Saturday night on ESPN (Nov. 14, 10 pm ET), Terence “Bud” Crawford will look to make a fourth successful defense of his WBO welterweight title, facing former IBF titlist Kell Brook in a matchup that, being honest, nobody was much asking for, but is simply as good as Top Rank could do right now.
More on that in a bit.
Crawford just turned 33 on Sept. 28. His attitude earlier this year was that he didn’t want to fight in Las Vegas inside the Top Rank “Bubble” at the MGM Grand, without fans, with a naturally reduced purse and all that.
But reality has set in for most that a full return to our old normal is not right around the bend; it’s not next week, not next month, it’s not in three months, and Crawford either had to fight under these conditions or not fight in 2020. And then who knows how much longer.
So the pound-for-pound standout from Omaha will glove it up against Brook, get a payday, hopefully in his view get a win, and then move on for something bigger in 2021, something maybe even with a live audience depending on when it comes and what advancements are made in the things that are far beyond his control or the control of anyone in boxing.
It’s sometimes easy to forget all we’ve seen Terence Crawford (36-0, 27 KO) do since he burst onto the big stages back in 2013, beating Breidis Prescott on an HBO show in Las Vegas. After two more wins on the network that year, he went to Scotland and took the WBO lightweight title from Ricky Burns, a very good fighter who made more than the most of his ability in his career, and always fought hard.
After 2014 title defenses against Yuriorkis Gamboa and Ray Beltran, Crawford jumped up to 140 in 2015 and beat Thomas Dulorme for the vacant WBO belt at that weight. He defended against Dierry Jean and Hank Lundy, then unified by taking the WBC title from Viktor Postol in 2016. Crawford defended both belts against John Molina Jr and Felix Diaz, then fully unified the division by knocking out Julius Indongo in the third round in Aug. 2017.
How to Watch Crawford vs Brook
Having no more to do at 140, it was time to move up again. After a 10-month layoff, Crawford beat Jeff Horn soundly to take the WBO welterweight title, and has made successful defenses against Jose Benavidez Jr, Amir Khan, and Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas.
But as much as Crawford has legitimately accomplished — titles in three divisions, undisputed at 140, top pound-for-pound contender for years now — he also has never had The Big Fight. He’s had high-level fights, but not The Big One. That’s not coming Saturday, either.
It may never come, though, if he loses, so Crawford should be expected to take this fight 100 percent as seriously as he takes every fight. While Bob Arum and Top Rank have been promising that the next one will be the big one for a while now, there are rumblings that Crawford could leave for bigger opportunities.
Crawford says he has just months left on his contract, and meaning nothing against Top Rank’s efforts to promote him as a key star for their brand, it’s honestly hard as an outsider to find a good reason he should stay instead of jumping over to PBC, where every other name welterweight plies their trade. Unless a bunch of guys plan to switch from PBC to Top Rank — they don’t — it’s going to continue being really hard for “Bud” to get a big fight at 147 pounds, and the talk of him moving up to 154 to fight Patrick Teixeira isn’t exactly going to send fans and media into a frenzy, either. And even if he did that, what then at 154? Because the division’s top names all fight for PBC. He’d just find himself in the same situation, except now under-sized.
Kell Brook’s a good fighter and has had a good career. Now 34, “The Special One” built his name on the regional level in the UK, winning the British welterweight title in 2008, when he stopped Barrie Jones in the seventh round. That was Brook’s 17th pro fight, and he’d defend the British strap against Kevin McIntyre, Stuart Elwell, Michael Lomax, and Michael Jennings — not exactly names most outside of the UK will remember.
After that, he started facing mid-level international fare, opponents like Philip Kotey, Lovemore N’dou, and Rafal Jackiewicz, beating all of them without trouble. Matthew Hatton was a good domestic name to add to his record in 2012, and his fight with Carson Jones four months later showed that Brook could get through a tough night, and the wins after — including a stoppage of Jones in a 2013 rematch — showed he could learn from a tough night.
After beating Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2013 via fourth round stoppage, which came 11 months after Senchenko had fully retired beloved British star Ricky Hatton, Brook was as ready as he was going to get. In Aug. 2014, he went to California to face Shawn Porter for the IBF welterweight title, and brought the red belt home, winning a decision over 12 rounds.
What followed was one of the weakest world title reigns in recent memory. Brook’s defenses against Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin, and Kevin Bizier all took place in the UK, were all one-sided wallopings, and none were against someone considered a serious contender at 147. Brook simply was not getting the fights you would think he wanted. There might be a belief that he was happy sort of treading water against mediocre world title opposition, but that should be dispelled by what he did next.
