BEING an introvert in life requires one to amass a variety of hiding places as well as a list of excuses for why you can’t attend. Collect and learn the importance of both and you’ll be fine. However, just be aware that in a world increasingly short on hiding places, and in a world where to disappear is to essentially die, this has become a considerably more difficult task than it used to be.
Everybody else after all wants to be seen and heard and stand out these days. Not only that, they now have the tools at their disposal, these extroverts and attention-seekers, to guarantee this is the case, which means, in turn, that to not want the same to is to consign yourself to being labelled the following: cold, detached, dour, or troubled.
In most cases, what counts for coldness is in fact merely an effort to keep warm, even if it’s just inside one’s own body (the last remaining and only truly safe hiding place). What is more, to say nothing is sometimes only a response to everybody else saying everything and there being no more words left in the world to be said. It becomes, in that sense, a sort of protest; one of the most peaceful yet, at the same time, most violent kind. For some, this silence has less to do with a lack of thought, or indeed a lack of words, but is instead indicative of a reluctance to fight a losing battle; a reluctance, that is, to play a game we know deep down rewards only the ones who shout the loudest and hear no voice other than their own.
“What is talkativeness?” asked Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. “It is the result of doing away with the vital distinction between talking and keeping silent. Only someone who knows how to remain essentially silent can really talk – and act essentially. Silence is the essence of inwardness, of the inner life. Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it. But someone who can really talk, because he knows how to remain silent, will not talk about a variety of things but about one thing only, and he will know when to talk and when to remain silent.
“Where mere scope is concerned, talkativeness wins the day, it jabbers on incessantly about everything and nothing… In a passionate age great events (for they correspond to each other) give people something to talk about. And when the event is over, and silence follows, there is still something to remember and to think about while one remains silent. But talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness.”
This weekend in Las Vegas, that introvert’s hell, Terence Crawford aims to clear his throat and express himself the only way he knows how. He has, for the purpose of this mission, been forced to leave his comfort zone of Omaha, Nebraska, where he would class himself as being among his people and in familiar surroundings, to venture to a place in which only the loudest and fakest appear to both thrive and survive. It has happened rather late in his career, this move, and perhaps for obvious reasons. At 35, Crawford is both at the tail end of his boxing career and also a man clearly, for better or worse, set in his ways. Which is to say, his emergence as an unlikely pay-per-view headliner in a massive Las Vegas event was only ever going to happen late and like this. It was only ever going to happen, in other words, with a rival of equal standing there to hold his hand and walk him towards the baying crowd in front of them.
“It takes all kinds,” said Stephen Espinoza, the President of Showtime Sports, who this weekend hope their fear concerning Crawford’s lack of marketability will be allayed by the quality of his fight against Errol Spence. “The reality is, there isn’t one mould for a superstar. If you look at the NBA, for example, not everybody is Dennis Rodman. You’ve got a Michael Jordan and a Steph Curry. Both are suitably charismatic but they’re not the most flamboyant personalities. They let their performances speak for them.
“I think that’s a little bit like Crawford. I think he came to a realisation, somewhat late in his career, that to get to the heights he wanted to, that wasn’t going to be enough. It would be great if the world was set up so that the people with the most talent got the most attention and success. But we all know it’s not like that and talent isn’t enough. It also takes salesmanship. He has clearly become more comfortable with being a self-promoter and a salesman, but I still wouldn’t say it comes naturally to him. He’s in a better place than he was five years ago, though.
“I wouldn’t even say it’s about ego with Crawford. Or money. I think it’s an acceptance that, in order to ensure he gets the long-term recognition of his legacy, he is going to have to come out of his shell a little bit and that will maybe make people appreciate him by becoming more of a presence. Paradoxically, turning up his personality outside the ring means that people recognise and appreciate him inside the ring a little bit more.”
With Crawford, it has only ever been about the sounds he makes with his gloves; the sound of them landing on flesh and bone, for instance, or the pained groan of the opponent on whom these blows have landed. Indeed, aside from his balance, technique, and the ease with which he disrobed Ricky Burns in front of his home support back in 2014, the abiding memory of Crawford in Glasgow, Scotland comes from an interview he did with Sky Sports ahead of the fight. In this interview, recorded during fight week, Crawford sounded scared; scared not of Burns, his next opponent and the WBO lightweight champion, but rather his own voice. Careful with each of his words, just as he would days later be with his punches, the visiting challenger strung barely half a dozen of them together, avoided eye contact, and appeared as though either a man overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event or a man, conversely, who had a secret he needed to keep.
