This Saturday, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford will take on lightning-handed veteran Amir Khan. The bout is Crawford’s 35th, and Khan is expected to share the fate of the 34 who came before him.
What makes Terence Crawford one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world today is not his speed, which is considerable, nor his power, which has handed him 25 knockouts, nor his chin, which has never even been dented. Crawford’s greatest asset is his mind. His calculating intelligence emanates out through the eyes in his face, which stays stoic and impassive whether he is fighting for his life, or hunting down a wounded foe. Since breaking onto the scene in 2013, Crawford has pitted his undefeated record against five others, and always come out with his “O” intact. Thus far, several opponents have gotten the better of him in spots, especially during the slow starts for which he is notorious, but not one has ever managed to keep up with him down the stretch. Sooner or later, Terence Crawford out-thinks them all.
With another likely showcase ahead, let’s take a quick look at three of Bud Crawford’s most clever moves, and discover how they work.
Counter Right Hook
Crawford is well known as the most natural switch-hitter in the sport. He is capable of transitioning quickly from one stance to the other, shifting back and forth as he unloads fearsome combinations, whether advancing or retreating. Yet Bud is equally comfortable boxing an entire fight as either a righty or a lefty. Perhaps his most reliable technique is the counter right hook he throws virtually every time he plays the southpaw role.
Countering a cross with a hook, as Crawford often does, is always a risky proposition. By virtue of simple geometry, a straight punch will almost always get to the target before a hook thrown at the same time. This is precisely why Crawford’s counter usually occurs a half-beat after the initial attack of his opponent. In the absence of a profound speed advantage (which he certainly will not have over Amir Khan), timing and distance are the keys to making this move work.
Here, against Julius Indongo, Crawford reads the range perfectly. He stays right on the end of Indongo’s reach as he probes the range, waiting for the committed jab that signals his intent to attack. As soon as Indongo lets that jab go, Crawford is already sliding back. The movement is small—no more than six inches. Coupled with a slight backward pull of the upper body, it’s just enough space for Indongo’s wild left to go sailing past Crawford’s chin, with Indongo barreling in right after it.
This is the moment Crawford is waiting for. As Indongo falls forward, Crawford meets his temple with a cracking right hook. The shot squares Indongo up, but the Namibian fighter tries to extend the exchange. He pops up firing, and Crawford gets to show off his textbook footwork. He pivots smoothly on the ball of his front foot, swinging around till he is a full 90 degrees away from where he started. Indongo keeps swinging, but as soon as Crawford settles back into his stance, he is out of reach. More than that, he now has Indongo against the ropes, and quickly moves in to solidify the positional advantage.
Finishing to the Body
Every boxer enjoys punching his opponents in the head. If you ask some fight fans, that’s sort of the whole point of the exercise. Yet virtually every elite boxer appreciates the value of a good body shot. Oftentimes, however, a body attack is framed primarily as a means of exposing the head. Hit the ribs, and throw a bomb over the top when the other fellow drops his elbows.
Terence Crawford is one of a much smaller group who seems to appreciate a body attack every bit as much as the one upstairs—and for a few very good reasons. For one, the torso is a very large target. While a good high guard can deflect most blows to the head, there is no shell that can cover every legal target on a man’s body. The body is also a valuable target: the reason body shots force the opponent to expose his chin is that they hurt. Most fighters will tell you that they would rather absorb a dozen shots to the head than one good dig to the body, especially once exhaustion sets in. As for exhaustion, nothing brings it on faster than a committed body attack.
All of this means it behooves a fighter like Terence Crawford to steal a body shot whenever the opportunity arises. And given how threatening Crawford’s jabs, counters, and machine-gun combinations are, his opponents are opening those windows all the time.
In this example, Crawford takes advantage of both levels and angles. Despite the blistering speed of his combination, each element is carefully selected to take advantage of the threats preceding and following it. Bud leads with a slapping, throwaway right hook. This gets Benavidez to open his guard, flaring his left arm to cover his cheek. The straight left that follows rockets down the alley this defense creates. Benavidez is quick enough to close his guard again, but the combination is doing its work: the younger man is already playing catch-up.
As Benavidez pinches his arms together, protecting his center line as best he can, Crawford is already in position to whip a right hook around the side. Because the straight left not only closes Benavidez’s guard, but raises it as well, Crawford targets the body, sailing clear under Junior’s elbow and sinking into his floating ribs. The final shot lacks the power of the one before, but Crawford finds himself in the right position to throw it. More importantly, like a retreating jab, this straight shot prevents Benavidez from coming back. Whether he had lowered his guard to protect his body, or surged forward to counter, Crawford’s left hand is there to meet him. By the time the threat is gone, Bud is out of range, and angling off once again.
Lead Left Stop-Hit
Not only is this next technique subtle in the extreme, but it pairs perfectly with Crawford’s counter right hook, arguably his most signature shot, and the one that every opponent either knows to look out for, or quickly learns to avoid.
Here, Jeff Horn advances on Crawford confidently. Stepping into range, he seems to expect Crawford’s usual trick—dropping back out of the pocket and filling the vacated space with that sweeping hook counter. Horn’s intent appears to be to anticipate the retreat with a bold forward step and then throw his own left hook inside Crawford’s right. You may notice that he seems unconcerned with the strong position Crawford holds. Horn happily allows Bud’s lead foot to stay well outside his, evidently because he wants to drag his hook across Crawford’s jaw from the inside angle.
Don’t think Horn is a fool for engaging in this way. Note Crawford’s posture at the beginning of the exchange. Firstly, his lowered guard is a tempting piece of bait. Coupled with the forward orientation of his upper body, with his weight apparently loaded onto the front foot, and he looks for all the world as if he is waiting for an opportunity to unwind that right hook. Crawford is simply an exceptionally deceptive fighter.
The moment Horn moves in to exchange, Crawford adjusts his position. The movements are small and precise. He takes a further step forward, deepening his outside angle. As his right foot moves, his left foot is sneakily coiled with potential energy. Despite the fact that Crawford never draws his upper body back, or rotates to load up his left hand, there remains more than enough weight on his back foot to drive the shot straight to, and through, the target. The cross catches Horn square on the mouth, interrupting his own attack before it ever comes near the target.
These are the hallmarks of a masterful thinker in the ring. While Crawford is often happy to let a string of full-on power punches fly, often overwhelming his opponents with the calculated ferocity of a Ray Robinson or Ezzard Charles, he is no less capable of hiding his intentions behind subtle changes of position. Whatever power his more deceptive punches lack is made up for twice over by the crushing cleanness with which they connect.