After a slow start in his WBO lightweight title fight on Saturday against Yuriorkis Gamboa, Terence Crawford was brilliant from the fifth round forward. He controlled the distance, he made adjustments that opened punching angles for him and he looked for all the world like one of the game's best fighters.
He knocked Gamboa down four times in the fight and stopped him in the ninth round in the HBO-televised bout from the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. He outclassed the 2004 Olympic flyweight gold medalist and appears headed for big things, though he's likely to leave lightweight and move up to the loaded 140-pound division.
Crawford looked every inch the budding star, but his greatest accomplishment came when the stands were filled with 10,943 passionate fans who cheered his every move.
One of the things that boxing has gotten away from in this century is building a grass roots following for the fighters. One of the best ways to do that is to have the boxers compete in their hometowns, where the (presumably) rabid fan base will turn out to show its support.
Of course, it's not as simple as just turning on the lights and opening the doors, but far too few fighters have a local following any more.
There are many reasons for that, including a lack of boxing writers in many cities, but promoter ineptitude heads the list.
It takes an investment of time, money and creativity, and far too many promoters today are simply looking for a quick buck and pay little-to-zero attention to marketing and public relations.
Give Top Rank plenty of credit on Saturday for putting the Crawford-Gamboa fight in Crawford's hometown of Omaha, and then for pricing the tickets correctly. Tickets were $100, $50 and $25 and because the company didn't get greedy, the arena was filled with true fans who made it a raucous, fun and lively atmosphere.
Had the fight been in Las Vegas, it would have been far easier for Top Rank, which is based in the Boxing Capital of the World. Top Rank would have gotten a site fee from a casino and logistics would have been far simpler, and cheaper, than trucking its staff halfway across the country.
But no one in Las Vegas really would have cared much about Crawford, and the passion for Crawford that left everyone with a smile on their face while leaving the CenturyLink Center on Saturday would have been absent in Las Vegas.
In order to develop a fighter into a legitimate, ticket-selling star, a promoter must first establish a base for the fighter. That's what Top Rank did on Saturday by bringing the first world title fight to Omaha in 42 years, since Joe Frazier defeated Ron Stander in a heavyweight title match in 1972.
That's not going to happen when a promoter takes the easy money and routinely puts the fighter in venues where he has no connection to the audience. This is particularly true of casino venues.
Top Rank gambled by bringing the bout to a locale which wasn't a traditional boxing hotbed. It bet on the fact that it could get the word out and that locals would come out to see their hometown hero make the first defense of his title.
Anyone who watched the fight on HBO had to have been impressed with Crawford's briliance in the ring, but the drama of the event increased tenfold because of the loud, boisterous crowd that enthuasistically backed Crawford.
Top Rank president Todd duBoef, as quoted by the Omaha World-Herald, noted the significance of that point.
To get these special moments and to have an icon come from the city and help us touch those people, it’s incredible. For us, this was a magical night — not only that, to have the performance in the ring live up to it. Everybody that bought a ticket, I promise you, will buy another one.
The sport thrives when it has fighters who can sell tickets, like Miguel Cotto can in New York, like Carl Froch does in England and Wladimir Klitschko does in Europe.
The fact that Crawford not only sold the tickets but then delivered a big-time performance against a talented but enigmatic opponent only adds to the success of the show.
Crawford is a star in the making, clearly aided by plenty of his hometown fans in Omaha.