Mean Streak: Terence Crawford, Brian McIntyre, Felix Diaz, Lou DiBella and all that jazz
The way trainer Brian McIntyre describes it, it wasn’t just a slight but an impropriety of the highest order that explains his icy behavior toward promoter Lou DiBella at a New York press conference last April announcing the May 20 Madison Square Garden clash between his charge WBO/WBC super lightweight champion Terence Crawford and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz.
Standing behind the podium, McIntyre turned his large, globular frame toward Diaz and his handlers. “Man, I respect you, 100 percent,” McIntyre said of Diaz. “You got a good team around you. You got (notorious strength-and-conditioning coach Alex) Ariza and we all know his story. You got DiBella…” McIntyre stopped, leered at DiBella for a split-second and turned away to face the reporters. “That’s a different story.” Laughter broke out in the room. Moments later, when it was his turn to say a few words, Crawford, too, would single out DiBella, pointedly warning the perplexed promoter as he slowly shook his head, “I’m not doing any running, boy,” on fight night.
The “different story” has its roots in 2007 when McIntyre accompanied his mentor Midge Minor from their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, to New York to work the corner for Grover Wiley, who was taking on Brooklyn’s Dmitry Salita, a DiBella fighter. The card took place at the Hammerstein Ballroom, located in the delirious thicket of Midtown’s showbiz complex. It is neither the glitziest nor most storied of Manhattan venues but, for a heartlander accustomed to the more homespun settings of, say, the Sokol Hall or the IceBox in Omaha, the Hammerstein had all the shimmering appearances of a big-ticket spectacle. And to complete the picture, there were plenty of boxing’s denizens roaming the grounds, industry bigwigs and fighters from yesteryear he had only read about in the magazines. Before him at this promotion was a sampling of the boxing power structure and McIntyre made a point to introduce himself to as many people as possible. But McIntyre’s googly-eyed spirits were quickly dampened when he decided to go up to the man responsible for the card and one of the most recognizable figures in boxing. “I was just so excited to meet DiBella,” McIntyre told UCNLive.com over the phone a day after the press conference, “but, when I finally met him, I realized he was an asshole!”
What should have been nothing more than a quick and friendly exchange of pleasantries turned into the basis for a decade-long grudge when DiBella, as McIntyre explains, wiped his hand on his suit jacket as soon as they finished shaking hands. “He did it like, like I had shit on it or something,” McIntyre said, his voice rising. “That’s disrespectful to me; you know what I’m saying? So when he tried to shake my hand yesterday (at the Crawford-Diaz press conference), I said, ‘I don’t want to shake your hand, man. Get the fuck away from me.’ McIntyre paused for a moment to catch his breath, then blurted, “It don’t feel too good being on the B-side now, huh? It don’t feel too good; do it?”
(In this regard, DiBella nor representatives of DiBella Entertainment responded to requests for comment, as of press time.)
They say no one lives more vicariously through the fighter than his trainer but listening to McIntyre huff and puff about a private injustice from a decade ago, about “getting one back at Lou.” the prickliness of his tone holds your attention. You get the sense that, even if DiBella hadn’t wiped his hands, McIntyre would’ve found some way to extract some shred of a scandal. It’s clear that McIntyre has no qualms recounting the bad episode in his head in tasty anticipation of vindicating it – with Crawford’s hands, of course. Such desires fit the narrative that underdogs typically fashion for themselves and, as always, the stakes are nothing less than life and death.
“That’s why we are going to kick their ass. I guarantee you that, brother. I guarantee you that. If we don’t win that fight, all of us (Team Crawford) is dead because we’re putting our lives on the line for that fight.”
Where does Crawford fit into McIntyre’s back story? Nowhere, really; he was 16 and toiling in the amateur ranks when his trainer got his rude New York awakening. But it was never back story as much as it was personality that Crawford shares most with McIntyre: A kind of innate prickliness. That – not the fact that he is the world’s best 140-pounder – is what comes to mind more often these days.
Since last April, Crawford started his own impetuous campaign to refuse interviews with certain media members whom covered his run-in with the law when he and several friends hijacked an auto body shop. It was a move that put him squarely in a select class of press abusers of which IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight titlist Andre Ward perhaps is most representative. Crawford was charged with four counts of misdemeanors. The Douglas County judge eventually found him guilty on two of them, property damage and disorderly conduct, and served him a 90-day stint behind bars. These are the facts and there is plenty of surveillance tape to back them. So why all the rebuff? When asked for his thoughts, McIntyre said that all Crawford wanted was for reporters to check in with him for his side of the story. “Here’s the thing: When you go and write something without getting the facts, that’s what he gets upset about,” McIntyre insisted. “He’s like, ‘Come talk to me first.’”
In his impetuous blackballing of the press, Crawford has shown the worst side of that “mean streak” for which pundits have long praised him, in the ring: razor-edged intractability. As reported in the Omaha World-Herald (one of many Omaha media outlets shunned by Crawford, at one point or another) during a media workout ahead of his fight with John Molina Jr., Crawford “asked all of the reporters which outlets they worked for and then pointed at each one of them, individually. ‘No. No. No. No,’ Crawford said. He then turned and walked away.”
Crawford’s conduct toward the media is something to consider as he takes on a skilled but unheralded Dominican fighter at Madison Square Garden in, no less, the media capital of the world. The irony is shamefully obvious. Rumors of slow ticket sales at the Garden box office seem to be confirmed by a general lack of buzz and public awareness about the fight. (New Yorkers, have any of you ever even seen a fight poster on the MTA platform?) There’s less currency than ever these days for the “Boxing is dead” argument, especially in light of the successful passing of three recent big-time fights in Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs, Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko and Saul Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But the major fights – and major fighters – are reminders that triumphs in boxing require so many aspects to synchronize at once. In other words, the last thing Crawford, 29, without a whole nation to back him and any interest to promote himself, needs to be doing is ostracizing the media.
Despite the reality, the choice of the venue is another sign of the commitment that both his promoter Top Rank and television backer HBO are prepared to make to help transition Crawford from a regional draw to a legitimate star, capable of generating both buzz and moolah in any of the major fight hubs in the country. Just as Crawford’s HBO Pay-Per-View debut was a long shot that garnered predictably few sales, his debut in the “Big Room” at MSG seems like overreaching, which is to say that May 20 is a calculated risk taken by a promoter trying to optimize the short shelf life of a sensational talent in his prime.
Crawford’s future, indeed, isn’t as promising as his handlers make it out to be. Aside from the fact that Crawford fights in a division currently bereft of great challenges, the road up at 147, a landscape currently dominated by Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions stable, presents its own landmine of problems, deep-rooted political quagmires that show little signs of truce-making traction. “Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, we can go get those guys,” McIntyre said. “I’m excited for us to be closing out on the 140-pound division. I honestly will tell you that you will see a much better Terence Crawford because the competition is phenomenal up there.” Dangerous fighters without the ability to draw crowds or PPV buys struggle particularly in this era to get in the ring with equally dangerous opponents. Industry schisms, in a way, seem like the least of Crawford’s worries.
Indeed, watching the videos of Crawford leaving a county jail, trespassing and destroying property at an auto body shop and tussling in the midst of a street fight in a strip mall parking lot, you wonder if you’re witnessing another casualty story, another bright boxing career without a worthy climax.