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Crawford promising a successful lightweight swan song

By Lyle Fitzsimmons | CBSSports.com

If you're not familiar with Terence Crawford and you're eager to get a look at the hottest new belt-wearing lightweight on the block, you'd better keep this Saturday night free.

Because if Crawford's plans are sound, it'll be his last time in the 135-pound stomping grounds.

“I'm going to go up to 140 after this fight,” he said. “That's probably my next mission.”

The 26-year-old's desire to climb the ladder is as much a product of ambition as on-scale difficulty. He's fought below the lightweight division's threshold in each of his last three fights -- winning once by TKO and twice by comfortable decisions -- but views the 140-pound class as the gateway to the mainstream.

The second of those two decisions, over Scotsman Ricky Burns in Glasgow nearly four months ago, got Crawford to 23-0 and earned him the World Boxing Organization (WBO) lightweight crown that he'll defend on HBO against former Olympic gold medalist and 126-pound champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.

The broadcast will go live from Crawford's hometown, Omaha, Neb., at 10 p.m. ET.

“I feel like I can be on the pound-for-pound list,” Crawford said. “I've just got to keep winning. It starts with this fight Saturday. This is my main focus right now. I've just got to win and everything else will fall into place. As much as I would want all that, I've just got to keep winning.”

Unlike lightweight, the junior welterweight ranks are inhabited by high-profile commodities like Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse, Lamont Peterson, Adrien Broner and Ruslan Provodnikov, each of whom has had multiple starring roles on premium cable boxing shows over the past two years.

Meanwhile, the longest-reigning current belt-holder at 135 -- International Boxing Federation (IBF) champion Miguel Vazquez -- has held his title since 2012, but is familiar to only the hardest-core fans.

Crawford has actually spent much of his career hovering above the 135-pound limit. Only one of his first 20 fights, in 2009, was at 135 and he was as heavy as 142 pounds for victory No. 16 in 2012.

His promotional alliance with Top Rank could put him in the mix for big events at 140 and beyond, thanks both to the company's relationships with other familiar fighters at heavier weights and recent indications that a prolonged “cold war” with fellow superpower Golden Boy Promotions might soon end.

Golden Boy works with the aforementioned Garcia, Matthysse, Peterson and Broner, while Provodnikov headlined a card co-promoted by Top Rank earlier this month. But while the would-be thawing of the promotional stalemate has many celebrating, Crawford insists he's detached from such machinations.

“I don't pay attention to that. I just fight,” he said. “I don't pay attention to the politics and all the cold war stuff. I watch it on TV, on Showtime and HBO, and I just like to watch boxing. But as far as me getting in the ring with anybody, I don't call anybody out. I just fight who my handlers tell me to fight.”

And for this go-round that means Gamboa, the 32-year-old Cuban whose record -- 23-0 with 16 KOs -- matches Crawford's to the letter, even though he's not fought since June 8 of last year and has spent the vast majority of his career pursuing titles at 126 and 130 pounds.

Gamboa won the IBF's championship at featherweight in 2010 before moving up to the junior lightweight class for single fights in 2011 and 2012. He weighed a career-high 134¼ pounds for his most recent fight, a unanimous 12-round decision over Darleys Perez on an HBO undercard in Montreal. Crawford is 5-foot-8, while Gamboa stands a shade less than 5-foot-6. Crawford also has a five-inch reach advantage from knuckle to knuckle, 70 inches to 65.

The WBO lists Gamboa as its No. 6 contender to Crawford's title, while the Independent World Boxing Rankings, which list all fighters in a weight class regardless of what sanctioning body titles they hold, ranks Gamboa No. 2 in the division compared to Crawford at No. 3.

Crawford is a slight favorite according to odds-makers at Bodog.com, where it'd take a $190 outlay on the champion to recoup $100. A $100 wager on Gamboa, on the other hand, would return $155.

“Nothing really jumps out. I look at him as a regular guy,” Crawford said. “He's moving up in weight and he was fighting smaller guys. I've never been hit by him and I've never been in a ring with him, so it's hard to say. I've seen him fight a lot of times and I've watched some video of him, and that's that.

“Things do change. Styles make fights and I'll make my adjustments in the ring. If things are going the way I want them to, it'll be me winning.”

Weekend Watch List
ESPN2 -- Friday, 9 p.m.
Ivan Redkach vs. Sergey Guleyakevich -- 10 rounds, lightweights
Ramsey Luna vs. Ryan Kielczewski -- eight rounds, junior lightweights

Showtime -- Friday, 9:25 p.m.
Errol Spence Jr. vs. Ronald Cruz -- 10 rounds, welterweights
Dominic Wade vs. Nick Brinson -- 10 rounds, middleweights

HBO -- Saturday, 10 p.m.
Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa -- WBO lightweight title
Matt Korobov vs. Jose Uzcategui -- 10 rounds, middleweights

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