CAN anyone doubt that Terence “Bud” Crawford is now a bona fide star? Last Saturday I was ringside in Omaha, Nebraska to see Crawford retain his WBO lightweight title with a superb unanimous decision over Ray Beltran, who was fit and motivated but just couldn’t trouble the champion. But what may matter most in the long run was that 11,127 fans turned out at the CenturyLink Arena in Crawford’s hometown to see him do it.

The large attendance gives Terence and his promoters, Top Rank, plenty of power when it comes to mapping out his future career. After all, there are many talented boxers out there who couldn’t sell the 127 tickets let alone the 11,000. It means potential opponents will have to come to him, rather than Crawford being forced to go to them.

True, “Bud” won his crown on the road, dethroning Ricky Burns in Scotland, but venturing far from home always carries a risk of injustice – just ask Beltran, who had previously received only a draw with Burns in Scotland despite dominating their title fight.

And one can’t argue that Omahans turned out for Crawford-Beltran only because there is little else to do in this city, which has never been known as a boxing hotbed. One could understand the large attendance for Crawford’s previous fight, in June, when 10,943 fans turned out to see Terence wallop Yuriorkis Gamboa at the CenturyLink Arena; that was Omaha’s first world title in 42 years, after all.

But to improve on that attendance on a night that ended with the temperature dropping below freezing shows that “Bud” has captured the imagination of locals. That’s worth noting, especially when you consider what happened to another Top Rank fighter, Manny Pacquiao, at the Cowboys Stadium. Manny’s first fight at that spectacular Arlington, Texas venue (against Joshua Clottey) drew a whopping 51,000 fans. But when Pacquiao had his next fight at the same place just a few months later, he drew “only” 41,000 against a more attractive opponent (to Mexican fans, numerous in the area) in Antonio Margarito.

So with Crawford an established draw in Omaha, who will be persuaded to box him there? Even with Al Haymon-aligned fighters out of the question, there are still interesting options for “Bud”. Chris Algieri, recently beaten by Pacquiao, may drop back down to 140, the division to which Crawford is moving up next time out. Top Rank also has a light-welter champion in its stable in Jessie Vargas, who retained his WBA belt on the recent Pacquiao-Algieri show.

But most of intriguing of all would be if Crawford met Pacquiao, although that surely wouldn’t happen until this time next year, given that Crawford has yet to prove he can handle top class opposition at 140 (he did beat Breidis Prescott at the weight before winning his 135 title). With Manny slowing down and Crawford still improving, by the time they did meet the outcome would be in real doubt.


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