Terence Crawford

Bud Crawford takes a swing at Jose Benavidez Jr. after Benavidez pushed him while they were posing for photos after the weigh-in.

During his dominant run to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings, WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford has remained steadfast in his reluctance to look past the fight in front of him.

While those in the boxing community constantly ask him about a potential unification bout with IBF champion Errol Spence, the unbeaten Omahan has remained fixated on challenger Jose Benavidez Jr.

Crawford (33-0, 24 knockouts) is set to defend his 147-pound title for the first time Saturday when he meets the unbeaten Benavidez (27-0, 18 KOs) at the CHI Health Center in a bout televised on ESPN.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and that’s winning the fights and keep continuing to look spectacular each and every fight,” the champ said. “Everything else will fall in place. (Spence talk) is all part of the game, but I’m not worried about that. They do their thing and I’ll do mine come Saturday.”

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Crawford wouldn’t have been able to divert his attention from Benavidez even if he had wanted to. He and the brash boxer from Phoenix exchanged words at an event in Corpus Christi, Texas, earlier this year, fought on the same card in Las Vegas this summer and have jawed during this prefight buildup.

Fight week in Omaha has been filled with animosity, which peaked at Friday’s weigh-in. After both fighters easily made the 147-pound limit, Benavidez shoved Crawford as the two went to pose for the traditional faceoff. The champion retaliated with a right hook that whizzed before the challenger’s face.

Benavidez told ESPN immediately after that he believes he’s gotten inside of Crawford’s head.

“I hope he swings faster than he swung today because I seen that punch coming from a mile away,” Benavidez said. “And I hope he puts more power in that, too, because that was a bitch punch he threw.”

Benavidez has exuded confidence throughout the week, even though he’s about to square off against a fighter many believe is the best in the world regardless of weight class. Crawford has won world titles in three different weight divisions and has never truly been pushed in the late rounds of any fight to date.

The challenger believes that will change Saturday when the two Top Rank fighters face one another.

“I’ve been trying to fight him for three years now. The fight hasn’t happened,” he said. “Now it finally is happening. I’m excited. I’m ready. I’m ready to beat him. I’m going to beat him. That’s going to happen.”

Plenty of past Crawford foes, and their camps, have spoken as such then were dominated on fight night.

“All the camps that were talking, they all felt their guy was going to beat me and dethrone me,” he said.

None have even come close. But the unbeaten Benavidez believes he’ll change that, citing his pedigree and experience. The challenger comes from a boxing family. He’s trained by his father, Jose Sr., and his younger brother, David, won a world title at super middleweight last year. Jose Jr. was a National Golden Gloves champion at 16, signed with Top Rank as a teen and once claimed an interim title at 140.

Benavidez has sparred with former world champions Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan, Shane Mosley and Shawn Porter. He said on numerous occasions this week that he doesn’t believe that Crawford is better.

“First of all, everyone’s scared of him. I don’t know why the (expletive) everyone is scared of him. He’s a nobody. He hasn’t fought any big names,” Benavidez said. “He’s nothing special. I know what I have to do to win that fight and I’m going to win that fight. I’m bigger, I’m stronger, I’m faster and I’m younger.”

The challenger also believes he’s hungrier than the champion. While some fighters lose a bit of their edge once they reach their goal of winning a world title, few match Crawford’s competitive drive. The champion from Omaha carries a burning desire to win that extends well beyond the fight ring.

It’s the combination of that fighting spirit and a versatile boxing skill set that have carried Omaha’s first world champ to the pinnacle of his sport. Most view Crawford as one of the best fighters on the planet.

His pound-for-pound status is on the line every time he enters the ring. And the challenger knows that.

“This is going to be the hardest fight in his career,” Benavidez said. “I know he’s scared. I know he’s worried. I know what I’m going to bring to the table. I’m no easy fight for him. I’m a big underdog, but that puts no pressure on me at all. All the pressure is on him. If he loses, he’s the one that’s going down.

“I’m going to take his belt. I’m going to take his pound-for-pound. And I’m going to do it in his city.”

Benavidez arrived in Omaha three weeks ahead of the fight. Told he would never fight again by a doctor after he took a gunshot to the leg in 2016, the challenger now has a chance to make history. Motivated by doubters, Benavidez fought eight months after being told it would take two years to walk normally.

“If you tell me something, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m going to do it.”

Crawford operates much the same way, using anything he can as motivation. Benavidez has provided plenty for him. And the champ from Omaha said he’s also looking to impress in his second fight at 147.

“I’m always pumped to go out there and do my job,” he said. “Come fight night, I’m going to make my adjustments. Anything I’ve got to take away or (that) I’ve got to do, I’m going to do to get the job done.”

Saturday’s Bout Sheet

Terence Crawford (33-0) vs. Jose Benavidez Jr. (27-0), 12 rounds, for Crawford’s WBO welterweight title

Shakur Stevenson (8-0) vs. Viorel Simion (21-2), 10 rounds, super featherweight

Carlos Adames (14-0) vs. Josh Conley (14-2-1), 10 rounds, for NABF super welterweight title

Steven Nelson (11-0) vs. Oscar Riojas (17-10-1), 8 or 6 rounds, light heavyweight

Mikaela Mayer (7-0) vs. Vanessa Bradford (4-0-2), 8 rounds, for NABF junior lightweight title

Mike Alvarado (39-4) vs. Robbie Cannon (16-13-3), 10 or 8 rounds, welterweight

Ismail Muwendo (19-1) vs. Andre Wilson (15-11), 8 or 6 rounds, lightweight

Jose Valenzuela (1-0) vs. Hugo Rodriguez (1-0), 4 rounds, super featherweight

Keeshawn Williams (3-0-1) vs. Ramel Snegur (2-2-1), 4 rounds, welterweight

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