LAS VEGAS — Terence Crawford has been on the big stage in boxing for the better part of eight full years, but he’s still a mystery in so many ways.
He’s regarded by some as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but he’s yet to have that defining bout. He’s about to defend his WBO welterweight title Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) at the Michelob Ultra Arena for the fifth time when he takes on Shawn Porter, but there is very little about him of which we can be certain.
He’s often been in the wrong place at the wrong time as a pro, with one promoter when the other had all the welterweights or in one division when the elite fighters were in another.
So, if you can call it a coming-out party for a guy who is 34 years old, been a pro since 2008, is 37-0 with 28 knockouts and is 15-0 with 11 knockouts in title fights, then his bout against Porter will be the chance for Crawford to introduce himself to the world.
Is he the rightful heir to the title of world’s greatest welterweight that stretches back throughout boxing history, including legendary names like Mayweather, Pacquiao, De La Hoya, Whitaker, Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Griffith, Napoles, Armstrong and Robinson?
Porter is a truth-teller and he’ll help Crawford answer that question.
I suspect he is — I believe deeply that he is — but Porter is the guy he needs to defeat to prove it.
Crawford, as always, is immensely confident. Asked if he believes Porter knows that Crawford is better, Crawford shrugged.
“He doesn’t have to believe it,” Crawford said. “I’m going to show him Saturday.”
Much like undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez, who is Yahoo Sports’ No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, there’s never much question as to the outcome when Crawford leaves the ring. He systematically breaks his opposition down and leaves it far worse for wear when it is all over.
You rarely see a Crawford opponent hopping down the steps with a grin on his face on the way back to the locker room. They’re usually in need of assistance and often make that long, slow methodical walk to the back while dabbing at facial cuts and welts.
But that’s where the question comes in regarding Crawford that long ago was answered by Alvarez: Is it because Crawford is that good or because he’s facing second-tier opponents?
There is no elite opponent in any weight class Alvarez has been in that he could have fought that he has skipped. Crawford hasn’t skipped anyone, at least intentionally, but there have been so many elite opponents he hasn’t gotten to fight, notably Errol Spence Jr.
We’ll know a lot more about Crawford, win or lose, after he fights Porter than we’ve known after any of his previous 37 fights. Porter will test his will, his skill, his chin, his conditioning and anything else that is in some way measurable.
Crawford is much like Alvarez in that he’s regarded as a slow starter, but it’s not really that he starts slowly. He’s observing, putting information in the memory bank, poking and prodding to discover weaknesses and potential lines of attack.
He’s also a brutally efficient body puncher and a tremendous finisher. He’s fighting a guy who embodies those traits as well and it gives Crawford the opportunity to show how good he is.
This is not a Mike Tyson-like situation where Tyson once defiantly asked, “How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills?” Crawford, who is currently a -700 favorite at BetMGM, knows full well that Porter is the real deal.
He admits Porter is good; he just believes he’s better.
“I respect everything that Shawn does,” Crawford said. “Shawn is athletic, he can box, he can bang, he can move around in the ring, he can cut corners and take angles. I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t respect anything that he does. I’m just going to say that I do a lot of things better than Shawn.”
Porter grinned when he heard Crawford’s words. “I would say the exact same thing and I believe it,” Porter said.
Most believe it when it comes to Porter because he’s been measured against the best repeatedly.
Now is the time for Crawford to take that step. Does he belong in the same breath as Robinson, Leonard, Mayweather and De La Hoya?
He’ll get his chance, finally, on Saturday to prove that he does.