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Is Crawford Omaha's best ever?

JAMES R. BURNETT/THE WORLD-HERALD

By Tony Boone / World-Herald News Service

Qwest Center Omaha echoed as the crowd chanted his name.   ¶   "Ter-ence ... Ter-ence ... Ter-ence ... Ter-ence."   ¶   It was semifinal Friday at the 2006 National Golden Gloves. And for the first time in more than a quarter century, an Omahan had a legitimate shot to win the coveted amateur boxing title.

Fans cheered wildly as Terence “Bud” Crawford beat Carlos Molina that night. They were even louder Saturday as the teenager met Jesus Mendez III of Texas in the 132-pound final.

“I’ll never forget that either,” Crawford said. “Those were the two loudest fights that I’ve ever fought in my life. I had goose bumps coming out both nights, the semifinals and the finals.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Terence Crawford, left, and Bredeis Prescott exchange punches during a super lightweight boxing match on March 30 in Las Vegas. Crawford won by unanimous decision.

That was seven years ago. To Crawford, it seems like many more.

He’s been a professional fighter for more than five years. The 25-year-old Omaha Bryan graduate has a 20-0 record with 15 knockouts. And he’s five weeks removed from a dominant, career-best win on national television.

Crawford wore “OMAHA” on his trunks on HBO as he beat Breidis Prescott on March 30. He said he’s always representing his hometown, while wondering if his hometown still remembers him.

“I’ve been boxing for a long time,” he said. “I feel like if anyone should know who Terence Crawford really is, it should be Omaha.”

But even as Crawford’s win total grew, his presence locally shrunk. “Since I’ve turned pro, it’s been blank.”

Omaha isn’t a hotbed for professional boxing.

There’s been exactly one professional bout in the city since Crawford turned pro in 2008, and that was a four-rounder at an amateur show.

Crawford wants to fight at home. He has ever since the Golden Gloves.

Perhaps if he would have been able to fight locally after the buzz generated from that weekend seven years ago, anonymity at home wouldn’t be a problem.

“It wouldn’t be like it is right now,” he said. “People would’ve been talking about Terence Crawford, not saying ‘Who is that guy Crawford?’ ”

That guy Crawford may be the best boxer ever to come out of Omaha. Many believe he already is. Others have said he could be — if he left the city behind to hone his craft.

Crawford refused to do that. Ranked No. 11 in the world by the International Boxing Federation, he’s on the fast track to a title. And if he gets it, he said he’ll do it from Omaha.

“It was important for me to stay here because this is where I was born, this is where I grew up, this is where my struggles and my pain were,” he said. “For me to pick up and just leave, it’s like me running away from my problems. I’ve been through a lot in Omaha.”

Fight club

Crawford liked to fight even at a young age. And Carl Washington knew that.

The founder of the C.W. Boxing Club was Crawford’s neighbor. Crawford’s grandfather, father and uncle had all trained at Washington’s gym.

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The 7-year-old Terence didn’t know any of that. And he didn’t know Washington, who lived behind them.

“Carl saw me on the streets,” Crawford said. “He knew I was one of those little bad kids that wanted to fight around the corner.”

One day, Washington asked him if he wanted to box.

Crawford’s response: “I told him I don’t talk to strangers, and I went home to tell my mom.”

By the time Debra Crawford heard her son’s story, Washington was at the front door. It was then Crawford learned of his family’s history with boxing. He was at C.W. soon after.

But his fighting didn’t stay in the gym, even though trainer Midge Minor tried to keep it there.

“I was getting kicked out of school for fighting. Midge kicked me out of the gym because we were getting into it. I didn’t care,” Crawford said. “I played football. I played basketball. I wrestled. In all those sports, I was getting into it with my teammates. I just had that temper.

“If it didn’t have anything to do with fighting, it wasn’t fun. That’s what I liked to do, fight.”

Blowing up

Following his one-sided win over Prescott in March, which came at a weight class above Crawford’s usual 135-pound division, the top names in boxing were raving about the Omaha fighter.

