When Terence "Bud" Crawford hits the ring on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, he will do so as arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. However, he is also at a promotional disadvantage when it comes to challenging himself against the best fighters in the division. Crawford may not be lined up to take on the likes of Errol Spence Jr., Manny Pacquiao or Shawn Porter, but all "Bud" can do is beat the men who are put in front of him, and that continues with Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas.
Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) has done the things he needs to do as a professional, managing to go 22 fights into a professional career without suffering a defeat. He is, however, coming off his first career stumble, a draw with Ray Robinson in a fight where Kavaliauskas looked anything but spectacular while struggling with Robinson's footwork and angles. It speaks to the lack of contenders available for Crawford's WBO championship that all Kavaliauskas had to do to earn his shot at the champ was simply not lose against Robinson -- a fighter who has looked average at best at times through his career.
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Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) has been on one of the most brilliant runs inside the ring in recent boxing memory. He insists on not needing the big names over at PBC to prove his mettle as a pound-for-pound elite or all-time great, but at some point, he will need to prove himself on the highest stage available to him. He has yet to have that kind of test at 147 after showing his skills in the lower weight divisions.
And Crawford may not have much time left in the ring, at least that's what he recently told Fight Hub TV.
"I don't know, I haven't really decided [how much longer I'll fight] yet," Crawford said. "But I know it's not gonna be a lengthy time before I retire. So enjoy me while it lasts."
Whether Crawford ever gets a fight with Pacquiao or Spence, overcoming seemingly insurmountable promotional obstacles, will define the welterweight period of his career. For now, a fight with Kavaliauskas feels like necessary, if unexciting, business.
Prediction: Crawford via UD
Crawford vs. Mean Machine fight card, odds
Terence Crawford (c) -3500
Mean Machine +1500
WBO welterweight title
Teofimo Lopez Jr. -350
Richard Commey +280
IBF lightweight title
Michael Conlan -1400
Vladimir Nikitin +700
Crawford vs. Mean Machine viewing information
Date: Dec. 14 | Start time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Madison Square Garden -- New York, New York
TV: ESPN | Stream: WatchESPN
Not only is Crawford in action on Saturday, but so are a pair of Top Rank Boxing's best prospects in Teofimo Lopez and Michael Conlan. Lopez will be challenging Richard Commey for the IBF lightweight title in just his 15th professional fight while Conlan will be looking to end a grudge three years in the making. Let's take a closer look at those fights.
IBF Lightweight Championship -- Richard Commey (c) vs. Teofimo Lopez: Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) has all the markings of a future superstar. He has a flashy style, a compelling personality and shown the ability to go viral through things like busting out post-knockout Fortnite dances. He's also a 22-year-old newlywed struggling with depression and panic attacks, a family feuding with his new wife, a father who has trained him through learning techniques via YouTube and who puts endless pressure on his son through his antics to the frustration of Lopez's promoters. In his most recent fight, against Masayoshi Nakatani, Lopez looked far less than the impressive top-tier prospect he'd become known as, struggling with Nakatani's height and jab while taking an ugly decision win. Now, he heads into a fight against a heavy-hitting champion with the kind of grit who can make a night hell on a young boxer.
Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) is a Ghanaian knockout artist. Pressure and power define him in the ring. He can shut out an opponent's lights with either hand and will take a punch to deliver one of his own, a liability and a strength in his game. His two career losses came via split decision and he is a world traveler, having fought in his native Ghana, Russia, England, Denmark, Germany, South Africa and the U.S. The IBF lightweight champ is exactly the kind of fighter you want to see stand across from a young prospect like Lopez. He's gritty and dangerous, not the type to fold to the pressure or hype. This fight has all the makings of a great battle and may be Saturday's true main event. There are so many factors playing into the result in the ring, not to mention Lopez's mental state outside of it, that it's hard to get a read on the exact way this fight will play out. Prediction: Lopez via UD
Michael Conlan vs. Vladimir Nikitin: Conlan (12-0, 7 KOs) and Nikitin (3-0, 0 KOs) have history. Nikitin was handed a very controversial decision over Conlan at the 2016 Olympic Games, resulting on Conlan holding up two middle fingers in the ring and calling AIBA officials "f---ing cheats" in a profanity-laced post-fight interview. He quit amateur boxing after the decision and turned pro, being regarded as a legitimate prospect in the featherweight division. Nikitin has far less pro experience and there have been previous attempts to match the two as pros to allow Conlan a shot at righting the wrongs of the Olympics. Finally, this chapter of boxing history may end when the two step into the ring in MSG to let their fists fly. Prediction: Conlan via TKO3
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