As it turned out, of course, it was the latter which was true. Crawford, then only 25 years of age, didn’t feel moved to say much because he knew, when the time came, he would express himself in the ring against Burns. And how. Suddenly, whereas once he seemed short on ideas and words, he was on the night now full of both, singing them and screaming them and conversing with us, the watching audience, in every language known to man. Most of all, the universal one: boxing. It was in that language Crawford was fluent, apparently. Not just fluent, but more eloquent than perhaps any other boxer in the last decade. It’s for that reason we have come to now hang on his every word, even if they are still few and far between. Moreover, when everybody else is increasingly obsessed with the idea of telling rather than showing, Crawford remains one of the few who is loyal to the storyteller’s maxim.
“The one thing about Crawford is that nobody can ever say he has disgraced boxing,” said Billy Nelson, who was in the opposite corner to Crawford when guiding Ricky Burns that night in 2014. “Back when we first saw him in Glasgow, he was confident but you could tell there was a little bit of apprehension there as well. He’s the full package now, though; the best fighter on the planet.
“He has over the years been nothing but a model professional. He has to get a lot of plaudits for that. You have all these clowns who throw tables about and throw their heads at each other at weigh-ins, and then you have someone like Crawford who has done none of that. Those fighters don’t have anything like the quality and class of Crawford once he gets in the ring, and we saw that when he came to Glasgow. He didn’t say a lot but he didn’t need to, did he? He said what needed to be said in the ring, with his hands. He conducted himself in a totally professional manner, which you fully expect from a man of his standing. He is class, both in and out of the ring.”
In the nine years since that fight against Burns, which represented Crawford’s first title win, the man from Omaha has got better, of that there is little doubt. He has got better, most importantly, in a fighting sense, but he has also worked hard on extending his answers to more than just one or two words and at least trying to give the public an insight into both his life outside the ring and his personality.
Still, though, it doesn’t come naturally to him. Still, from the outside, it seems as if the idea of becoming a superstar is incongruous to Crawford, a man of simple pleasures and simple delights. For him, just to be recognised as a great fighter is enough. Which, if that happens to be true, can surely only be seen as a refreshing quirk, especially given so many other fighters in the sport today would happily trade the path to a greatness recognised only by people who care – boxing aficionados in the main – for admiration in the eyes of a larger and far less discerning audience.
“You look at Floyd (Mayweather),” said Ashley Theophane, a former British super-lightweight champion who was for many years around Mayweather as part of The Money Team. “People came to watch him fight to see him lose. That was the whole thing with Floyd and it made him a very rich man. Floyd knew how to sell fights with him in that role and did it better than pretty much anyone. He didn’t care if you saw him as the enemy; he just cared that you came and watched.
“Nowadays, you do need to sell yourself more because you’re trying to entertain people who have all sorts of entertainment at their fingertips. These two, Spence and Crawford, are both introverts. They’ve tried to come out a bit more for this fight and I think they’ve done well but you can tell that it’s not their game.”
Neither was it Theophane’s game, in truth. One might even propose that the thinking behind the Briton’s move to America and to Mayweather’s Las Vegas gym had a lot to do with the prospect of some of Mayweather’s magic and confidence rubbing off on Theophane and therefore helping him secure fights. Certainly, whatever the motive, Theophane, someone who has long battled a stammer, has had to master two arts during the course of his professional boxing career: first the fighting, then the talking.
“When I first turned pro,” he said, “I hated that I had to get a fan base and had to chat and be friendly to everyone. That wasn’t my personality at all. For many of us we have to force ourselves to be out there and be more welcoming. I guess if you want to do this sport and be a pro and have fans, you have to do that side of the game. It just comes with the job.
“I’ve learnt how to speak and slow down my speech over the years. I had to do the interviews, which I didn’t want to do but knew they were part of the sport. I always remember when I was on the Floyd Mayweather and Canelo (Alvarez) card, I had to speak at the MGM Grand during the undercard press conference and I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I was the first one on and so nervous. But I just started to talk about my story and my journey. Sometimes you are just blessed to be in a position where people care about where you come from.”
As for Crawford, it’s not so much nervousness, one suspects, but more a reluctance. His eyes, and that thousand-yard stare of his, seem to look through and beyond whoever is interviewing him and somehow lock with those who will later watch this interview or press conference at home. They then ask this person, “But really, what’s the point? Wouldn’t you rather watch me box?”
And in most cases, too, the answer would be yes, for in Crawford we have a boxer whose array of skills and pure fighting prowess is effectively unrivalled in the sport. Yet that still doesn’t mean his reluctance is not frustrating, particularly for those who are tasked with revealing to the public the man behind the machine who throws the punches on fight night.
