Welterweight Crawford out to make his case as boxing's best

BRIAN MAHONEY (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
FILE - In this June 9, 2018, file photo, Terence Crawford celebrates after defeating Jeff Horn, of Australia, in a welterweight title boxing match in Las Vegas. Crawford wanted to fight three times this year. It's hard enough to find one guy to give him a real fight, which is what Lithuanias Egidijus Kavaliauskas will try to do Saturday when Crawford defends his welterweight title at Madison Square Garden (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
FILE - In this June 9, 2018, file photo, Terence Crawford celebrates after defeating Jeff Horn, of Australia, in a welterweight title boxing match in Las Vegas. Crawford wanted to fight three times this year. It's hard enough to find one guy to give him a real fight, which is what Lithuanias Egidijus Kavaliauskas will try to do Saturday when Crawford defends his welterweight title at Madison Square Garden (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Terence Crawford believes he's the best fighter in the world and wanted more chances to prove it this year.

He hoped to have three fights in 2019 but will be boxing for only the second time when he defends his welterweight title Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The boxer who has had the answers every time he's climbed into the ring is stumped about why he fell short of his goal.

''I really don't know,'' Crawford said. ''Maybe budget. I don't know.''

Or maybe it's because it's hard enough just finding one guy who can give him a real contest.

Egidijus Kavaliauskas (pronounced Egg-ID'-di-yus Ka-val-YAUS-kus) is the next fighter who will try in the main event of a card to be televised by ESPN following the Heisman Trophy presentation. It's the second straight bout at Madison Square Garden for Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs), who stopped Amir Khan in April.

That was Crawford's third consecutive stoppage since moving up to welterweight after unifying all the major titles at 140 pounds. There are many big names at 147 pounds who would make for an attractive matchup with Crawford, such as Errol Spence, Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman, but he's been unable to get fights with any of them and seems tired of getting asked about it. He wanted to talk only about his bout with Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs), a Lithuanian who is the mandatory challenger for his WBO belt.

''Like I said, I'm always looking to go out there and put on a great performance and show the world why I feel like I'm the No. 1 pound-for-pound over any other fighter,'' Crawford said.

The Nebraska native may very well be, with a combination of skill and power than can rival anyone. But his list of opposition falls short compared with other fighters in the discussion, a problem that may not be Crawford's fault but critics can certainly hold against him.

Perhaps a tough fight that forced Crawford to dig deep and overcome adversity would earn him extra appreciation, but he has no interest in getting into a slugfest just to do that and bristles at the notion that a fighter needs to risk injury to be interesting.

''All those people that criticize boxers for boxing never been in a ring before. They never had the pleasure of getting knocked upside the head for 12 rounds,'' Crawford said. ''You know, like, it's not fun. We do it because it's our job. But boxers go in the ring one person and leave a different person.

''You go home, you eat your popcorn, you talk to your family, you say, 'Oh, that was a great fight,' but it was a great fight for you to watch. But you don't think about the fighters that went through hell to entertain you.''

That might help sell tickets, though. Promoter Bob Arum said that short of staging cards in fighters' hometowns, such as when Crawford packs the place when he fights in Omaha, the key to drawing big crowds is having what he calls 50-50 fights, and Crawford's fights certainly aren't that.

But the fight preceding it may be, when Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) defends his lightweight title against 2016 Olympian Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs). Lopez represented Honduras, his parents' country, but he's from Brooklyn and boasted that ''all of New York'' is coming to see his first shot at a title.

The winner is expected to move on to a 2020 unification showdown with two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko, who is scheduled to attend the fight. The Ukrainian, like Crawford, is in the discussion for most skilled fighter in the world, but the 22-year-old Lopez has already been pushing for the fight - and says he's not sure Lomachenko wants it.

''Everybody wants that fight,'' Lopez said. ''Everybody wants to see the fight, so hopefully we can make all those things happen.''

And perhaps Crawford will get the test that fans want, too. Maybe it arrives Saturday against Kavaliauskas, a two-time Olympian nicknamed ''Mean Machine'' who hasn't been knocked down as a pro.

If not, perhaps in 2020. Whenever - if ever - it happens, Crawford vows he will be prepared.

''It'll come,'' he said. ''Like I said, only thing I've got to do is focus on winning.''

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