Aftermath: On Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol
Last Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Terence Crawford put his reputation as the best junior welterweight in the world on the line against consensus-best possible opponent Viktor Postol. It was the second such fight for Crawford, who had subjected his lightweight supremacy to consensus-best opponent Raymundo Beltran in 2014. And for the second time, Crawford made the ratings look silly. Rank the fighters in Crawford’s division however you like; use any criteria you wish. The results will always mislead – because the chasm between Crawford and the next best fighter in his division is not reflected in the difference between Nos. 1 and 2.
Postol, who Crawford defeated by wide unanimous decision, entered the ring, on Saturday, the best fighter Crawford had faced and should remain so until Crawford secures the Manny Pacquiao fight Top Rank Promotions would be foolish to let escape him. There were questions about Postol, considering he had but one elite victory on his ledger. However, that win, a 10th round knockout of once-rampaging Lucas Matthysse, was the best win of either his or Crawford’s career. It would be revisionist to now refashion Postol as unproven or overrated: Few expected Crawford to win easily; some did not expect him to win at all. Postol is a very good fighter, good enough to have been paid step-aside money by the brain trust of WBC welterweight titleholder Danny Garcia, who, when Postol was his 140-pound mandatory challenger, thought it more prudent to line Postol’s pockets than tempt his fists.
But Postol was not the only reason Crawford was expected to have a long night. Before Saturday, some would have told you the Omaha fighter beat an aged champion for his first title, scored his most celebrated victory over a blown-up featherweight and, soon after, slipped into the moral license of most every HBO darling: feasting on overmatched opposition to preserve the image of indomitability wrought from one night of impressive work. And, to some extent, they would be right. Crawford had some good wins, yes, and he was acing the eye-test but the eye-test is subjective. People glean from it what they want. If you looked at Crawford wanting to see a fighter who was easy to hit cleanly, for example, the eye-test would show you as much. All of this is to say that Postol was considered a genuine threat and while the knee-jerk reaction to watching him so easily handled might prompt those who thought better of his chances to tear down the challenger rather than exalt the champion, Crawford dominated his best opponent because of that yet-to-be breached chasm.
There are a few rounds in every fight in which opponents must feel like they are going to make the breach. One of the criticisms of Crawford is that he starts slowly and there were likely a few pompous 140-character remarks about Crawford’s impending comeuppance when Postol started well on Saturday. But Crawford does not lose the opening rounds, at least not in the sense that he is powerless to prevent how they unfold. Rather, he concedes these rounds, accepting that opponents will often have success while betraying the means to their undoing. It would be interesting to hear what his opponents thought of their auspicious early moments. Did they ever think about the price that might be extracted for their good fortune? Or wonder what they were unintentionally revealing while laying the foundation for a victory that would never come?
Because opponents, both past and future, must know that few fighters can parse the other man in the ring like Crawford and that success against him, once repeated into a pattern, paradoxically turns the path to victory on the road to ruin. To watch Crawford throw away punches, or holster the most obvious counters, is to see not a fighter missing opportunities but banking them, waiting to exploit them to maximum effect. That process may not be exciting but there is some anticipation in wondering when Crawford will finally spring the trap. When he does, he does so with finality in mind. Indeed Postol survived 12 rounds partly because, after suffering two knockdowns in the fifth, he stopped daring to be successful. Those 140-character remarks? They stopped being sent before the sixth round.
None of this is enough to make Crawford a star unless we dilute the meaning of the word until it is barely laudatory. Perhaps in Nebraska malls or on the lips of HBO employees, Crawford is more than just an exceptional member of an ignored fraternity but he is likely to enjoy the freedom of anonymity most everywhere else. And he is certainly not popular enough to headline a pay-per-view. That Crawford fought Postol on pay-per-view says more about HBO’s boxing budget than it does Crawford’s popularity. The number of pay-per-view buys generated by Crawford-Postol is likely to provide those still looking to somehow denigrate Crawford some ammunition. But many of those people laugh at such statistics while illegally streaming the very same cards they mock, couching their cheapness in the language of quality control. Genuinely making a statement about quality control would require not watching. But why would anyone still giving time to this sport not watch Crawford?
You can follow Jimmy Tobin on Twitter @jet79.