“I remember going out there feeling quite ambitious, thinking Crawford was a bit of an untapped resource for the UK media,” said Tris Dixon, who flew to Denver in 2019 to interview Crawford for a piece for BT Sport. “On the first day I did a sit-down with him for probably 30 or 35 minutes but it was a bit stop-start and wasn’t very fluid. We never really got out of the question-and-answer format, which is really what you want from a fluid interview, particularly for TV. But I left that day feeling grateful he had given us the time and was encouraged. I thought if that was day one, day two was going to be better.
“Yet the second day, from a journalist’s perspective, was not far short of a disaster. I wouldn’t say Crawford didn’t want to be there but he probably didn’t want me there. We went to his fitness gym, his boxing gym, and his house, and we filmed him eating food and playing cards, all the while I had to do what we call ‘rushes’ and get quotes from him. It was very hard getting more than a couple of words from him at a time. Basically, I spent the day on the periphery of Terence Crawford’s shoulder pecking away with questions and gradually losing my confidence to ask any, which I have never experienced before. I just came away thinking I looked completely stupid, which is probably how some of his opponents have felt over the years.”
On reflection, Dixon, a man who has encountered and opened up more boxers than most in his time, has come to a better understanding as to why Crawford proved such a tough nut to crack. That’s still not to say he appreciated what he experienced in Omaha, of course, but he does at least now respect what it represents in the context of both Crawford’s career and his personality.
“I don’t know if he’s an introvert, I don’t know if he doesn’t like to share, I don’t know if he feels he has done his bit and people know the story and he doesn’t want to keep retelling it. I’m not sure what it is,” said Dixon. “I just don’t think he particularly likes it. He certainly didn’t want to do much that day and it was really tough going. I’ll say this, too: I’m not mad at that. It would be a tough job if everyone was the same. Crawford is himself. He is an individual guy. That’s his modus operandi. He doesn’t dance to anyone else’s tune and he certainly wasn’t dancing to mine that day.”
According to Kierkegaard again, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are,” and of this Terence Crawford is clearly aware. For he is, like Dixon said, a man unapologetically and unashamedly himself. He has, in order to maintain this, made sure to keep himself surrounded by all those who understand him and he has, also rather refreshingly, avoided the temptation to branch out and either live elsewhere or entertain back-slapping sycophants who represent, superficially at least, him climbing to a new level of social status. For that, he deserves only praise. It may not be an approach conducive to superstardom and it may not be an approach appreciated by Showtime when all is said and done this weekend, but Crawford can be comforted by the fact that when it’s all over – both this fight and his career – he will not be a man lost, stuck somewhere between a character he created for the purposes of his boxing career and the human being he neglected in the process.
“It is refreshing and it’s an interesting societal experiment,” said Espinoza when analysing Crawford’s fight against Spence this Saturday. “If anything, our society, both in the US and worldwide, has gone more in the way of style over substance. Whether that’s because of social media or something else, I think the overall trend has been that the loudest voice gets the most attention. So it is refreshing that this is one that didn’t need the hyperbole and theatrics and angry confrontations. It has shown that a fight could be successfully promoted with respect and with decorum.
“Now the real question, and the referendum on where we are as a society and a sports culture, is how well will it do? Will it get the attention it deserves? Certainly we, as the network, are doing our best to ensure that happens, but there’s still a danger that we’re in a society where there is so much content and so much vying for attention that the flamboyant and loud and obnoxious will get more attention. But I’ve seen enough out of this event to be very pleased and encouraged. Sometimes substance does win out. Having the best fight with respectful fighters is just as successful as having two people who are really loud and obnoxious.”
If that sounds at all idealistic, it’s because it probably is. Chances are, Spence vs. Crawford will remain an anomaly (in the sense that it is a fight so good it transcends the need for either man to be compelling as stars) rather than the start of some movement to position substance over style in a sport teeming with feckless blowhards masquerading as both boxers and promoters. Still, it’s nice to dream from time to time.
“It’s an interesting rewards system if there are built-in incentives,” Espinoza said. “For example, not to pick on any organisation, but the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) has gone away from their mantra: the best fight the best. That was always their policy yet I would argue that in the last five years what they’ve really operated on is the most marketable versus the most marketable. It’s no longer about who deserves the fight. It is who is the most sellable. There are guys who have had multiple losses in a row but will get title shot after title shot because they are marketable and well-known. They’re not the most deserving but they are the most sellable. We need to, as a society, and as an organisation, and as a network, continue to build in those incentives which recognise performance and not the volume of someone’s voice.”
On Wednesday afternoon, having made the briefest of appearances at the MGM Grand’s public workout, Crawford was asked by the Showtime announcer, Ray Flores, to tell the fans in attendance his favourite part of fight week.
“Nothing,” Crawford said.
And with not even a hint of a smile, it was perhaps the most honest thing I have heard a fighter say during fight week.