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Namibian boxer Julius Indongo didn't wear gloves until his first bout; now he's facing Terence Crawford

Namibian boxer Julius Indongo didn't wear gloves until his first bout; now he's facing Terence Crawford
Julius Indongo spars during a workout in Omaha on Wednesday. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

Julius Indongo is one victory away from becoming boxing's only active four-belt unified champion. The Namibian fighter may be an unknown in the U.S., but it's worth getting to know him.

Indongo — who will fight unbeaten two-belt champion Terence Crawford in Nebraska on Saturday in a junior-welterweight title bout — visited L.A. Live earlier this month and shared the compelling story of his rise.

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At age 12 in Namibia, Indongo heard transistor radio blow-by-blow coverage of major prize fights and was riveted.

"I wanted to experience it," he said. "I ended up loving it."

For five years, Indongo trained in his village. There were no gloves to use, so his practice consisted of shadow boxing, jabbing and running.

"I never threw a punch until I fought for the first time at 17 in 2001," he said. "My first fight was the first time I wore gloves."

Good thing he was a natural, which Indongo showed by relying on the elite fitness he attained while running alongside his brother, adding an indefatigable element to the height advantage he now possesses over most foes as a 5-feet-10, 140-pounder. (Crawford is 5-8.)

Indongo ventured to Moscow and was unflinching in knocking out Eduard Troyanovsky in the first round on Dec. 3 to capture the International Boxing Federation belt.

In April, he went to Glasgow, in World Boxing Assn. champion Ricky Burns' home country of Scotland, and dominated in a unanimous-decision triumph.

Now, Indongo (22-0, 12 KOs) comes to America's heartland, Lincoln, Neb., to meet the country's best fighter in Crawford (31-0, 22 knockouts).

"Those who study my boxing style are just wasting their time because I have courage that comes from my technique and plan," Indongo said. "This is for the undisputed championship, which is history, a do-or-die game, but I'm ready 100 percent.

"It's better for me to fight outside my country. I've been crying for opportunity. I'm fine to let that be my legacy. I have to do my best to motivate the fighters coming up in my country. I'd be the first African to be a unified champion. That's amazing."

Indongo is well aware how dominant Crawford has been as the American is favored to effectively clean out his division and likely move on to welterweight to bolster his claim as the world's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.

"[Crawford] being tough is true, it's tough to analyze. If he defeats me, everyone expects it," Indongo said. "But the guy in Moscow was dangerous, too.

"I'm just thankful for the opportunity. Terence is a very clean fighter. The ring will tell. I know he can switch [hands]. I [hit] to the body. I look with my eyes and see [what to do]. I know how to deal with things. I will handle it."

The bout is being shown on ESPN; the card begins at 7 p.m. Pacific.

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