue in Omaha. The question was, what could he do in New York?

Lundy (26-5-1, 13 KOs) was a heavy underdog. The 32-year-old challenger had lost to Thomas Dulorme, Raymundo Beltran, Mauricio Herrera, Viktor Postol, and John Molina Jr. Equally telling, his only victory since May 2014 had been against Carlos Winston Velasquez (who’d lost 20 of his previous 32 fights). As earlier noted, Crawford had beaten both Dulorme and Beltran.

Crawford and Lundy engaged in a spirited verbal battle In the build-up to their encounter:

* Lundy: “I’m on your ass. This is real. It’s war. Fight night, I’m gonna break your will. I’m gonna beat your ass. It’s gonna be bad.”

* Crawford: “You’re always woofin’. ‘I’m gonna do this; I’m gonna do that.’ That’s talking, boy. You ain’t gonna do shit. We know about you. You can talk all you want. I’m for real. I’m gonna hit you in the mouth.”

* Lundy: “Everything I hit you with, you’re gonna feel my pain and struggle.”

* Crawford: “Hank Lundy is a big-mouthed guy that runs around saying everybody’s scared of him. He says he’s willing to die in the ring to beat me. That’s him getting hit in the head too much. I’m not willing to die in the ring. I got four young kids. So I’m going in and coming out alive with the victory.”

“Lundy isn’t an easy mark,” Brad Goodman (a matchmaker for Top Rank, which promoted the bout) said. “Lundy can fight. But Crawford can fight better.”

When fight night came, the arena was sold out. A vocal contingent of Crawford fans who’d flown from Nebraska to New York was in attendance.

Lundy was there to win. But so was Crawford.

Terence (as he often does) turned southpaw in the first minute of the bout. He’s a patient fighter, who takes his time breaking an opponent down. Once he’d adjusted to Lundy’s rhythm, it was just a matter of time.        

In round four, Lundy switched to a southpaw stance in a futile effort to blunt Crawford’s attack.        

Midway through round five, Crawford landed a hard straight left to the temple followed by a chopping left hand up top that staggered the challenger. A barrage of punches highlighted by a brutal right to the body and another straight left put Lundy on the canvas. He rose on unsteady legs and was pinned in a corner with punches raining down upon him when referee Steve Willis stopped the assault at the 2:09 mark.

 

Crawford is a very good fighter. Now he needs the inquisitors who will tell us whether or not he’s great. Terence thinks that, ultimately, the answer to that question will be in the affirmative.

“The boxing game is wide open,” Crawford says. “Mayweather, Pacquiao, Cotto; they’re all leaving. It’s time for us young fighters to take over the sport. I wouldn’t be in boxing if I didn’t believe I’m the best. I was that little kid who loved to fight. If I won the lottery, I’d still box. I can’t leave boxing until I finish what I’m building.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book - A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Anothyer Year in Boxing - was published by the University of Arkansas Press.