Super middleweight champion Andre Ward and former junior featherweight belt-holder Nonito Donaire, both considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, were tweeting about Crawford’s stellar performance in his first national TV appearance.

Welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, with whom Crawford has previously sparred, reportedly said if the Omahan were to fight for a world title now, he would win.

“Fighters respect fighters, when they see a good fighter,” Crawford said.

Locally, the lightweight had garnered that respect a long time ago.

SOME OF THE AREA’S GREATEST BOXERS

Harley Cooper: Considered one of the best amateurs never to go pro, Cooper won National Golden Gloves titles in 1963 and ’64. He earned a spot in the 1964 Olympics, but he wasn’t allowed to compete after it was discovered that a birth defect had left him with one working kidney.

Perry “Kid” Graves: Hailing from Rock Bluff in Cass County, Graves, left, is thought to be Nebraska’s only recognized world champion. He won the world welterweight championship with a second-round knockout of Johnny Alberts in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1914 and held it for less than two years.

Paul Hartnek: A former Creighton University football player, Hartnek, right, was the first heavyweight to win consecutive National Golden Gloves championships (1936 and ’37). He lost three times to Omaha rival Carl Vinciquerra and twice to world title contender Lou Nova as a professional.

Art Hernandez: The best of the Hernandez brothers was a middleweight contender who earned a disputed 1964 draw with former champ Sugar Ray Robinson in Omaha. Hernandez twice won the North American Boxing Federation middleweight title and was the first five-time Midwest Golden Gloves champ.

Ferd Hernandez: The oldest of the Hernandez brothers won the 1960 National Golden Gloves championship at 147 pounds. He was a solid pro middleweight who won a split decision over Sugar Ray Robinson in Las Vegas in 1965.

Ace Hudkins: Known as “The Nebraska Wildcat,” the top-ranked Hudkins lost a split decision to world middleweight champion Mickey Walker at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1928. Walker also won the rematch in ’29 in Los Angeles. Hudkins went on to become a stuntman in Hollywood.

Lamont Kirkland: Nebraska’s last National Golden Gloves champ, the Omaha 165-pounder won in 1980. One of the region’s most powerful punchers in the amateurs, he reached the national final three times in six appearances. His pro record as a light heavyweight was 24-3.

Dick Ryan: Before Terence Crawford, Ryan (55-10) might be considered Omaha’s last big draw. The popular, hard-punching heavyweight fought here a lot starting in the late 1980s. A world traveler at the end of a 20-year run, he fought world champs Vitali Klitschko, Hasim Rahman and Buster Douglas.

Ron Stander: After a knockout win over Earnie Shavers, “The Bluffs Butcher” challenged heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in 1972 at the Civic Auditorium in the only world title fight held in Omaha. The bout was stopped after four rounds due to severe cuts on the Council Bluffs native’s face.

Carl Vinciquerra: A former football star at Tech High and Creighton, Vinciquerra became the only Omahan to box in the Olympics when he fought in Berlin in 1936. One of five National Golden Gloves champions from Nebraska, he went on to a 39-5 professional record at heavyweight.

— Tony Boone and John Rodino

Retired boxer Grover Wiley, a former C.W. fighter who owns a victory over Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez, has been bragging about Crawford for more than a decade. The 38-year-old, who last fought in 2008, declared Crawford a future world champ when Crawford was only a teen.

Wiley said, from an early age, Crawford always wanted to fight the boxers at C.W. who were bigger and better than him. The youngster felt that was the best way to improve in the ring.

The two have sparred hundreds of times over the years. In 2008, Wiley took Crawford to a training camp in Florida as he prepared for a nationally televised bout against Julio Cesar Garcia.

“They couldn’t believe I was bringing a guy from Nebraska down for sparring,” Wiley said. “Then he would get in the ring and beat up everybody from West Palm to Miami.”

Middleweight Patrick Thompson from Lincoln, Nebraska’s most active boxer in recent years, routinely traveled to Omaha for sparring as he readied himself for upcoming bouts.

