Tonight on HBO World Championship Boxing, Terence Crawford headlines in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, against Ray Beltran, with Crawford defending the WBO lightweight championship. The show will also have a replay of last week's Pacquiao-Algieri slaughter, but let's talk about the live fights that might not suck and won't cost you $70 to watch.
1. Terence Crawford may be an emerging P4P contender
Crawford (24-0, 17 KO) has looked pretty terrific since coming onto the worldwide scene with wins over Breidis Prescott, Alejandro Sanabria, Andrey Klimov, Ricky Burns, and most recently, Yuriorkis Gamboa. The 27-year-old lightweight's early "this guy has a ton of talent" hype was met with some skepticism for a few reasons:
- We hear this all the time.
- He's from Omaha, Nebraska, not exactly a boxing mecca, and not where you expect to find top-level fighters. This is kind of stupid, but boxing people tend to think this way, and partly it's natural. You hear "Philly prospect" and you think of a certain style, or "NY prospect," or "SoCal prospect," or "Bay Area prospect," or whatever. You hear "Omaha prospect" and you probably picture some yokel punching bags of grain.
- He didn't seem very exciting at first.
Crawford can box, but he's got some power, too, and as he grows more confident in his ability against better opponents, he's shown a willingness to take some risks, because to him, they may not really seem like risks. He seems to believe (or know) what he can land before he needs to get out of the way, which he can capably do. The 27-year-old Crawford is a very, very promising American talent. Whether or not he has "superstar potential" is kind of irrelevant. That will happen or it won't. All Crawford can control is winning.
2. Ray Beltran is actually sort of, kind of a real-life Rocky
We hear all the time about "real life Rocky" fighters, most recently the tag being rather absurdly applied to Chris Algieri. In August, we poked fun at Garcia-Salka with the idea. But Ray Beltran (29-6-1, 17 KO) actually kind of fits the mold.
No, he wasn't just fighting Spider Rico to an ugly no-contest in a stinky basement, but Beltran wasn't really supposed to get here. He's never been pushed as a contender, he just sort of fought his way to this level, you know, like someone you'd have to make up, since this is not the standard of actual real life boxing.
Beltran, 33, has six losses and a draw. The draw with Burns last year was complete garbage; Beltran was robbed of what should have been a WBO-title winning victory on the road in Scotland. Of his losses, four came by decision, all of them questionable. Two split decision losses: one in 1999, in Beltran's third pro fight, and one in 2005. Two UD-10 losses against Sharif Bogere and Luis Ramos Jr, prospects who were meant to be tested against him (and they were), but not meant to lose (and they didn't). Both of those fights were very debatable. Beltran has a good record, but he's arguably better than the record, too.
Here's what else we know: Beltran is rough, he has some power, and he'll make things rough and ugly if he has to do so. He's not afraid to use his head or anything else if he feels that might turn the tide in his favor. This is no pushover. And he's coming for a title belt he thinks is rightfully his. He's right, too. It really is, with nothing against Crawford.
3. The fight is for the LINEAL!!! championship
It's a vacant lineal championship, but a LINEAL!!! championship! Great googly moogly, you guys! LINEAL!!!
Crawford will be leaving the lightweight division after this fight either way, so if he wins, the LINEAL!!! championship will again go vacant. After that, to have a new LINEAL!!! champion, we'd need a fight between Omar Figueroa (#3 RING Magazine currently) and Richar Abril (#4). Of course, Figueroa also appears to be on his way out of the 135 pound class. So then we get to Abril vs Mickey Bey and you know what no
4. Psst! There's a pretty good co-feature, too!
Tonight's co-feature has flown under the radar, but it will feature a pair of unbeaten featherweights, as IBF champ Evgeny Gradovich (19-0, 9 KO) faces Jayson Velez (22-0, 16 KO) for the belt. Gradovich upset Billy Dib in March 2013 to win the title, and has since made successful defenses against Mauricio Munoz, Dib, and Alexander Miskirtchian, with all three fights taking place in Macau.
Velez, 26, is taking a pretty big step up in competition here. Though he's a good prospect, let's not sugarcoat this: BoxRec has him ranked 70th in the world at featherweight, or 18 spots lower than Rico Ramos. Now, that doesn't mean Velez can't fight, or that he has no chance at the upset here, but it is what it is, and it's worth making note of that, I think.
But I also believe that Gradovich, 28, is possibly a bit more limited than it may seem. Sure, he won a world title, but Dib was no world class fighter, and the two defenses against non-Dib opponents weren't exactly against top contenders, either. Velez has talent and power, and Gradovich is a good pressure fighter who doesn't seem to have a big punch. This could be a really good fight.
5. Facts about Omaha
Terence Crawford drew over 10,000 fans for his win over Yuriorkis Gamboa, necessitating a return to Omaha when the braintrust at Top Rank went, "Oh! People! Go figure!"
So here are some things about Omaha, Nebraska:
- It's the largest city in the state of Nebraska, with an estimated 2013 population of 434,353.
- The top employer in the city is the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
- Omaha has six sister cities: Branschweig, Germany; Naas, Ireland; Yantai, China; Xalapa, Mexico; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Shizuoka, Japan.
- A few of the many notable people from Omaha: Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, professional wrestlers Sting and Ted DiBiase, Warren Buffett, Wade Boggs, Henry and Peter Fonda, President Gerald Ford, Nick Nolte, tennis star Andy Roddick, football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, and former heavyweight champion Max Baer.
- The Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals AAA affiliate) have won PCL championships on seven occasions: 1969, 1970, 1978, 1990, 2011, 2013, and 2014, with AAA national championships in 2013 and 2014. They have formerly been known as the Omaha Royals and Omaha Golden Spikes.
- Moby Grape had a song called "Omaha."