Sparring For Omaha
Jan 09, 2015 03:16PM
By Leo Adam Biga
A gifted but star-crossed amateur boxer, Crawford turned pro in 2008 and for years he fought everywhere but Omaha. It was only after winning the WBO title last March against Ricky Burns in Scotland that he finally returned home to fight as a professional. As reigning champion Crawford headlined a June 28 CenturyLink Center Omaha card. He successfully defended his title with a rousing 9-round technical knockout over Yuriorkis Gamboa before 10,900 animated fans.
He made a second victorious defense here Nov. 29 against challenger Ray Beltran. Before a super-charged crowd of 11,200, he dismantled Beltran en route to a 12-round unanimous decision. The convincing win made him Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year.
Even with everything he’s done, Crawford, who’s expected to move up to the welterweight division, says, “I’m hungry because I want more. I don’t want to just stop at being good, I want to be great. I want to keep putting on performances that will take me to that next level.”
This warrior believes winning is his hard-earned destiny, saying, “If I fight like I want to fight, can’t nobody beat me.”
Through it all he remains devoted to community. Residents reciprocate by turning out in droves, showering him with rock star adulation.
Chants of “Crawford, Crawford, Crawford” and shouts of “We love you” filled the arena Nov. 29. When the ripped, goateed Crawford attacked, fans went wild. He fed off dynamic energy and high theatrics, his counterpunching, dancing style a perfect fit for the pulsating music, colored lights, fight video montages and amped-up crowd. When the decision was announced family and friends swarmed him in the ring. He climbed the ropes to acknowledge the fans, his face beaming and his gloved hands raised overhead, waving. On his way to the dressing room, the title belt around his waist and his boy at his side, he humbly accepted congratulations and posed for pictures with admirers.
Known for cool under fire, he doesn’t let the pressure of the big stage get to him.
“With him, man, he don’t give a damn if the fight’s in hell, it’s just another day in the gym,” co-manager Brian “BoMac” McIntyre says. “He knows exactly where he wants to go in this game and he knows how to get there and what it’s going to take to get there.”
North O has a history of producing great athletes. Bob Gibson, Gale Sayers, Johnny Rodgers, and Ahman Green all came out of the same poor neighborhood as Crawford. But where the others achieved their real fame outside of the city, Crawford’s doing it in his hometown. Now regarded by most as the best fighter ever from Nebraska and as one of the best, pound for pound, in the world today, he’s become a darling of HBO, whose telecasts of his last few bouts scored major ratings. He’s also become a true people’s champion.
His local loyalty is seen in his B&B Boxing Academy located in the heart of the hood. He wants it to be a launching pad for more champions.
“I want to show we’re not just stepping stones, we do have talent in Omaha and I’m not the only one with the talent—it’s just that people have never been given opportunities like I’ve had.”
He’s “lost count” of the aspiring boxers trying to follow his path. He wants boxing to get kids off the street the way it did for him. “I want to be a positive influence and show them a different route.” McIntyre, his partner in the gym, says they aim “to develop young kids into young men and young men into responsible adults,” adding, “We want to let everyone know if we can make it from this community, they can, too.”
Treven Coleman-Avant is among the fighter stable there trying to emulate Crawford’s ring success.
“I pray for many years to come he’ll be the champion,” Coleman-Avant says. “And I plan to come right up along with him.”
It’s not all about fighting. Before Thanksgiving Crawford handed out free turkeys outside the gym, personally greeting recipients and receiving hugs, kisses, thank-yous and God-bless-yous in return.
“If I’m going to have my name out there I want to be in the middle of it interacting with the people I make happy,” he says.
“Much appreciated,” a woman in line offered. “He’s not forgotten us,” another woman said. “He takes his and gives back to where he started from,” a man added.
Shawntay Crawford says of her brother, “He’s a loving, caring person. You see him being a true champion outside the ring and that’s what its all about,” Coleman-Avant adds.
Bud simply says, “We all make the community and I feel like when you’re going good—give back and help out.”
The fighter takes care of his own. McIntyre, among several Omaha-based coaches and trainers with Team Crawford, says, “Bud’s assured me we’re never going to fall apart. He’s given us that security we’re here to stay.”
Crawford’s also revived boxing in Omaha, where the sport was dormant until his emergence. Few thought Omaha could support a world title card. “A lot of people doubted and now they’re believers,” Crawford says.
He expects to fight again in Omaha for Top Rank and HBO. “As long as I keep performing to my best abilities, put on a great show and, as long as everybody keeps coming out to support me, of course they’re going to keep coming back. Why wouldn’t they?”
“Like I always say,” Crawford concludes, “there’s no place like home.”