Facing a who’s who of up-and-comers in both the 154- and 160-pound weight classes, he was looking for tough workout partners who could provide competitive rounds.

Crawford was across the ring for more than 50 of them. Thompson was impressed.

“He’s definitely special,” the 40-year-old veteran said. “He’s got all the tools, mentally and physically. He’s well put together. I’ve always known this dude was going to get somewhere. I was out there fighting the best of the best, but I knew he was rougher than all of them.”

Staying on track

Minor had a feeling early on that Crawford had a gift for boxing.

“I knew it from the first time he came in the gym,” he said. “He had that heart. I knew he was going to be a fighter.”

But C.W. Boxing’s longtime trainer, now 73, wasn’t sure if his prodigy would make it.

“I had to kick him out of the gym because he was bad,” Minor said. “I told Carl to get him because he had a fighter’s attitude. We started working together, and I kind of raised him.”

Crawford’s father, Terry, was in the Navy. He was rarely around. And when he was, his son said, the elder Crawford wasn’t at the house. His mother mostly raised him and his two sisters alone.

Minor became a father figure for Crawford. But in his teenage years, his boxer developed an interest in roaming the streets of north Omaha with friends. Trouble often ensued.

“I used to do things that I thought I’d never do, hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Crawford said. “It was a bad influence. I would get into stuff because of friends, all that negativity.”

Minor came down hard on him. To keep Crawford off the streets, he would bring the teen to his house after school to watch boxing tapes before they would go to the gym. Crawford often tried to hide when Minor showed up to get him. His mom always blew his cover and turned him over.

“That was the time in my life that I needed my dad to be the father I needed him to be,” he said. “I had nothing else to do but run around in the neighborhood. Midge stopped all that before it started. If it wasn’t for Midge, there’s no telling where I’d be at right now.”

Tipping point

How quickly things can go south was driven home in September 2008, only a few months into Crawford’s pro career.

“That whole day was messed up,” he said. “I should’ve been home. I was training for a fight. I was supposed to be on ESPN two weeks after that.”

Crawford’s fateful day began with an argument with his mom. Later, he and some friends were thrown out of SeptemberFest, an Omaha Labor Day celebration, by security. Crawford was nearly hit with a nightstick. When he began to protest, a guard sprayed Mace into his eyes.

After catching a ride back to north Omaha, Crawford began using an outdoor hose at a friend’s house to rinse his eyes. He was having no success, and his friend’s father wasn’t pleased.

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“Turn my water off, boy,” Crawford recalled him yelling. “You don’t pay water bills here.”

Upset, he left to clean up elsewhere. It took an hour, he said, to see clearly. During that hour, he received a phone call about a dice game around the corner. He knew he shouldn’t go. He went anyway.

The dice game grew heated. Crawford knew he needed to leave.

In the driver’s seat of his car, however, he paused to count his money. At that moment, a bullet crashed through the back window and hit him in the head behind his right ear.

With blood dripping down his shoulder and back, Crawford drove to the hospital. It was there that he realized his lifestyle had to change.

“That’s when I sat down and just thought about life,” he said. “You’re supposed to be in the house getting ready for a fight, and you’re out here shooting dice and getting shot. You hang with those types of people, that’s what happens. ... Guilty by association, I should say.”

Crawford was fortunate. The bullet didn’t enter his skull.

“It went through the window, hit me and bounced out,” he said. “The only reason, the doctor said, that it didn’t go through was because the window slowed it down. I was blessed.

“Ever since then, I’ve got a purpose. I could’ve been dead at that moment.”

Getting serious

If the shooting was a wake-up call for Crawford, fatherhood was a full-blown alarm.

Upon finding out his girlfriend, Alindra, was pregnant, he knew his life had fully changed.

“When my son came, it was like everything stopped,” Crawford said. “It was time to grow up and be a man. I’d seen the light. I didn’t want my son growing up with his dad in jail, his dad dead or him seeing me do negative things. I just stopped everything to be a better role model for my son.”

Terence Crawford III just turned 2. He stole the spotlight at the recent Golden Gloves when he used the ring padding for a punching bag while his father was introduced to the crowd.

