I want to be careful about the way I phrase this, but either way I'll probably wind up causing someone some level of anxiety attack. So I'll just put it as plainly as I can, I guess: Terence Crawford can fight. There's no doubt about that. But don't buy the hype that he's a superstar in the making just yet.
I mean, look, you can if you want to. It's fun to dream big on fighters. It makes following them more fun. It also makes their inevitable weaknesses and letdowns more pronounced, though, earning them a greater criticism than they may have really earned.
What got me thinking along these lines was listening to HBO's top salesman, Max Kellerman, declaring Crawford (24-0, 17 KO) a star in the making, with star qualities. Star this, star that. HBO has done this for years. Showtime has done it, too. Media has done it. Promoters do it. Fans do it. In a sport desperately searching for fighters to cross over with mainstream appeal, the hunt is always on for the next star.
At one point, it was thought by many that last night's loser Yuriorkis Gamboa (23-1, 16 KO) could have been a crossover star. He doesn't speak English, he didn't fight in glamour divisions, and he had no built-in fan base to appeal to, being a Cuban defector. But such was Gamboa's incredible skill -- speed, power, schooling, the works -- that there was some belief that he might been that star.
He's not. He never was. He never even came close. And that's not because Gamboa can't fight. It's just that when trying to figure out who will be a big star, it's a complete shot in the dark. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have been the biggest stars in boxing for the last five years. At one time, Mayweather was deemed a guy who would never be a big star, because his ultra-scientific style was just too dull. Pacquiao, a Filipino former flyweight, has been an even more remarkable revelation as an attraction, and makes the case that any fighter, with the right opportunities that he can take advantage of, can be the mega-super-duper star fighter in this new, more global market.
Mayweather is 37. Pacquiao is 35. They're both still great fighters, but without question are on their way out within the next five years, maybe less. (Maybe a lot less, depending on what can happen in any given fight.) That means that promoters have been madly looking to crown new stars, new would-be pay-per-view attractions. They need those money fighters. They need a breakthrough. They need them because without them, this is an even more marginalized sport than it already is.
Adrien Broner springs to mind. He was a "star" creation of HBO, then of Showtime, pushed to the moon via his connections with the ultra powerful adviser Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions. Another Floyd Mayweather, supposedly. Instead, he has proven that while he's gleaned a lot the personality ticks of the "Money" Mayweather persona, to the point that it seems almost obsessive, he is no Floyd Mayweather in the ring.
And as much as you might think that characters sell the tickets, and that attention, good or bad, is what brings the casual eyeballs to the sport, I firmly believe that the results have to be there in the ring first. That comes before everything. You have to truly have the goods. That's the foundation for everything else. Floyd Mayweather was a pound-for-pound talent by the time he was 21, and he spent about a decade proving himself in the ring before the mega-star status came his way via a win over Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Manny Pacquiao worked for years as an undercard fighter who kept beating top guys. His first real seller as a pay-per-view headliner didn't come until 2008, five years after he whipped Marco Antonio Barrera on HBO.
What I'm saying is, one good win does not create a star. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a very gradual process, particularly if you're a 26-year-old fighter from Omaha, Nebraska, fighting in the lightweight division, whose best wins are over Ricky Burns and Yuriorkis Gamboa. Those are very good wins, and Crawford is a very good fighter. That's what we know. Is he great? He has the potential. That's what what we know. That's all we know.
But will he be an actual star? That's even further off, and it might take years if it ever happens at all. Networks and promoters want to create these stars, but it's doesn't always work that way. Sure, De La Hoya and Mike Tyson were somewhat manufactured stars, and great ones at that, but for every De La Hoya, there's a Mayweather. For every Tyson, a Pacquiao. And Crawford, if he's going to be that sort of game-changing player, seems a lot more in the Mayweather or Pacquiao mold of potential superstardom than the "Golden Boy" Oscar or fearsome heavyweight maniac Tyson line.
Here's the good news: Terence Crawford's got a big leg up. The way he outboxed Burns on the road in Glasgow, calmly handling his business, was impressive. Ricky's not the fighter he was a couple years ago, but he's no bum, either. And last night's homecoming destruction of Gamboa was even more impressive -- Yuriorkis may be undersized at 135 pounds, but skills are skills, and he was winning that fight until Crawford made the necessary adjustments. Again, he showed his incredible poise and maturity. This is a fighter who does not rattle easily. He's not Broner. And though he doesn't seem like he's a puncher, he's got some pop, and he proved he can finish a good, gutsy opponent, too.
I'm highly impressed with Terence Crawford, so I don't want anyone to think that this is me trying to dampen the spirits around this fighter right now. This guy can go between the bells. He's got the tools, he's got the mentality, and he's a likable fighter who has simply fought thus far in his career. No talk, no flash, no bullshit -- he's a professional fighter, emphasis on professional. These are all good things, and they indicate that even if Crawford's not yet truly a star, and even if it's worth laying back on putting that on him just yet, the indicators are mostly all lighting up right now.
But it's a long road. A lot of fighters have looked unbeatable, untouchable, invincible, and like they were headed for true greatness, only to flame out. Terence Crawford deserves the chance to grow as a fighter and as an attraction naturally, rather than having this desperate promoter/network notion of stardom shoved onto him. Stardom is earned (or you get it as a legacy, if you're Julio Cesar Chavez Jr). So let it be earned.