Terence Crawford Ready for Weight-Class Climb After Impressive KO vs. Gamboa

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 1 :  Terence Crawford celebrates his victory over Rick Burns during the WBO World Lightweight Championship Boxing match at the Glasgow SECC on March 1 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

As paradigm shifts go, this one came at dizzying speed.

In fact, while HBO’s broadcast of Terence Crawford’s lightweight title defense from Omaha, Nebraska, began with an ode to the Olympic and pro success of Yuriorkis Gamboa, it ended with something quite different.

Namely, the previously unbeaten Cuban superstar flat on his back and in need of a ninth-round rescue by referee Genaro Rodriguez thanks to the striking emergence of the sport’s newest phenom.

The 26-year-old Crawford remained perfect at 24-0, successfully risked his WBO share of the 135-pound kingdom for the first time and lured a hometown crowd of more than 10,000 to share the experience.

And when it was over, the announce team couldn’t land its superlatives quickly enough.

John Peterson/Associated Press

Former four-division champion Roy Jones Jr. pulled no punches with a heady assessment of Crawford’s versatility and insisted the destruction of Gamboa elevated the winner to immediate elite status.

“This guy’s a star all the way around the board,” Jones said. “He’s got all the capabilities to become a world-class fighter. The guy’s a really special talent, and he looks like he’s ready to do the job.”

After 27 minutes of award quality to and fro, the analyst’s hyperbole was hardly over the top.

Crawford was four points down on HBO’s scorecard after the fight’s first third, but the stuff he showed in the subsequent 15 minutesincluding four knockdowns of a fighter who hadn’t lost in 23 previous professional outingswarranted all the faith the locals had shown since he went pro himself in 2008.

As it turned out, the only logical questions in the aftermath center on where he’ll go next.

Crawford claimed during fight-week run-up that Gamboa would be his last lightweight opponent regardless of result, thanks in no small part to the significant career opportunities to be gleaned from a glut of talented, high-profile foils one division up at junior welterweight/super lightweight.

It already makes sense from a size perspective because the lanky 5'8" Crawford has only been a full-time lightweight for the last 13 months—spanning four fights—after weighing in beyond the 135-pound limit for 19 of his initial 20 contests, including a career-high 142 for fight No. 16 in 2012.

He weighed 152 pounds on HBO's unofficial scale Saturday night, more than 17 pounds up from his weigh-in number of 134.75.

Potential opponents at 140 include WBA/WBC champion Danny Garcia, IBF claimant Lamont Peterson and longtime cable TV staples Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Ruslan Provodnikov, all of whom are a far cry more familiar than the longest-reigning lightweight, IBF champ Miguel Vazquez.

So for a guy who, as HBO’s Max Kellerman pointed out frequently, “wants to be great,” simply grinding through an anonymous series of mandatory defenses doesn’t offer as much as a grasp for a higher rung.

“He beat (Gamboa) up and knocked him out,” Kellerman said. “He’s already a major draw, and I believe we may be watching a truly great fighter in Terence Crawford. It’s going to be a pleasure to see him perform in the coming years.”

The fans are sure to agree with the bearded one’s claim, but chances are potential foes will not.