‘I was never the person to try and be the centre of attention or to talk a lot,’ Terence Crawford explains. ‘I was always the person who, if you say something, I’d just punch you in your face. For real.’ And now for a lot of money.
Crawford, an unbeaten three-weight champion, is promoting this weekend’s fight with Amir Khan. He is, as so often in the ring, a picture of both flamboyance and simplicity.
‘It’s Gucci,’ the 31-year-old declares of his matching jacket and shoes, their flowery design illuminated by the black jeans and roll neck stretching from head to toe.
Terence Crawford reflected on a rough education ahead of his upcoming fight with Amir Khan
The eye-catching look reflects a man enjoying the fruits of his labour. But it also illustrates a life marked by both light and shade, a fighter used to dazzling under the cloud of darkness.
When the words do come, they flow slowly and quietly — meandering to the familiar beat of the American Midwest.
‘If you tell me “I’m going to whoop your a** and your mum is a b****,” I’m not going to be friends with you and say, “It was just business”,’ he claims. ‘I’m going to say, “I’m going to beat your a** in the ring and then I want to fight you outside the ring, too”.’
As with every fighter, Crawford is a product of place. Home is found on the gang and violence-riddled streets of North Omaha, Nebraska.
The three-weight world champion will face Amir Khan in New York on Saturday
A keen fisherman and family man, he still bears the scars of a childhood in the American heartland.
Crawford reckons he has been shot at eight times. In 2008, he was caught in a hail of bullets while counting money in his car. Miraculously, the first bullet ricocheted off his skull rather than lodging inside.
It hit him behind his ear, having deflected off the window. Crawford was left covered in blood — but with the wherewithal to drive himself to hospital.
He vowed vengeance but never followed through.
Now a decade on, with a golden cross hanging over his heart, Crawford is convinced he lives a life of destiny: ‘I tell people, I’m here for a reason.’
Crawford has since risen beyond this boxing backwater to become one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
He was only seven when he first walked through the doors of the CW Boxing Club, where Bloods, Crips and other gang members including future trainer Brian McIntyre learned their trade. In a gym where fighters were matched regardless of age or weight class, ‘Bud’ was given a rough education.
Crawford reckons he has been shot at eight times on the streets of North Omaha, Nebraska
Crawford cried after taking his first punch but two decades on he became the gym’s first world champion and now Larimore Avenue, where he grew up, has been renamed Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford Street. Just how he always saw it.
During his youth Crawford was a troublemaker, kicked out of five schools for fighting and beaten by his mother whenever she found him wreaking havoc.
Belts and extension cords were among Debra’s weapons of choice and, with father Terence Snr often away with the navy, she instilled a unique brand of tough love.
When his father said their newborn son would be a ‘million dollar’ baby, a world champion, she declared he ‘wouldn’t be s***’.
Before Crawford beat Ricky Burns to win his first world title, his mother told him he was ‘gonna get his a** kicked’.
As her son battled for approval, Debra offered $10 to any kid on the street who could beat him up. Crawford insists it was all fun and games but still none succeeded. All he cared about was making her proud.
But Debra liked drinking and disliked showing affection. The beatings made him ‘immune to pain’, while her words ‘filled him with rage’. Not that the fire inside him needed much fuel.
‘I still to this day don’t know (why), I was just an angry kid,’ he reflects.
The fighter nicknamed ‘Bud’ was beaten by his mother as a young child
‘Maybe it was the environment, maybe it was how I was born. It was just something that was in me, I had a short temper, I reacted to everything.
‘I used to have to see a counsellor and all types of specialists and I just couldn’t figure out what it was.’ No one found a solution. Instead, time became his greatest healer. ‘As I got older I learned how to control my temper a little more,’ he explains. ‘Boxing helped me a lot and most definitely when I had my first child it helped me tremendously.’
Crawford now has five children with his long-time girlfriend Alindra Person.
Even during training camp he often flies home, determined to not miss a birthday or wrestling championship. He is a doting father, determined to give his children a different life.
His mother may have spurred him on to greatness but Crawford has reasons for not following her lead. ‘Because for the simple fact that it built hatred in my heart,’ he says.
‘When you feel like the person that you love the most doesn’t want to see you prosper and succeed, it’s just like you’re doing all this to prove them wrong but at the same time it’s building hatred in your heart.’ He adds: ‘My mum has a lot of pain in her heart to where love is pain for her. But I teach my kids love is beautiful.’ Crawford insists he is now ‘calm’ and ‘more mellow than ever’.
The 31-year-old now channels his rage in the ring, having won 34 fights on the trot
He and McIntyre set up a gym where kids in Omaha can box for free, while Bud has visited Africa for charity work alongside his former school teacher.
Forget the fights and rage — this, he insists, is the true Terence Crawford. ‘I just feel so peaceful and at ease,’ he says. ‘When I do nice things for people it just feels so natural. I have a big heart.’
Now the anger manifests itself only in the savage switch-hitting that has carried him to 34 wins on the trot.
In his sights this weekend is Khan, who many fear could be sleepwalking into a nasty beating. But Bud insists: ‘I don’t think about going in there and hurting the opponent.’ Khan and Crawford have never met in a professional ring, but there is symbolism in a mutual former opponent.
Terence Crawford strikes a pose after clinching victory over Jose Benavidez in October
Five years after Khan suffered a shock first defeat by Breidis Prescott, Crawford announced himself with victory over the Colombian. Bud has never looked back while, a decade on, Khan is still haunted by the frailties exposed in that brutal knockout.
British fans know all about Crawford’s calibre, too. Back in 2014 the American came to Scotland to fight Burns. He left with his first world title, an enhanced reputation — but little cultural immersion. ‘I was so focused on the title I never left the hotel,’ he remembers.
Nevertheless, for the 31-year-old, it remains the defining moment in a life littered with contenders: ‘It was the start of Terence Crawford.’
And now a decade on, could it mean the end of Amir Khan?
‘We shall see.’
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