Mr Carter and Mr Crawford: Will the real Terence Crawford please stand up?

By Tris Dixon


THERE was a moment the day before Terence Crawford fought Errol Spence in July when everything seemed to fall into place. It was not at the final press conference, where the fighters nearly got into an altercation that almost spilled into war between rival factions from Omaha and New York, the respective fan bases of Crawford and Spence.

The standout moment happened when Crawford took to the stage for the weigh-in. Or, at least, it looked like Crawford. Master of ceremonies Jimmy Lennon had introduced him. It had to be him.

But the person in front of thousands at the T-Mobile in a sweltering, red-hot Las Vegas to witness the ceremonial weigh-in appeared different. Crawford bounded enthusiastically up the stairs to the stage. He swaggered; arms open wide, unable to control the grin that sprawled unreservedly across his face.

Crawford, and by now you could clearly see it was actually him, lip synced to Lil Wayne’s Mr Carter. He danced, gestured to the crowd and looked, on the eve of his greatest challenge, happier, more comfortable and more invested in his own story than at any point in his 40-fight career.

Because Crawford sparingly gives off such joyous vibes in public. If ever. He is a notoriously difficult interview. Several A4 sheets of questions, enough for a moderately deep dive, can be eviscerated with monosyllabic and disinterested answers in five-minutes flat.

Crawford is not trusting of others. He comes from a place where he knows who has his back, and if he doesn’t know you, or you have not proved it to him, you aren’t with him.

As he smeared Spence’s features across the gory Nevada ring a day later, he did so with a similar balletic gusto as to how he had bopped to Mr Carter. The pleasure was not from hurting another man, but proving to millions of others that he was every bit as good as he had always said he was.

But there are switches in Crawford’s mind, from dancer to fighter, from introvert to predator. They flicker. Linked by arteries of trauma, from his parents, drunk, arguing at their home on Larimore Street in North Omaha, from being broken down by a domineering mother who told him he’d amount to nothing and from suffering nightmares after an uncle was murdered when he was stabbed through the heart.

‘Bud’ built a resolve on the streets. He became, for want of a better phrase, bulletproof. His pain tolerance had been built from the beatings he took at home, and he seethed with a spite he would only be able to project onto others years later, not as a defenceless seven-year-old who still wanted to curl up and sleep next to his mother, despite the constant lack of approval and affection from her.

The malice eventually seeped out when he was expelled from five schools, but Crawford began to harness the aggression at the CW Boxing Club, rubbing shoulders with career criminals and gangsters.

But there was trouble. In 2008, early in his pro career, Crawford had been out in Omaha. There had been a fight with a bouncer, a dice game, he’d been sprayed with mace in the face by a cop and in the early hours of the morning, as Crawford sat in his car, the vehicle was hit by a hail of bullets. The windscreen changed the path of one, meaning it sliced through part of Crawford’s head rather than piercing the skull. Crawford drove himself to hospital.

Yet the surly disposition, the drama and the trauma were at odds to the extrovert cheerily jiving to Mr Carter. In moments like these, fighters can shrink under the lights or the glare can cause them to grow. Crawford had gone from the outsider who had been told to face the wall in boxing’s naughty corner – while the PBC welterweights faced one another – to larger-than-life character and main eventer. He might have had to join PBC to make it happen, having left previous promoters Top Rank, but it was happening.

For his part, Spence was poker faced. He went through the motions. He didn’t shrink. But he also did not welcome the moment as viscerally as Crawford. Crawford was dancing with destiny. Spence was merely a stagehand in the production.

Crawford and Spence (Al Bello/Getty Images)

It was not meant to be that way. Crawford-Spence was supposed to be this era’s Hearns-Leonard. Some hoped for Hagler-Hearns-style fireworks, too. Instead, Crawford meted out the whipping of Spence’s life, putting on such a glorious display that those who had salivated over the dream fight for so long felt the rematch clause was redundant small print.

But for those in Crawford’s inner-circle, none of this was new. None of this was a shock, and none of it was unchartered territory. Even as Crawford rapped on stage at the weigh-in, members of his team only saw what they had always seen, the real Terence Crawford. Not the person he allows the rest of the world to see.

One long-standing member of his group, publicist Julie Goldsticker, adored seeing Crawford thriving as Lil Wayne blared some 24 hours before he would paint the canvas with Spence’s bloody and bewildered features.

A week later, she must have rewatched the weigh-in “about 1,000 times”.

“I was thinking why I enjoyed it so much,” Goldsticker recalled. “I was thinking, ‘This is the moment that he has been wanting his entire career and now he has it’. He knows how ready he is for it. He fought every best person who was available who would step in the ring with him. He became undisputed at 140. He was a champion at 135. He chased the Manny Pacquiao fight for many years before he chased an Errol Spence fight. Those big fights just wouldn’t happen for him, as much as he asked, begged and pleaded for them. At ‘47 it was a lot of politics and promotional differences, so not only is he not getting the fights he’s begging for but he’s also having people say he hasn’t fought anybody – which isn’t true. But it’s a combination of, ‘We won’t fight you to give you those big names on your resume’ and ‘we’re going to use that against you’. He refused to be denied during all of that, and there’s something magical and special about that.”

