Mr Carter and Mr Crawford: Will the real Terence Crawford please stand up?

By Tris Dixon

THERE was a moment the day before Terence Crawford fought Errol Spence in July when everything seemed to fall into place. It was not at the final press conference, where the fighters nearly got into an altercation that almost spilled into war between rival factions from Omaha and New York, the respective fan bases of Crawford and Spence.

The standout moment happened when Crawford took to the stage for the weigh-in. Or, at least, it looked like Crawford. Master of ceremonies Jimmy Lennon had introduced him. It had to be him.

But the person in front of thousands at the T-Mobile in a sweltering, red-hot Las Vegas to witness the ceremonial weigh-in appeared different. Crawford bounded enthusiastically up the stairs to the stage. He swaggered; arms open wide, unable to control the grin that sprawled unreservedly across his face.

Crawford, and by now you could clearly see it was actually him, lip synced to Lil Wayne’s Mr Carter. He danced, gestured to the crowd and looked, on the eve of his greatest challenge, happier, more comfortable and more invested in his own story than at any point in his 40-fight career.

Because Crawford sparingly gives off such joyous vibes in public. If ever. He is a notoriously difficult interview. Several A4 sheets of questions, enough for a moderately deep dive, can be eviscerated with monosyllabic and disinterested answers in five-minutes flat.

Crawford is not trusting of others. He comes from a place where he knows who has his back, and if he doesn’t know you, or you have not proved it to him, you aren’t with him.

As he smeared Spence’s features across the gory Nevada ring a day later, he did so with a similar balletic gusto as to how he had bopped to Mr Carter. The pleasure was not from hurting another man, but proving to millions of others that he was every bit as good as he had always said he was.

But there are switches in Crawford’s mind, from dancer to fighter, from introvert to predator. They flicker. Linked by arteries of trauma, from his parents, drunk, arguing at their home on Larimore Street in North Omaha, from being broken down by a domineering mother who told him he’d amount to nothing and from suffering nightmares after an uncle was murdered when he was stabbed through the heart.

‘Bud’ built a resolve on the streets. He became, for want of a better phrase, bulletproof. His pain tolerance had been built from the beatings he took at home, and he seethed with a spite he would only be able to project onto others years later, not as a defenceless seven-year-old who still wanted to curl up and sleep next to his mother, despite the constant lack of approval and affection from her.

The malice eventually seeped out when he was expelled from five schools, but Crawford began to harness the aggression at the CW Boxing Club, rubbing shoulders with career criminals and gangsters.

But there was trouble. In 2008, early in his pro career, Crawford had been out in Omaha. There had been a fight with a bouncer, a dice game, he’d been sprayed with mace in the face by a cop and in the early hours of the morning, as Crawford sat in his car, the vehicle was hit by a hail of bullets. The windscreen changed the path of one, meaning it sliced through part of Crawford’s head rather than piercing the skull. Crawford drove himself to hospital.

Yet the surly disposition, the drama and the trauma were at odds to the extrovert cheerily jiving to Mr Carter. In moments like these, fighters can shrink under the lights or the glare can cause them to grow. Crawford had gone from the outsider who had been told to face the wall in boxing’s naughty corner – while the PBC welterweights faced one another – to larger-than-life character and main eventer. He might have had to join PBC to make it happen, having left previous promoters Top Rank, but it was happening.

For his part, Spence was poker faced. He went through the motions. He didn’t shrink. But he also did not welcome the moment as viscerally as Crawford. Crawford was dancing with destiny. Spence was merely a stagehand in the production.

Crawford and Spence (Al Bello/Getty Images)

It was not meant to be that way. Crawford-Spence was supposed to be this era’s Hearns-Leonard. Some hoped for Hagler-Hearns-style fireworks, too. Instead, Crawford meted out the whipping of Spence’s life, putting on such a glorious display that those who had salivated over the dream fight for so long felt the rematch clause was redundant small print.

But for those in Crawford’s inner-circle, none of this was new. None of this was a shock, and none of it was unchartered territory. Even as Crawford rapped on stage at the weigh-in, members of his team only saw what they had always seen, the real Terence Crawford. Not the person he allows the rest of the world to see.

A week later, she must have rewatched the weigh-in “about 1,000 times”.

“I was thinking why I enjoyed it so much,” Goldsticker recalled. “I was thinking, ‘This is the moment that he has been wanting his entire career and now he has it’. He knows how ready he is for it. He fought every best person who was available who would step in the ring with him. He became undisputed at 140. He was a champion at 135. He chased the Manny Pacquiao fight for many years before he chased an Errol Spence fight. Those big fights just wouldn’t happen for him, as much as he asked, begged and pleaded for them. At ‘47 it was a lot of politics and promotional differences, so not only is he not getting the fights he’s begging for but he’s also having people say he hasn’t fought anybody – which isn’t true. But it’s a combination of, ‘We won’t fight you to give you those big names on your resume’ and ‘we’re going to use that against you’. He refused to be denied during all of that, and there’s something magical and special about that.”

Goldsticker’s first assignment as part of Team Crawford was the 2017 fight with Felix Diaz. Crawford was in training camp in Colorado Springs, but they had known one another for years before Crawford let her in.

Goldsticker worked PR for USA boxing, so she knew Crawford from the amateurs. Then, when Crawford turned pro, she kept tabs on his progress. On an early visit to watch fighters training at the Fort Carson Military Base in Colorado Springs, she observed Crawford. For 45 relentless minutes, one of Crawford’s unheralded coaches, Esau Dieguez, took the prospect on the pads. There was nothing flash or fancy. There were no triple hooks, 20-punch combinations or anything else that might set TikTok alight. It was one punch, repeated over and over, until both were happy with the day’s work. Switch-hitting Crawford and padman Dieguez spent that entire time on the jab, from one stance.

Goldsticker watched, waiting for variation or deviation, but there was none.

“I remember just being kind of mesmerised by that, and the work ethic and the fundamentals… that they spent so much time just working on the jab,” she recalled.

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