Brook took a massive gamble in the fall of 2016, going up to middleweight to challenge a destroyer. Gennadiy Golovkin was 35-0 at the time and not only was he unbeaten, but he was crushing his opponents. including UK middleweight standouts Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray. But Golovkin, too, was running into some problems getting the best opposition. He’d just demolished Dominic Wade inside of two rounds in Apr. 2016, a few weeks after Brook had done the same to Bizier in Sheffield.
Brook showed a lot of gumption just taking a fight with GGG, and showed his skill in the first four rounds. But Golovkin was just too big and too powerful. Brook’s corner threw the towel in the fifth round, their fighter having suffered a fractured right eye socket. Brook was even on two of three cards after four rounds, but it was physically just too much.
Eight-and-a-half months later, he dropped back down to 147 to face mandatory challenger Errol Spence Jr. Brook got to host the fight at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, but the young American was coming in very confident. Spence was seen as a real rising star at 147, and we’ve learned for sure that he definitely was, and many now consider him the top guy at the weight (it’s him or Crawford). Brook was competitive on the cards, but Spence was able to break him down, scoring an 11th round stoppage. Brook suffered another eye injury, this time on the other side of his face.
It was 10 months before we saw him again, and he returned as a junior middleweight. He trounced Siarhei Rabchanka in four minutes and 27 seconds, and then the focus was on a possible fight with Amir Khan, which likely would have had to take place back at 147. Brook came in at 150 for a Dec. 2018 fight with Michael Zerafa, and while he won clear and wide, he looked flat, lacking energy.
The Khan fight never came to pass. Instead, Khan used the final fight on a Matchroom deal to face Crawford, which became a whole ordeal. Brook sat out all of 2019 before returning in February of this year, where he out-classed Mark DeLuca and won a seventh round stoppage.
For months, Brook talked about his willingness to fight Crawford. The Khan fight still gnaws at Kell, it seems, but he also has accepted that it’s just not happening, at least not right now. If he can come to Las Vegas and pull an upset, or even just compete and not embarrass himself in the end, that sends a message to Khan.
That’s not to say that Brook is focused on impressing Amir Khan, but it’s a side benefit. This is the biggest fight Brook could get right now, same as it is for Crawford. So they’re doing it. You have to hope that Brook will be able to make 147, something he hasn’t done since May 2017 when he lost to Spence, and you have to hope he’ll make it comfortably enough to perform to the best of his ability.
Brook and Crawford are about the same age, Crawford with 36 fights on his record, Brook with 41. Crawford’s fought 204 pro rounds, Brook has fought 216. But Brook has almost certainly put more miles on his body; he’s had the tougher nights and some notable injuries, and while his lengthier layoffs can help in some respects, they can also hurt. Brook is listed an inch taller and has the naturally thicker frame, but Crawford has a 74-inch reach, a five-inch advantage on Brook, and style-wise, Crawford probably would always have been a tough ask for Kell, even when Kell was at his best.
The main prediction you’re going to see is Crawford should win easily, but Terence can sometimes start a little slow, feeling things out, and he can sometimes get clipped, too. If Brook (39-2, 27 KO) is in top condition, he does have the combination of skill and power that I don’t think Crawford has seen yet at 147 pounds. That may be a big “if,” though — three-and-a-half years is a long time since having made a specific weight if you’re trying to come back down to it. Saying the big “if” is in place, Brook may well be the most dangerous opponent Crawford has faced yet. Whether that says more about Brook or more about Crawford’s opposition is up to you.
Back in June, Golden Boy fighter Joshua Franco got a main event slot against Top Rank’s Andrew Moloney in “The Bubble” for an ESPN main event. The Aussie Moloney was the favorite, but Franco was able to grind out a solid decision victory, taking the WBA’s secondary “world” title at 115 pounds. It wasn’t a shocker, but it was an upset.
Franco (17-1-2, 8 KO) is battle-tested, and came into the first fight with Moloney (21-1, 14 KO) battle-tested. While having a loss to a lower-level foe on your record isn’t ideal, and while going 1-0-2 in a diehard fan favorite trilogy with Oscar Negrete in 2018-19 might not suggest great high-level performance, Franco had already been asked tough questions. Hooking up with trainer Robert Garcia and coming down from bantamweight to junior bantamweight had him looking better than ever against Moloney.
