IT happened as early as round two.
By then Billy Nelson, the coach of Ricky Burns, knew Terence Crawford, Burns’ opponent, was considerably better than they had bargained for and that, in turn, this 2014 WBO lightweight title defence would be even harder than they originally anticipated.
At the time, it’s worth noting “Bud” Crawford was not the “Bud” Crawford he would one day become. He was instead a 25-year-old mandatory challenger with the WBO whose trip to Glasgow, Scotland represented his first ring outing outside the United States. He was, back then, a shy individual who offered, pre-fight, predominantly one-word answers and always with his head down.
Then, however, the fight started. Then, as a helpless Nelson watched Crawford go about his work from the relative safety of the corner, the sinking feeling started to hit him.
“We knew he was well thought of and highly touted but that still wasn’t enough to prepare us for what we got,” Burns’ coach admitted almost 10 years later. “To be perfectly honest, he’s the best fighter I’ve ever seen live. His balance, movement, everything. His balance from both stances, orthodox and southpaw, and his shot selection and timing was unbelievable. He’s just the complete package.”
In terms of a mid-fight realisation, Nelson concedes few have been scarier during his time as a trainer. He also says that the only person for whom the shock of Crawford’s quality would have been greater would have been Burns, of course. He, unlike Nelson, wouldn’t just watch Crawford go about his business that night. He would have to somehow do something to try to stop it.
“I knew in the second round,” said Nelson. “I knew he would be good, but not that good. I thought it would be a good, even fight. He was the mandatory, so we knew he was deserving of the chance and had earned it.
“What also became a problem for Ricky was that this was his first fight back after his jaw getting broken. I continually said to Eddie Hearn (Burns’ promoter) to keep him away from southpaws. But he never really had any favours done for him.
“Ricky gave Crawford a decent contest but there was no doubting the winner. Let’s put it this way, though: Ricky Burns went the distance with him and I think only two other fighters have been able to go the distance with him in the last 10 years. That result started looking better and better a long time ago.”
That much is true. Only Ray Beltran and Viktor Postol, in fact, have managed to hear the final bell against Crawford in the nine-and-a-half years that have passed since Burns got to the finish line in Glasgow. In that time, Crawford has of course remained unbeaten, winning 16 fights, and is now at long last on the brink of potentially confirming his greatness in a much-anticipated welterweight superfight against Errol Spence this Saturday (July 29).
“I think there’s a very good chance he will stop Spence, maybe in the ninth or tenth (round),” said Nelson. “Spence is a fantastic athlete and boxer himself, but I just think although Spence will be the naturally bigger guy Crawford’s timing will be the deciding factor in the fight. They say timing equals power and I think Crawford will catch up with him later in the fight.
“Both have been fairly inactive in recent years, but Crawford seems to me like someone who has a more natural sense of timing. I’m not discounting Spence. I think he’s a fine fighter in his own right. However, I just feel the inactivity might take its toll.”