The father often credits his son for bringing balance to his life.

“I don’t want my son growing with the things that I grew up with,” he said. “I want him to grow up with better things. I don’t want him growing up with the gang violence. I want him to be in college or sports, whatever he wants to do. I don’t want him turning that wrong turn.”

Crawford, Alindra, her 5-year-old daughter, Tamiya, and Terence III now live in a different Omaha neighborhood. The couple is expecting a second son in early September.

Changing the stereotype

Back in 2006, Omaha believed it had a national Golden Gloves champion.

The crowd at the Qwest Center roared as Crawford dropped Mendez and stood over his fallen foe in the championship bout. The Omahan added another knockdown later in the fight.

However, the scoring system in amateur boxing counts only total punches landed. Their impact makes no difference. The audience booed when Mendez was awarded the split-decision victory.

Former heavyweight title challenger Ron Stander said he will never forget it.

“It was unbelievable that he fought here for the national title,” Stander said. “He knocked that kid down twice and lost a decision. That was a bad deal.”

The loss was hard on Minor. He had always believed Crawford would be a champion.

“My heart was broken when he lost in the Golden Gloves nationals,” he said. “I went in that dressing room, and I felt like crying. Well, I did cry a little bit because I felt that he got cheated. When I saw they gave the decision to the other guy, that just broke my heart.”

JAMES R. BURNETT/THE WORLD-HERALD

Crawford, pictured at the C.W. Boxing Club near downtown Omaha, has fought in Nebraska only once since turning pro.

Although disappointed, Crawford took the loss in stride. He was back training at C.W. the following Monday. He went on to earn a spot on the United States team for the Pan-American Games, finished fourth in the Olympic Trials and was ranked No. 1 at lightweight in the U.S.

Minor, and Crawford’s current co-manager Brian McIntyre, had visions of Crawford becoming Omaha’s first Olympic boxer since Carl Vinciquerra in 1936. Their fighter had a bigger goal.

“To be honest, I never wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist,” Crawford said. “Midge and BoMac, they wanted me to stay in the amateurs and win a gold medal because they know how tough it is coming out of Nebraska. (But) I wanted to be a world champion.”

The recent victory over Prescott has Crawford on the right path. Promoted by Top Rank Boxing, he is scheduled to share a card on HBO with Mikey Garcia on June 15 in Dallas. Crawford’s opponent is yet to be named.

Crawford sees it as his next step toward history. No boxer from Omaha has ever won a major world title. Former heavyweight champion Max Baer, perhaps best known for his 1935 loss to James “The Cinderella Man” Braddock, was born in the city but grew up in California.

Many of the boxers Crawford beat in the amateurs have been headlining professional shows for a while. Danny Garcia holds a world title. Diego Magdaleno recently challenged for one.

They came from the fighting-rich cities of Philadelphia and Las Vegas, respectively. Crawford, meanwhile, kept his vow to stay in Omaha and win a championship from his hometown.

He believes many wrote him off as just another fighter from the Midwest, which carries the stereotype of producing boxers who aren’t capable of holding their own with the sport’s elite.

“I feel disrespected because it’s like they downgraded me,” Crawford said. “I saw all of those fighters in a position where they could make a living at five fights. I was taking chump change here and there while fighting the same guys they were fighting and getting thousands.”

The Prescott fight, for which the Omahan reportedly earned a six-figure payday, changed that. Crawford believes now is his time. And he’s hoping Omaha is backing him on his quest.

Crawford has fought in Nebraska only once since turning pro, stealing the show with a first-round knockout on the undercard of a nationally televised bout in Grand Island in early 2011. He’s hopeful that, in the future, his hometown fans can see him fight in person again.

“I want to bring boxing to life in Omaha. A lot of people in Omaha are just realizing who I really am,” he said. “I’ve got Omaha on my back. I’m fighting for me, my family and Omaha.”

And maybe someday soon, for a world championship.

Contact the writer:

712-325-5756, tony.boone@owh.com, twitter.com/BooneOWH


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