LAS VEGAS — It is 109 degrees outside and significantly hotter inside the Top Rank Gym, where scores of boxers, trainers, reporters and publicists are doing the familiar dance that occurs before a major fight card.
The air conditioning isn’t working or isn’t on or something, and sweat is pouring off the brow of those doing nothing more strenuous than turning a tape recorder on and off.
Terence “Bud” Crawford, one of the world’s elite fighters, is seated on a bench in the locker room where a small group of reporters are quizzing him about his title unification fight Saturday at the MGM Grand with Viktor Postol on HBO Pay-Per-View.
It’s an under-the-radar beauty of a fight. Crawford is 28-0 with 20 knockouts, holds the WBO junior welterweight belt and is regarded among the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
He’ll face Postol, a 32-year-old Ukrainian who is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach. Postol is 28-0 with 12 knockouts and holds the WBC super lightweight belt.
The winner, along with WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas, is in the running to face Manny Pacquiao in November in what will assuredly be either man’s largest payday.
The Crawford-Postol card on Saturday is, inexplicably, on pay-per-view, which pretty much assures that it’s going to be a dud at the box office.
Neither man is well known enough at this point of his career to headline a pay-per-view, and it’s a fight that ought to have been shown on regular HBO if the network weren’t having budget issues with its boxing content.
But when HBO declined to buy the fight, promoter Bob Arum’s only option was to put it on pay-per-view and thus generate the fees necessary to pay the fighters their salaries from the sales.
Postol has fought the majority of his fights in his native Ukraine, and has only competed three times in the U.S., headlining just one of those.
Postol doesn’t speak English, which makes him an even more difficult sale on pay-per-view, where people tend to buy when they recognize a familiar name or face.
Crawford is the star here, the English speaker, the first name on the marquee.
He can be a gracious and entertaining man, and he’s done great works for charity, as evidenced by his trips to Africa to support the needy in Rwanda and Uganda.
It’s obvious this day, though, that Crawford doesn’t want to be here. There are few smiles, and he seems determined not to use two words to answer a question if one, or a shrug of the shoulders, will do.
One reporter asked him about his charity work.
“Everybody knows about that,” he said, declining to go further.
His trainer, Brian McIntyre, goes through a long recitation of Crawford’s strengths, but he draws the line at discussing Pacquiao.
It’s Postol and nothing else, he says.
“He got where he is by working his [butt] off and by giving all of his attention to the guy in front of him,” McIntyre said. “The guy in front of him on Saturday night is Viktor Postol, and Viktor Postol is all we’re interested in. At this point, we don’t care none about Manny Pacquiao.”
A pay-per-view fight forces the star — Crawford in this case — to become a salesman, to hype the fight. His salary grows exponentially in relation to the amount of time he puts into selling it.
Crawford, though, isn’t a salesman. He’s a fighter and he’s not going to sell out just to sell a few extra pay-per-views.
No doubt, Arum wishes he would. Top Rank is girding for a financial disaster from the show. HUT levels — Households using television — are low in the summer, and so even on HBO, the fight probably wouldn’t attract a great rating in late July.
But a late summer fight between two largely unknown fighters in which the viewer has to pay to see it?
Yeah, good luck with that.
Roach, Pacquiao’s long-time trainer, understands the PPV business as well as anyone in the game. It’s all about raising awareness of the event, hopefully with some trash talk thrown in to pique interest.
He began training Postol two years ago, much the same way he landed Pacquiao back in 2001: Postol had fought his first 25 fights mostly in his native Ukraine. He walked into the Wild Card Gym in 2014 because he’d known of Roach’s reputation and wanted to raise his game to the next level.
This is Crawford’s first pay-per-view as a headliner, and he seems oddly detached, much different than in previous fights.
Crawford, though, says he’s the same man he’s always been. He’s all about performance and said in essence that the time for talk has passed.
“There is no pressure on me being looked at as boxing’s next superstar, but there is a lot of hard work in becoming one,” he said. “I’m really excited to be on the big stage and I’m on that big stage because I paid my dues in the gym and in the ring. That’s the reason I have accomplished so much as a fighter — pride of performance — and that’s why I am going to win Saturday.
“If I’m going to solidify my position as the new face of boxing it starts by unifying the 140 pound division. … Postol is nothing to me. He’s just another guy that I’m fighting. I’m not training for Postol, I’m training for myself, to be the best I can possibly be. I do that, then no one can beat me. I’m confident in my abilities and I am confident that I am going to destroy Postol.”