Terence Crawford is one of the most skillful boxers on the planet. No argument there.

The undefeated, unified 140-pound champion has proved it time after time, most recently with his dismantling of previously unbeaten Viktor Postol last July and a pummeling of tough, gritty John Molina Jr. in December that ended in the eighth round.

Yet Crawford, the Pride of Omaha, continues to be a slight afterthought when it comes to pound-for-pound lists, name recognition and popularity. Maybe it’s because the 140-pound division where he toils is light on talent. Maybe it’s because Crawford is media-shy and has had many of his fights in his Nebraska hometown, where he spends his time between fights. Maybe it’s because he is humble and averse to trash talk. Maybe, even, it’s because he doesn’t have a fearsome nickname that fans can grab hold of, such as “Krusher” or “The Bronze Bomber.” Crawford’s nickname is “Bud.”

Finally, maybe it’s because he has not fought a truly marquee name in his 30 professional fights. And not because he’s ducking them. His promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, says Crawford will fight anyone, which makes him an avoided fighter in a division devoid of talent.

“Terence only wants to fight the best. Whoever is the best that steps up is the one Terence is going to fight,” said Arum. “The whole time he has been with Top Rank he has never ducked an opponent. It’s not a question of matching him correctly. It’s not a question of being cautious. Terence will fight anybody who steps up to the plate.”

Perhaps perceptions will change after Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) fights for the first time in the main arena at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. He faces the latest guy to step up to the plate, former Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs) from the Dominican Republic (HBO, 10:15 p.m. ET).

“Going from the Theater (at MSG) to the big arena right now – that says a lot,” Crawford said. “I have to keep winning and putting on great performances and eventually my name is going to be bigger than it is right now.”

Diaz, 33, a southpaw who won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, and is one of only two Dominican athletes to win Olympic gold, got a late start in the professional ranks and has only 20 pro fights under his belt. His only loss, a controversial majority decision in October 2015 to current WBA welterweight champion Lamont Peterson, came at 147 pounds. Diaz says he’s better at 140 pounds.

“There is going to be a difference. I feel a lot stronger at 140,” he said. “If you look, you will notice that every person I fought at 140, I knocked them out, except for (Adrian) Granados, who I knocked down twice.”

Crawford, as with all his opponents, is not taking Diaz lightly.

“He’s got the skills, he’s a good fighter, he is an Olympic gold medalist and this is the fight that a lot of people were calling for,” Crawford, 29, said during a recent conference call.

Diaz led the charge, calling out Crawford after his last few fights. Crawford has come to expect it.

“Everyone wants to fight the guy at the top, especially when they can get their name out there to boost their ratings,” he said.

Terence Crawford displays his title belts
Terence Crawford displays his title belts
If Crawford gets past Diaz — he will enter the ring Saturday as a heavy favorite — he may finally get that marquee opponent he’s wanted and needed. Manny Pacquiao, 38, the current WBO welterweight champion, will fight Jeff Horn in Australia on July 2. Arum said that if the fans want Crawford-Pacquiao, he will make it happen, perhaps later this year.

“If he gets through this fight well, Terence (would) get back in the ring again in the summer and then we will look to the fall,” Arum said.

“Would Pacquiao and Crawford be a good fight, a big fight, a big attraction? You bet your ass it will and we will do our best to make that fight. I think the public wants to see it and the public will support it. Manny Pacquiao has been a great fighter and a great attraction. . . . Manny Pacquiao is the kind of guy who is not afraid to step up and fight anybody. Terence Crawford is the rising star in boxing. Everybody would love to see that fight, but that’s all I can say about it. I agree that it’s a fight that the fans want to see, and if it’s a fight that the fans want to see, a promoter has the obligation to make it happen.”

In the meantime, both Arum and Crawford are eyeing Julius Indongo, 34, a little-known African fighter who upset Ricky Burns last month in Scotland to win the WBA and IBF titles. Indongo will be at Saturday’s fight, and a unification bout for all four major title between Crawford and Indongo could be in the making for this summer. Only one other time in boxing history has one man fought to unify all four major titles, and that was Bernard Hopkins.

“I never kept track of how many people have ever had held all four titles, but it is one of my goals to say that I am undisputed champion,” Crawford said.

Whether Crawford can sell out the Garden, or even come close, remains to be seen. Arum looked to beef up the card by adding to the undercard some of his top young talent, including former Olympians Shakur Stevenson, 19, the U.S. silver medalist in Rio making his second start, Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, 25, the Uzbekistani who won gold, and Teofimo Lopez, also 19, a Honduran-American who did not medal in Rio but who is 4-0 with 4 KOs as a pro.

Diaz, now living in Brooklyn, should bring in plenty of New York area Dominicans who seldom get to see a countryman fight, especially at MSG.

Yet, ultimately, it’s Crawford who will have to sell most of the tickets on the strength of his name. How many Omahans will travel to New York?

“Obviously fighting in the main arena as the main event makes a statement and our plans are that Terence Crawford, before he hangs up his gloves, will be recognized as the greatest fighter of his time,” Arum said. “That’s going to be up to Terence but he has the tools, the personality and the ability to reach that goal. . . . There is no place else in boxing, with all due respect to Las Vegas and other arenas, there is no place in boxing that has the symbolism and the history of Madison Square Garden.

“Now Terence will have the opportunity to perform on the biggest of all stages.”

Source: Bob Velin, USA Today