Can you be underrated when you’re arguably the best?

That might sound preposterous since the man we’re talking about here—Terence Crawford, the brilliant welterweight champion—either headlines or sits near the top of every mythical pound-for-pound list. But the former undisputed super lightweight champion who is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, the owner of a spectacular undefeated record, and undoubtedly one the most technically sound boxers today, is kind of feeling like LeBron James. He wants his damn respect, too.

“At times I do think I’m underrated,” says Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs). “I think a lot of people don’t give me credit for what I’ve accomplished in the sport of boxing, looking at who I’ve faced and try to discredit my previous opponents to nobodies. But prior to when I fought them I was somebody.”

Crawford’s always carried a chip on his shoulder and its worked wonders as he’s risen from the amateur ranks where he beat Mikey Garcia and Danny Garcia to become a three-division champion and among the sport’s marquee attractions. Stupidly talented and supremely dedicated to the craft of boxing, unlike a number of former champions across the sport’s 17 weight classes, in 2017 Crawford was the first male boxer in a dozen years to become an undisputed champion—a feat accomplished by only four fighters during the four-belt era that began in 1988.

Currently, the WBO welterweight champion of the world who will defend his belt for the fourth time Saturday night (10 pm ET, ESPN) against Kell Brook, Crawford’s skill level is like few others in the sport. Power? He’s got it. Precision? Like a surgeon. Agility? Absolutely. Can he take a punch? Hell yeah. The ability to switch up styles on a dime? 1,000 percent. There’s almost nothing Crawford can’t do in the ring and it doesn’t take long to realize it watching him.   

Yet Crawford doesn’t always get his due from—to be fair—a small segment of fickle boxing fans and media that poke holes in his body of work. While ESPN, where Crawford fights exclusively thanks to his connections with Top Rank promotions, ranks him as their pound-for-pound king, other outlets like The Athletic (3), Ring Magazine (3), and Boxing Scene (9?!?) slot him lower. Complex Sports ranks Crawford third on our pound-for-pound list.

“What Terence Crawford is missing is a real, solid signature win. That’s the reason you guys don’t have him rated [No. 1]." — Timothy Bradley

Should we be showing Crawford, whose ferocity to finish a fight is legendary and has never officially been knocked down in his 11 years as a pro, more respect? Depends on whom you ask.

“I don’t think he’s underrated—he’s No. 1 on a lot of lists, including mine,” says ESPN boxing analyst Max Kellerman. ”Pound-for-pound is not like becoming the No. 1 challenger in a weight division, where to be fair, we have to base it on accomplishment. To me pound-for-pound means I believe a certain fighter is more effective than anyone else in any weight class.”

Crawford’s effectiveness is undeniable. His skills are beyond next level. His IQ in the ring is through the roof. But what’s holding him from getting the universal acclaim he feels he deserves is, of course, his resume at 147 pounds.

Until Crawford goes toe-to-toe with the best welterweights in the world—and nearly all of them fight for Premier Boxing Champions, a Top Rank rival—the 33-year-old will struggle to make a clear cut case for pound-for-pound supremacy. Boxing’s polluted politics deserve all the blame for that so the names Crawford’s fought at welterweight don’t exactly pop. Fair or not, some give him demerits for that.

“Part of [the] criticism of Terence Crawford is because, unfortunately, false narratives start to pick up steam over time and, without doing the research, it will be repeated and believed,” says ESPN boxing analyst Andre Ward, the former unified light heavyweight champion who reigned as pound-for-pound king toward the end of his undefeated career. “For example, the narrative that Crawford hasn’t fought anybody is absurd. You don’t win titles in three weight divisions and become undisputed at 140 pounds by not facing tough competition. Now if you want to say that Crawford doesn’t have a household name on his resume, I can agree with that. That being said, Crawford is a modern-day great fighter who should be appreciated while he is still an active fighter...not when he retires.”

Crawford can only fight who’s in front of him and while Brook (39-2, 27 KOs) is past his prime, he is a former champion whose only losses have come to Gennadiy Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr. And don’t forget Crawford knocked out Jeff Horn who beat Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title. The hope is Crawford will soon face better competition. The question is can Top Rank and PBC come to an agreement to make a mega-fight (like it did on the second Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder bout) between Crawford and Spence? Or does Crawford take his talents elsewhere when his contract with Top Rank reportedly ends year?

Some things are out of his hands so you’re just going to have to trust Crawford, and the people that really know, that what you’re seeing in the ring is next level.

Terence Crawford Jeff Horn 2 2018 Getty
Image via Getty/Bradley Kanaris

“What can he not do?” asks ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley. “There’s nothing that he can’t do. There’s not one adjustment that he can’t do. He’s a complete fighter.”

Bradley knows better than most considering he brought Crawford into one of his training camps to spar well before Crawford became a world champion. Without anyone in his corner giving him instructions, Bradley remembers Crawford more than held his own against him, a two-division champion who spent time on many pound-for-pound lists during his prime. Bradley couldn’t believe this kid from Omaha, Nebraska was giving him the business, switching up styles without any instruction in his corner. “He was in my behind,” says Bradley. “I’m not going to lie.”

Like his colleagues Kellerman and Ward—who some will point out their preference toward Crawford could be skewed by ESPN’s relationship with Top Rank—Bradley ranks Crawford No. 1 on his personal pound-for-pound list. While Canelo Alvarez, Naoya Inoue, and Spence all have excellent credentials and arguments for being ranked ahead of Crawford on pound-for-pound lists, each is a notch below Crawford in Bradley’s eyes.

“What Terence Crawford is missing is a real, solid signature win,” says Bradley. “That’s the reason you guys don’t have him rated [No. 1]. I look at the skillset of all these guys. That’s the reason why I have Terence Crawford above all these guys because I feel if everybody was at the same weight, with the same attributes, Terence Crawford would be able to prevail against all these guys because he has more skills than all of these guys.”

Underrated or properly rated, wherever you think Crawford ranks among boxing’s best these days know that the mellow man nicknamed Bud truly does not give a shit what you think about him. Even if he believes he deserves way more respect than he receives.   

“Just keep winning and don’t mind the people that’s doubting you or criticizing you,” says Crawford. “Because at the end of the day they’re not the ones in the ring and putting their life on the line. They really don’t matter.”

Kind of like pound-for-pound rankings. But boxing observers just can’t help themselves.

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