To the boxing fan who cares about having one definitive champion per weight class, this fight holds a great deal of significance. After his sensational victories over the ultra-talented but slightly undersized Yuriorkis Gamboa and longtime belt-holder Ricky Burns, Terrence Crawford, 24-0-0-(17 ko’s), is now generally regarded as the best lightweight on the planet. According to reliable sources, such as the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, Reymundo Beltran, 29-6-1-(17 ko’s), is the consensus number two-ranked fighter in the division.
What this all means is that come Saturday night a legitimate lightweight champion will be crowned. Even in an era clouded by illegitimate alphabet titles, corrupt rankings and a thoroughly excessive number of weight divisions, this still means a great deal. The winner of Saturday nights fight will be lightweight champion the same way Pernell Whitaker and Tony Canzoneri were, which is truly an accomplishment.
A lot of credit for this fight happening must go to Terrence Crawford, who has a great deal of backing from HBO and could have gone an easier route had he so chose. Crawford recognized that Beltran, a frequent victim of boxing politics, was utterly robbed against Burns for the title in Scotland and felt like he owed him another opportunity. The result is a great matchup between two of the most honest fighters in boxing.
When looking at this matchup from afar, it would be easy to label this fight the boxer versus the brawler or the puncher versus the boxer. The truth, however, is slightly more complicated than that.
Crawford is primarily a boxer, but as he showed in the Gamboa fight, he has plenty of “dog” in him when it counts. Crawford won that fight by digging his heels in and out-fighting Gamboa in the trenches. Crawford’s seventeen knockout wins in twenty-four fights (nearly eighty percent) are proof that he has plenty of killer instinct.
Similarly, Beltran is not the one-dimensional brawler he is often portrayed as.
Yes, Beltran is a come-forward fighter, but he does so with plenty of guile. Beltran is the division’s best body puncher and has one of the sneakiest and diverse left-hooks in the business. The Mexican has honed his ability to cope with speed through years of being Manny Pacquaio’s chief sparring partner. This ability was on display when he upset the much faster and naturally more gifted Hank Lundy in 2012.
The key to victory for Crawford seems to be employing a carefully balanced mix of boxing and punching. Beltran essentially fights one way, so Crawford’s ability to alter his attack and switch-hit will be paramount for disrupting Crawford’s rhythm. For Beltran, a massively strong and big lightweight, it will be key to force Crawford to fight an up-tempo pace and catch him with the left-hook when he switches stances.
Many of the intangible advantages clearly favor Crawford in this fight. Crawford is HBO’s new Show Kid and he will be fighting in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in front of a packed house that will cheer wildly for every punch he lands. In boxing, much like its maligned home city of Las Vegas, the house usually wins, which in this case is clearly Terrence Crawford. Combine that with the fact that Crawford isn’t yet used to losing, has superior athleticism and is the younger fresher fighter, and he clearly becomes the deserving betting favorite.
Beltran, however, is not without some of his own subtle advantages. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain is a valuable asset in a sport that relies so heavily on mental preparation. Crawford is the guy that is expected to do big things and there is a chance that with names like Manny Pacquaio and Mikey Garcia floating around that it might be difficult for Crawford to be one hundred percent focused on the task at hand.
Another advantage Beltran might possess is on the scales. Crawford’s team has all but confirmed that after this fight he will be moving up to 140-pounds. He is doing so not just because of more lucrative opportunities, but also because he struggles mercilessly to make weight. Against a body-punching dynamo like Beltran this could prove disastrous.