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Editorial: Is Terence Crawford’s time with Top Rank Boxing nearing its end?

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A rather uninteresting title defense against Kell Brook may be one of his last with Top Rank unless he can finally land a big fight.

Terence Crawford v Kell Brook - Press Conference Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Terence Crawford’s lone appearance of 2020 feels less like a marquee attraction and more like a waste of time.

The reigning WBO welterweight champion (36-0, 27 KOs) headlines a Top Rank on ESPN card against former IBF champion Kell Brook (39-2, 27 KOs) in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Brook hasn’t competed at welterweight since Errol Spence Jr broke his orbital and took his belt away in 2017. Truth be told, Brook hasn’t had a meaningful win since he upset Shawn Porter to become a world champion way back in 2014. While it is possible that Brook digs deep to find some of his past glory days, it’s far more likely that Crawford blows Brook out and ends the Brit’s relevance at the high-end of the sport.

“Bud” burst onto the scene when he won the WBO lightweight championship from Ricky Burns and then thumped Yuriorkis Gamboa in front of his home fans in Omaha, Nebraska in 2014. Three years later he unified the entire junior welterweight division with an easy knockout of Julius Indongo. Once 2018 rolled around it was time to move to welterweight, a division stacked with talent and intrigue. Top Rank made the obvious in-house decision to book him against WBO champion Jeff Horn, he of the controversial Manny Pacquiao fight. Crawford blew him out and then got a hometown defense and grudge match against Jose Benavidez, another in-house fight. It was one of ESPN’s highest-rated boxing broadcasts and it featured a highlight-reel finish.

As 2020 draws to its merciful conclusion, it is safe to say that Crawford has stalled in terms of compelling fights, and at 33 years of age time is not necessarily on his side.

2019 might have been the single biggest waste of Crawford’s career. A poor-selling pay-per-view against Amir Khan with a wholly unsatisfactory TKO via ball shot ending. By the end of the year he was in more trouble than expected against mandatory challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas before eventually getting the knockout. Again, it’s an in-house matchup and easy for Top Rank to make.

Crawford is hailed by his promotion and by many boxing observers as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. That may be true, but he’s not got the resume to even establish himself as the best welterweight, no matter what Top Rank may tell you.

The downside of having a fractured talent pool compared to what we see in the UFC is that it is substantially harder to book the top fights fans want to see (at least in a timely manner). Top Rank’s welterweight stable is comparatively weak compared to Premier Boxing Champions, which boasts Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Manny Pacquiao, and of course Errol Spence. Even the second-tier of Sergiy Lipinets and Yordenis Ugas is formidable. Co-promotion is possible and happens more than you think in boxing, but at the highest level it can be like pulling teeth. In this instance, it affects Crawford far more than Spence, who has far more options than his counterpart.

Top Rank has been by Crawford’s side since 2011 and it’s been a successful partnership up to this point. Whether he’ll be with them after 2021 is a different story, and the lack of major fights is a clear issue that is negatively affecting Bud’s reputation. It seems as if Crawford knows this, too.

The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger reported that there has been behind-the-scenes tension between the two sides over TR’s inability to secure a big money, meaningful matchup. Crawford’s attorney claimed that his client was “as frustrated now as I have ever seen him.” It’s apparently not for a lack of trying on Top Rank’s part, as they sought a Manny Pacquiao PPV main event in the Middle East, but there was already a reported issue over how much he’d be paid.

“Crawford was offered $6.5 million guaranteed, per sources, along with upside of the pay-per-view at $5 for every buy over 300,000. He countered at $9.5 million with upside at 500,000. Pacquiao, one of the sport’s marquee attractions, closed his side of the deal at $23.5 million guaranteed.”

According to Coppinger, any plans for Crawford vs. Pacquiao were shuttered when the Qatar Tourism Authority put the kibosh on holding sports events due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is how we got to Crawford vs. Brook, which won’t be on PPV and will see Crawford make a reported $4 million, which is a bit above his minimum guarantee. Brook will get $2 million, which is incredible B-side money for a cable TV fight.

Top Rank, unsurprisingly, put the onus on Al Haymon and PBC for why Crawford has yet to have his breakthrough moment.

“I take offense to somebody that says we haven’t been trying to make meaningful fights for him. Like we’re mailing in his career? That’s bullshit,” Top Rank president Todd duBoef told The Athletic.

“We made offers to Porter, to (Danny) Garcia, we asked Al (Haymon) about Spence; we made an offer to try to make the Pacquiao fight. It’s one thing if I don’t make offers, and don’t try to make the fight. That’s a different dynamic. We can only try so hard; it takes two to make fights.”

Crawford’s contract apparently runs out next October. With the way the world looks right now, it’s very possible that this is at best the penultimate fight on his deal and potentially his last.

One of the common refrains, particularly from the PBC side, is that Crawford is on the wrong side of the street. If Top Rank can’t successfully negotiate with their adversaries, then perhaps Bud may be left with no choice but to jump ship in order to get the fights he needs for his legacy. A decision on that will need to be made sooner rather than later.

Crawford vs. Brook airs live on ESPN at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT on Saturday, November 14th.