Goldsticker’s first assignment as part of Team Crawford was the 2017 fight with Felix Diaz. Crawford was in training camp in Colorado Springs, but they had known one another for years before Crawford let her in.

Goldsticker worked PR for USA boxing, so she knew Crawford from the amateurs. Then, when Crawford turned pro, she kept tabs on his progress. On an early visit to watch fighters training at the Fort Carson Military Base in Colorado Springs, she observed Crawford. For 45 relentless minutes, one of Crawford’s unheralded coaches, Esau Dieguez, took the prospect on the pads. There was nothing flash or fancy. There were no triple hooks, 20-punch combinations or anything else that might set TikTok alight. It was one punch, repeated over and over, until both were happy with the day’s work. Switch-hitting Crawford and padman Dieguez spent that entire time on the jab, from one stance.

Goldsticker watched, waiting for variation or deviation, but there was none.

“I remember just being kind of mesmerised by that, and the work ethic and the fundamentals… that they spent so much time just working on the jab,” she recalled.

That is a side of Crawford that is understood and appreciated. He is a master of his craft. There is another side to him, though, even if Crawford opts to often not reveal it.

“While Terence doesn’t immediately let people in, he’s also a pretty good judge of character and he can tell who is looking for something from him and whose intentions are not negative,” Goldsticker explained.

As well as Dieguez, Crawford’s coaching team includes McIntyre and Red Spikes, who goes back with Crawford to their Nebraska days.

Like Goldsticker, Spikes noted Crawford’s gregarious demeanour on stage at the weigh-in and smiled to himself. Crawford had, for once, let thousands to peak behind the scenes.

“He’s like that with us,” Spikes added. “You’ve got to understand, I’ve been around Terence for over 20 years so I know his personality and he’s like that with people he loves. He’s very funny. He’s energetic. He’s got a sense of humour like a mother fucker. He’s funny as shit. He’s very clever, he talks a lot of shit, but when the camera’s on, he kind of tapers off a little bit.”

Then, talking of the Spence experience, Spikes continued: “He was in that moment. This is what he wanted for years. We knew what the outcome was going to be so it was just, ‘I’m finally getting my moment, I’m excited about it’. This was the solidifying moment to shut all of the doubters up, even though we already knew what Terence was.”

But Spikes and Goldsticker differ on one thing. While the coach is more than happy to be one of the faction that sees ‘the real Bud’, Goldsticker would like Crawford to share more of himself so the world can see who he is.

“That’s up to him to want to open up and show that, and if he feels like this is what I’m going to show, this is what it is,” said Spikes. “Listen, I’m in the car with him, so I’m privileged to see it, so I’m not worried about what he wants to portray or show to the public.”

“Media wasn’t always his thing,” Goldsticker laughs. “But I think that’s another area he’s grown substantially in. And I think people are seeing that as well. I think the public knows more of the real Terence now. It’s interesting because a lot of the media stuff at the beginning was also trust-based. ‘I don’t want to let people in’. But I think Terence lets people in once they show they deserve to be let in. For me, it’s been the challenge of showing people who Terence really is and letting him be more of himself, letting him be more comfortable – so putting him in situations where he can share more of himself. That was putting the right people in front of him to talk to him.I want him to get credit for his maturation on the media side because it’s been huge and it’s something that has been intentional because he knows that’s part of his job, to do interviews and promote a fight. Whether it’s his favourite thing or not, he is a professional and he is going to approach it the same way he approaches everything else…. [but] that doesn’t mean he is going to say anything he isn’t thinking or he is feeling.”

Terence Crawford (Getty Imges)

Even Goldsticker admitted it took “a year or so” of being around for Crawford and his team to “adopt” her. But she liked that.

“They kind of let you in together,” she explains.

But Crawford has grown distrusting of the boxing media, the clickbait headlines, those who peddle promotional divides and unsubstantiated gossip. Another member of the camp, WBC lightweight belt-holder Shakur Stevenson, made it clear how Crawford feels about the media when he said, “He don’t like y’all.”

“I think he’s different behind the scenes from what y’all see,” Stevenson goes on. “I kind of get it because y’all spread so many lies and false narratives. No disrespect, but certain fighters pick that up. And fighters like Bud, he gets fed up. I think you don’t get the version of Bud that I get, or his family or someone who’s around him gets. It’s just a lot of bullshit that goes round.”

You do get a flavour of Crawford’s relationship with Stevenson from the outside looking in. After Crawford was done running through Spence, he was filmed back in his locker room with his young prodigy and they shared a warm embrace.

