Terence Crawford’s opponent Saturday night in Las Vegas is defending welterweight champion Jeff Horn of Australia, an unbeaten who stunned Manny Pacquiao before a massive throng of supporters at an outdoor stadium in Brisbane last year.
But there’s another foe that hovers prominently in any conversation about this fight.
Crawford’s overall talentallowed him to become the first male fighter in more than a decade to unify a division when he cleaned out the light welterweight class last year. His dominance has also allowed him to earn a title shot in his first welterweight bout.
That’s something rare, an opportunity to capture a third division belt at age 30.
Yet, Ukraine’s Vasiliy Lomachenko just last month also moved up a weight class and dethroned longtime lightweight champion Jorge Linares by a 10th-round technical knockout.
So in the competition for the mythical claim of standing as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, Crawford (32-0, 23 knockouts) has some work to do to either remain atop the poll or at least to remain on Lomachenko’s heels.
In Lomachenko’s victory, he added the extra effect of revealing his fortitude by enduring his first knockdown as a pro, rising to defeat his older foe at Madison Square Garden.
“Of course I was impressed with what Lomachenko did, coming back off the knockdown to show his heart and the true patience it takes,” Crawford said. “He showed himself as a true champion, up from the ground to put on a spectacular show against a strong champion.”
Crawfordaims to take the title and tighten the screws on fellow welterweight champions Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr. to agree to unifications with him.
Crawford,the 2014 Boxing Writers Assn. of America fighter of the year, contends he should’ve won the award the last two years as well after knocking out Julius Indongo with a body shot in the third round in August to capture his fourth 140-pound belt.
Lomachenko won last year’s honor by extending a streak of retiring opponents on their stools to four, concluding with fellow two-time Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.
“I don’t think he truly stopped his last several opponents [before Linares],” Crawford said. “They were quality and credible opponents, but some were outmatched and coming up in weight.”
Lomachenko could counter he beat Linares with one good hand after suffering a right shoulder injury throwing a second-round hook at Linares.
Lomachenko told The Times in a visit to Los Angeles last week that he plans to watch Crawford-Horn while he recuperates from shoulder surgery in the Ukraine.
“I’ll be very happy for him if he can show he’s the No. 1,” Lomachenko said.
Does the Ukrainian think he stands at No. 1 now?
“No, I don’t feel I am No. 1 pound-for-pound. The real No. 1 -- the best -- has to be the one where nobody has any questions about anything -- about the defense, about his fight, about his speed,” Lomachenko said.
“Today, I have questions about myself. I have questions about my defense. And because of those questions, I cannot rate myself No. 1.”
Does Lomachenko view any active boxer as better than him?
“Nyet,” he answered.