Moloney is definitely live in the rematch, though. He had solid success in the first half of the fight against Franco, but he got rocked around some and had big problems as the fight wore on, going down in the 11th round. Though Franco rather clearly won the fight to most observers, it seemed, the knockdown was the difference on the real cards, with a pair of 114-113 scores putting Franco over the top (the other was 115-112 for Franco); it would have been a majority draw without that knockdown, most likely.
They match up well in terms of level, so it comes down to style, and this time, to adjustment and improvement. Franco may well be even better with another camp under Garcia, but Moloney may well bounce back a better fighter, perhaps a bit humbled, which isn’t the worst thing for a fighter. The “0” is gone, that’s nothing to worry about anymore. He’s a good, solid boxer, has some power, and is a game guy who doesn’t back down when fights get tough. That’s gotten him hurt in his last two fights, too, so you do have to worry a bit about his resistance if a firefight breaks out, but he shouldn’t be counted out here. Franco should deservedly be the favorite, but Joshua could also find himself headed for a second trilogy if Moloney gets his revenge.
The remainder of the undercard is nothing special, but there are some reasons to tune in early for the prelims (ESPN+, 7 pm ET) if you’re interested in prospects and fighters looking to bounce back.
Bantamweight Joshua Greer Jr (22-2-1, 12 KO) was upset in his last outing, a June 16 defeat against Mike Plania, a week before Moloney lost to Franco. Chicago’s Greer, 26, had significant troubles in his prior two bouts, close wins over Nikolai Potapov and Antonio Nieves, and things just sort of came to a head against Plania, who dropped Greer twice.
But I actually came away from that fight thinking a bit more of Greer in some ways. He never gave up on the bout, and he had some success in the later rounds. He kept fighting and trying to pull it out of the fire. And I liked his attitude in interviews over the days and weeks that followed. He accepted the loss, felt he could do better, and wanted to get back to work. That’s always a good sign. Greer might not be an elite-level fighter, but he’s plenty young enough to get back in the world title hunt if he doesn’t give up and keeps trying to get better. That’s the attitude you’d want him to have, and it seems it’s the one he does.
He’ll be facing Edwin Rodriguez (11-5-1, 5 KO) in a bounce-back fight. Rodriguez is a 27-year-old Puerto Rican who’s just 4-5-1 in his last nine after starting his career 7-0 from 2012-14, but don’t ignore that he’s coming off of an upset win over previously-unbeaten prospect Saul Sanchez on Aug. 23. Rodriguez has absolutely nothing to lose here.
- Tennessee middleweight Tyler Howard (18-0, 11 KO) will step up the competition against KeAndrae Leatherwood (22-7-1, 13 KO), a solid, 32-year-old veteran from Alabama, never was a big prospect, but has been around the sport a while and fought some good fighters, guys like Andy Lee, Caleb Truax, and Hugo Centeno Jr, among others. Leatherwood knows what he’s doing in the ring, and he’s a level above the guys the 26-year-old Howard has been fighting. A legitimate test for Howard at this point in his career, a fight that should tell us a bit more about what he has, or doesn’t have.
- Lightweight Raymond Muratalla (10-0, 8 KO) will make his second “Bubble” appearance, after stopping Cesar Valenzuela on Aug. 29 in a good fight where both guys went down. He’s taking on Luis Porozo (15-4, 8 KO), a 30-year-old from Ecuador we’ve seen used a prospect tester against the likes of Giovanni Mioletti, Orlando Gonzalez, and Henry Lebron. Porozo is tough and awkward, and he gave Gonzalez a good run over eight rounds in June.
- Cincinnati featherweight Duke Ragan (2-0, 1 KO) continues his journey, having turned pro on Aug. 22 with Top Rank. The 23-year-old also fought on Oct. 3, and now turns it right back around for another outing. He’s yet to have a pro fight outside of Top Rank’s “Bubble,” and it may be a while before he does. He’ll face 19-year-old Sebastian Gutierrez (1-0, 1 KO) of Ventura, Calif., who has one pro fight, this past February in Tijuana. Gutierrez wouldn’t be here if anyone thought he was a danger, but I mean, who knows? He’s a total unknown, really, and will have a (listed) four-inch height advantage. Could just be more tree to chop down, though.
- Another Aussie will be in action, as 18-year-old featherweight Vegas Larfield (1-0, 1 KO) fights for the second time, having turned pro in August in Tonwnsville on the Horn-Tszyu card. He’ll be taking on Juan Alberto Flores (2-0-1, 0 KO), a 27-year-old Mexican fighter who fought once in 2017 and twice in 2019, all in Texas where he now lives.