NEW YORK — On Tuesday, even as the rest of the sports world was still buzzing about Alabama’s stirring win over Clemson in the previous night’s national championship game or eagerly turning its attention to the coming weekend’s NFL playoff matchups, a fight fan in New York City could get at least a small taste of what it was like when boxing commanded a full share of media attention. One was almost tempted to put on a fedora and hail a Checker cab with a copy of The Sweet Science.
First, at noon in Madison Square Garden, Top Rank and HBO held a press conference to kick off promotions (along with CES Boxing) for the Feb. 27 card at the Garden featuring 140-pound star Terence Crawford against Hank Lundy and rising Puerto Rican lightweight sensation Felix Verdejo against William Silva. A few hours later, just across the Brooklyn Bridge, the venerable Gleason’s Gym hosted good old-fashioned media workouts by heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Artur Szpilka, who will face each other this Saturday night at Barclays Center.
All in all, the day delivered an encouraging one-two for fans of the sport looking ahead to 2016 and wondering just what boxing will have to offer as the Mayweather-Pacquiao era fades into sepia. Wilder-Szpilka hardly figures to be Ali-Frazier IV, but the 30-year-old, 6' 7" Wilder, the WBC titlist, is undefeated in 35 fights, with 34 KOs, while the Polish-born Szpilka (20-1, with 15 KOs) appears determined to engage, whatever the consequences. And, hey, there’s even another “heavyweight championship” fight on the same card, as Vyacheslav Glazkov will take on Charles Martin for the vacant IBF title. All of which continues to shine a spotlight on a division that is finally starting to show some life.
The Garden card, meanwhile, promises a little more: the answer, or at least an answer, to—and here I am actually going to quote a promoter—what Top Rank president Todd DuBoef called boxing’s eternal “Who’s next?” question. With Floyd Mayweather retired and Manny Pacquiao soon to be, fans have been quick to look for which fighters can fill their places as pay-per-view standard bearers and genuine crossover stars. The two mentioned most often, of course, are Gennady Golvkin and Canelo Alvarez. But the 28-year-old Crawford, the current favorite son of Omaha, Neb., is one of the sport’s best, pound-for-pound, and he appears to be getting even better. He’s 27-0, with 19 knockouts, a very complete and effective fighter. He was a possible opponent for Pacquiao’s final fight before Pacquiao settled on a third go-round with Timothy Bradley. Indeed, Crawford would likely have been favored against Pacquiao. A friend of Bradley’s, Crawford was asked his prediction for Pacquiao-Bradley III. “[Bradley]’s going to get the victory again,” he said, “and everybody’s going to be mad again.”
Crawford, who wore a red Nebraska Huskers ski cap, complete with a pom-pom on top, throughout Tuesday’s press event, seemed relaxed—pleased to be in New York and pleased to be fighting at the Garden (“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It tells me where I’m at in my career.”)—though he professed to being a little disappointed in Lundy as an opponent, suggesting that he felt ready for grander things. “I think I’m a big draw,” he said.
Crawford also seemed to have little patience for Lundy’s verbal exuberance. “Lundy runs his mouth too much—too much,” said Crawford, even as a small smile suggested that he knew the challenger’s trash talking was all part of the promotion. Crawford sounded serious, however, when he addressed Lundy’s declared willingness to die in the ring, saying, “I’m not willing to die in the ring. I’ve got four kids to feed. That’s what I’m all about. He can die in the ring.”
Interestingly, for all his bluster—“I’m rambunctious! I’m amped up. I’m ready to go! It’s Hammer Time. He ain’t never been hit till he been hit by The Hammer!”—Lundy also focused on his children (he has a total of six), recounting going to the gym with his youngest in the stroller and two more cradled in his arms. "You get a different mind-set,” he said. “A man sets the tone for his daughters.”
This bout is likely to be a better fight than many anticipate. Lundy’s 26-5-1 record includes questionable losses to Mauricio Herrera and to Viktor Postol in Ukraine. Lundy may not have the “O” so coveted in today’s boxing market, but he has not gone without learning a few things while picking up those “L’s”.
The press conference ended with a not-unentertaining exchange of trash talking and jawing between the two principles, both of whom seemed just as amused by the back-and-forth as the crowd did. Come Feb. 27, the words won’t matter, and Madison Square Garden just might be the scene of a very entertaining and rewarding fight.
For a boxing fan walking the streets of New York, that sounds like a date to remember.