The question was never whether Terence Crawford would successfully defend his World Boxing Organization welterweight title against David Avanesyan in Omaha on Saturday night.
No, the question was whether Crawford, an undefeated Omaha native who has held titles in three weight classes, would defeat Avanesyan, a Russian who trains in England, by decision, stoppage or knockout.
The answer came in Round 6 in the form of a crisp, two-punch combination that put Avanesyan on his back, brought the capacity crowd at CHI Health Center to its feet, and prompted the referee, Sparkle Lee, to stop the bout.
Afterward, Crawford, whose nickname is Bud and who was guaranteed $10 million by BLK Prime, a subscription video on demand company, flexed his biceps and paraded around the ring with a wide grin. Inside the arena, speakers blared “Before I Let Go,” an R&B classic by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
The track is a staple at summertime cookouts and festive events, but it is also a breakup song and fitting theme music for a boxer like Crawford, who has no promotional or broadcast contract. Crawford is now 39-0 with 30 knockouts, and he treasures the freedom to pursue the bouts he wants, and the ones the public demands — specifically, an elusive showdown with Errol Spence Jr., a fellow undefeated welterweight who is aligned with Showtime.
If a title unification bout with Spence is Crawford’s long-term plan, Saturday’s bout with Avanesyan was a lucrative one-night stand.
“I’m a free agent,” said Crawford, who has won 10 consecutive bouts by knockout or TKO. “This was a one-fight deal.”
After Saturday’s bout, Crawford, whose most recent previous bout was in November 2021, told reporters that he planned to compete more frequently and that he was pondering moving from the 147-pound welterweight class to the 154-pound light middleweight division, where Jermell Charlo is the undisputed champion.
Crawford’s trainer, Brian McIntyre, said jumping weight classes was not just a notion.
“That man can do basically anything he wants to do at 147 or 154,” McIntyre said at the postfight news conference. “He’s proven to the world that he’s the pound-for-pound best. The only question is, Who’s going to be willing to fight him? You don’t see nobody calling out Bud.”
Spence used his Instagram feed on Saturday to hawk T-shirts that depict him as a Grim Reaper-style villain approaching a door marked T.C. while someone inside the room — Crawford, presumably — cowers.
The meaning? Spence, who is 28-0 and champion in three of the four major sanctioning bodies, portrays himself as a warrior seeking an undisputed welterweight championship and Crawford as someone afraid to risk defeat. The fighters, who have sparred on social media, disagree on those details.
But both fighters profess to want the fight. That desire, combined with Crawford’s free agency and consumer demand, should guarantee the pairing. But boxing has no leagues or central authority — only athletes, managers, promoters and sanctioning bodies, whose interests do not always align.
The World Boxing Council has ordered Spence to defend his title against Keith Thurman in 2023. Turning down the bout could cost Spence his title.
For his part, Crawford said he planned to compete again in the spring, so his schedule might not line up with Spence’s until late next year, assuming neither injuries nor bad luck disrupts the timeline. Spence said in an Instagram Live video that he was involved in a car crash Saturday evening, but details of the crash beyond what Spence said about it were not available.
News of the crash did not upstage Crawford’s main event, but it did, for a moment, siphon attention from a fight card that struggled to generate buzz.
Organizers finalized a broadcast partner only two weeks ago. Before that, the card was going to be available as an online pay-per-view event, which would have limited its reach and restricted revenue for a company that is spending heavily as it enters the boxing business.
BLK Prime has also signed the former champion Adrien Broner to a deal that the boxer said was worth eight figures.
Payouts like those usually go to proven ticket sellers and elite performers. Broner has not won a significant fight since 2015, and he showed up at Saturday’s card with a shirt-stretching belly that suggested he was far from fighting shape.
And eight-figure guarantees usually come from deep-pocketed industry veterans who have proved they can monetize those deals. BLK Prime has no previous pro sports experience, and minimal apparent media and sponsorship reach.
Where the canvas and ring posts at most major bouts are plastered with sponsors’ logos, BLK Prime was the only brand name displayed on the ring during Saturday’s card. By early Sunday morning, BLK Prime’s boxing focused Instagram account had accrued just over 8,000 followers, compared with 1.5 million for the streaming service DAZN’s boxing feed. And the company’s YouTube channel had fewer than 1,200 followers.
Still, the company’s spokesman, Sam Katkovski, insisted BLK Prime had a game plan.
“Everything is being done strategically,” he said in an interview before the fight.
Crawford showed that even after 13 months away from the ring, he could bank on his skills.
Avanesyan spent the early stages of the fight advancing behind a high guard, landing occasional looping punches as Crawford assumed an orthodox stance and probing with low-impact jabs. After Crawford switched to southpaw, he punched with more speed and intent, stabbing Avanesyan with right jabs to the stomach or whacking his rib cage with right hooks.
From there, the bout assumed a familiar rhythm: Crawford increased the intensity round by round, applying tactical, fundamentally sound pressure.
In the sixth, Crawford threw a left uppercut followed by a decisive right hook that clipped Avanesyan’s jaw and knocked him out.
Avanesyan’s record fell to 29-4-1, and Crawford’s attention turned, again, to Spence, and to the fight that should happen next year. With luck.
“We’re all fighting for the No. 1 spot,” Crawford said at the news conference. “It ain’t personal. It’s just business.”