Imagining a World in which Terence Crawford is a Superstar
Last night, Omaha, Nebraska native Terence Crawford became a three-division world champion, destroying former welterweight champion Jeff Horn, who last year won a highly disputed decision over Manny Pacquiao, in nine rounds. Over the last few years, Crawford has been arguably the most exciting boxer in the sport, accumulating an undefeated record while dismantling the opposition at 135 and 140 pounds. To some, he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and the time may well come when he will take on the other primary claimant to that honor, Vasiliy Lomachenko, who currently resides in the 135-pound division.
Crawford fights in a highly entertaining style, as he possesses truly elite ring IQ, boxing technique, and power in both hands. More importantly, his fights are almost always entertaining: though he has the ability to outbox his opponents, he fights with real aggression and produces plenty of knockouts. In another era, Terence Crawford would be a superstar, well known to sports fans across the country, a regular presence in the mainstream.
But, this is not the 1950s. We live in 2018, and I imagine that Terence Crawford is probably only known to a very small minority of sports fans. Though he has not yet become a pay per view fighter, Crawford mostly fights on premium channels. (His fight with Horn was on the new ESPN+ streaming app, in what I can only assume was a bid to make the service popular with boxing fans.) That Terence Crawford is not better known to the general public thus is yet another example of how far boxing has fallen in the nation's sporting imagination. (I cannot speak to the situation in Europe, where fighters like Anthony Joshua seem to genuinely be huge mainstream stars.) Aside from the well-known narrative of boxing's self-inflicted wounds, as the sport has seemingly adopted a marketing strategy designed to make it invisible to the vast majority of Americans, the fact that Terence Crawford is not already a superstar surely says something of the damage that has been done to the sport by figures like Floyd Mayweather, who have managed to suck up all of the limited oxygen spent on boxing with huge spectacles that very rarely delivered exciting and competitive bouts (i.e. Mayweather-De La Hoya, Mayweather-Pacquiao, Mayweather-McGregor).
But there is another side to the equation, one that has become increasingly apparent in recent years. Corporate sports media in the United States seemingly cares about only two sports: football and, occasionally, basketball. As someone who spends a lot of time driving in my car, I have the misfortune of listening to a lot of sports talk radio, and I can confirm that for about 10 months out of the year, Fox and ESPN talk almost exclusively about the NFL. When there aren't actual games to discuss (which is most of the time, given football's very brief schedule), announcers fill up airtime talking about the NFL draft, the latest Patriots controversy, and endlessly stupid debates ranking quarterbacks. Is Eli Manning a Super Bowl-quality quarterback, or is he merely a quarterback who happened to win a couple Super Bowls? This completely worthless question has been more thoroughly discussed than the origins of the American Civil War.
Is this what sports fans in the United States want? Would people really turn off their radios in anger if national broadcasters discussed actual sports that are actually occurring, like the ongoing MLB season, the Belmont Stakes, the French Open, the Stanley Cup Finals, the upcoming World Cup, or, heaven forbid, Terence Crawford? Sports radio in the United States is now basically the equivalent of corporate-run classic rock stations that have been playing the same four Steely Dan and Journey songs every day for the last 35 years.
Of course, the retort to this complaint is that Fox and ESPN only give the fans what they want. But that is disingenous at best, given that these outlets not only follow fan interest, they attempt to drive and shape it. And for some reason, the corporate executives at these institutions have determined that the past, present, and future of American sports is on the gridiron. In which case, I think it fair to say that they are not driven by any kind of journalistic obligation to report on the world of sports. Even more, they aren't sports fans. And neither is anyone who would rather talk tomorrow about Tom Brady and the Patriots than Terence Crawford's annihilation of Jeff Horn.