NEW YORK — Terence “Bud” Crawford firmly believes he’s the best fighter in the world.
As an unbeaten three-division champion who has never come close to losing a professional fight, the Omahan has as strong of a claim as anyone for the top spot in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
In order to remain a champion, Crawford needs only to win every fight. But to be considered the best boxer in the world, regardless of weight class, he also needs to do it impressively. Style points matter.
This is the burden for the WBO welterweight champion as he heads into his second title defense Saturday night against British star Amir “King” Khan at Madison Square Garden in a fight to be televised on ESPN pay-per-view.
Crawford’s only job is to leave the world’s most famous arena with a victory. But with nearly every boxing expert predicting the champion to knock out the challenger, winning may not be enough.
Most boxing experts have Crawford and Top Rank stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko, a unified lightweight champion, running neck and neck in the pound-for-pound race. They’re almost universally Nos. 1 and 2.
Lomachenko scored an impressive fourth-round stoppage against Britain’s Anthony Crolla just last week. Much of the discussion in boxing since has centered on whether Crawford can match Lomachenko’s feat.
He’s in with a more accomplished foe. Khan, who won an Olympic silver medal at age 17, is a former unified 140-pound champion and has been in the spotlight for nearly his entire professional career.
“I remember him when he was coming out of the Olympics, and everybody was high on him,” Team Crawford coach Red Spikes said. “When I watched him, I watched his hand speed. Man, this kid was fast. He was super-ultra fast. I was kind of expecting his pro career to be a little bit better than what it was.”
That’s pretty much true of everyone, Khan included. The Bolton, England, product has had a very nice pro career. He’s been in a number of big fights, won a pair of world titles at 140 pounds and made a lot of money. But he’s never fully reached the lofty expectations heaped on him as a young, talented boxer.
That’s the goal that Khan is still chasing at age 32. And he says a win over Crawford would get it.
“I’ve never really had the opportunity to fight for a pound-for-pound title or going up there against one of the top pound-for-pound fighters,” the challenger said. “I respect Crawford. I think he’s one of the top names in boxing. But this is a great opportunity for me. There’s only one thing left. Winning world titles, I’ve done. It’d be fun to be up there ranked as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.”
Khan is gifted on offense. He’s arguably got better overall boxing skills than anyone Crawford has faced. Yuriorkis Gamboa is likely the only one who could match his hand speed, and Khan is much bigger.
The British star has stopped former champions Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi, and he owns decision wins over former titlist Devon Alexander, Chris Algieri, Luis Collazo and Julio Diaz. Three of his losses have come by knockout, which is why those picking Crawford believe the fight won’t go all 12 rounds.
Crawford never goes into a fight looking for a KO. But he doesn’t let a wounded fighter off the hook.
Eight of his last nine title bouts have ended inside the distance, and he has KO’d his last five opponents.
“On paper, everybody is going to be one of the toughest opponents that I’ve had to date,” the 31-year-old Crawford said. “Khan’s got a great résumé. He’s a great fighter. He’s very fast. He boxes real well.”
Khan has been particularly successful against left-handed fighters in his career. Crawford is right-handed, but he has seemed to prefer fighting as a lefty since he became a world champion.
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The unbeaten Omahan, who has the uncanny ability to adapt within a bout, will be ready for anything. Trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre said Crawford is prepared to outbox Khan, which has yet to be done.
“The knowledge of Khan from the amateurs and the pros, I did my homework on the young cat,” McIntyre said. “It’s going to be challenging to try to nullify what he’s going to bring to the ring. I know he’s pretty fast, and I know he’s got fast feet. I know all that from watching him from the Olympics and all the way up until now. It’s a challenge to us to beat him. But I know one thing about Bud: He loves those challenges.”
That’s why Crawford turned down an easier fight with Collazo. He wanted something bigger, a name fighter who would garner the boxing world’s attention. Khan undoubtedly fits that bill.
The British star also walked away from another bout to take this one. And like Crawford, Khan enjoys challenges. It’s why he moved up in weight to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He strives to be great.
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing,” he said. “If I maybe wasn’t as ballsy, maybe I would have an unbeaten record or be champion. But I’m taking all these big risks because I want to be great.”
Photos: Terence 'Bud' Crawford's path to world champion
Over the last decade, Omaha native Terence "Bud" Crawford has developed into one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. Check out these pictures following Crawford from his time as an amateur to his current position as world champion.