They have been around one another since 2013, when Stevenson was just 15 and before Crawford had won his first world title. Goldsticker calls their relationship “brothers, friends, father-son, all of the above,” and Stevenson basked in Crawford’s victory glow post-Spence.

“It definitely was a great moment with Bud,” Stevenson explains. “Bud was with me in my biggest moments, that’s why what you’ve seen was real, genuine love. When he came in the locker room and he saw me, that was genuine. I’m his little brother, and he hugged me.”

“As Shakur gets older, Bud will always be big bro to Shakur and Shakur is very lucky to have both Andre [Ward] and Terence in his life as guiding figures and those are relationships I love so much,” Goldsticker [who always handled Ward’s PR] says, fondly. “And Bud and Shakur’s love for each other is like something I’ve not seen. There’s a lot of selfishness in this sport, and they truly want the very best for each other. Shakur loves and respects Bud so much and both of them would do absolutely anything for the other and he has that guide to walk him through a lot of these things, whether it’s in or out of the ring. Their relationship is very pure and real.”

Spikes, like Julie, has seen Crawford grow in the media, even if a guard system remains in place. Crawford feels, for instance, that he has drawn a line on subjects he has talked about in the past. So there is no need to bring up being shot, his mum’s ambivalence before he made it, the gangs, the violence. But he seemed more relaxed in several interviews post-Spence and he is certainly getting more plaudits than at any time in his career. Get him talking about his kids, their abilities at wrestling or high school athletics, and his face has more chance of lighting up.

The Monday morning after Spence, Crawford was already in Iowa and cheering on his daughter at the track nationals.

“Terence is one of the kindest humans you will ever meet,” Goldsticker smiles. “His heart is massive. Sometimes it’s too big. Terence is a person who is extremely family oriented. Family is everything, but I don’t know that the full world will ever know who the real Terence Crawford is. They have seen his journey, and when he answered the question in the ring with Jim Grey that night [after Spence] and he said, ‘No one believed in me, now I have finally shown them’, and the battles that he had to go through to have the opportunity to have this fight, and to be somebody who knew he was capable of this greatness but who was begging and pleading for the chance to show it… The boxing business beats you up and it has definitely done that for him and his team, but he just refused to take no for an answer and through everything he went through he just overcame it.”

That defiance is symbolic of Crawford’s reputation, his sullenness, his incongruity with the media and his built-in mistrust of others. None of it was aided by being frozen out of ‘other-side-of-the-street’ contests with the likes of Shawn Porter (which eventually happened), Keith Thurman, Pacquiao and Spence. Spikes puts it down to behaviour that was simply bad for boxing, but there’s no question the team had to be patient and tolerate their share of criticism.

“You see, over time, it’s eventually going to come,” Spikes says. “You stay true to your craft, you keep winning, you keep dominating, and eventually it’s going to come. It took a little bit of time. Maybe he wasn’t the biggest personality and all that, but you keep winning, beat these top guys, they’re going to love you. Everything happens on God’s time. He [Crawford] can’t do this [be fake] and turn it on because the camera’s there, it’s got to be natural with him. If you catch moments with him on camera, it’s because it’s a natural authentic moment.”

Goldsticker makes a similar observation.

“The thing about Terence is he is 1,000 per cent authentically himself,” she continues. “He doesn’t ever fake it. He doesn’t have the ability to fake it. That’s just not who he is and I think that when he got on that stage [dancing to Lil Wayne] that’s what he felt in that moment. Oftentimes I’ve had people say, ‘Bring out the argumentative side of Bud’. Terence is going to be who he is and how he feels in that moment. That [on stage] wasn’t planned. You can see the big smile on Bomac’s face, because what I saw in that moment was joy, excitement that Terence’s moment was here. He’s been scratching and clawing for it and it was, ‘I know what I’m about to do tomorrow night’. Terence is not someone you can get to go and put on an act. It’s not in him.”

It is not easy to be that way in the boxing business, when promoters and TV networks demand characters who say certain things to favourably alter the bottom line.

It is possibly why, when Mr Carter echoed through the speakers at the T-Mobile Arena the day before Crawford finally scored the signature win of his dreams with a defining performance of this generation, it all seemed to fit. Crawford was about to deliver his statement. It was his address to boxing, the doubters and the sceptics.

Crawford moved, grooved and sang, a broad smile creasing his cheeks as he sang with Lil Wayne:

Man, I got Summer hatin’ on me ’cause I’m hotter than the Sun
Got Spring hatin’ on me ’cause I ain’t never sprung
Winter hatin’ on me ’cause I’m colder than y’all
And I will never, I will never, I will never fall
I’m being hated by the seasons
So fuck y’all who hatin’ for no reason.

#Carter #Crawford #real #Terence #Crawford #stand

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