It came as little surprise that lightweight titlist Terence Crawford, the best 135-pounder in the world, announced following his near-shutout decision against top contender Raymundo Beltran on Saturday night that he is moving up to junior welterweight.
Crawford (25-0, 17 KOs) has been fighting as a lightweight for his entire career with the exception of a few fights at junior welterweight, and it’s time to move up. There is no big fight awaiting him at lightweight, not even an interesting unification fight to pursue. One lightweight belt is vacant, and there is nobody, and I mean nobody, banging down any doors to see Crawford fight titleholders Mickey Bey and Richar Abril. If anything, they might be banging down doors not to see those terrible matchups.
Top Rank and HBO hope to have Crawford back in the ring in March or April, but whom will Omaha’s favorite son fight in his 140 debut? Top Rank envisions him as a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao, a small welterweight titleholder who very well could be returning to junior welterweight if a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. continues to go unmade. But even if Pacquiao does drop down in weight, a Crawford fight won’t be next.
While there is a lot of talent in the 140-pound division, there are also some fights that are unlikely because of the political climate. Crawford is unlikely to face anyone in adviser Al Haymon’s stable, so as interesting as the fights would be, you can probably cross champion Danny Garcia, titlist Lamont Peterson, Adrien Broner and Lucas Matthysse off the list.
You can probably also cross off Viktor Postol, as he is in a mandatory position for one of the belts and unlikely to give that up, especially since Postol is not a big name and, therefore, unlikely to be worth huge money to fight Crawford.
So who’s left? Here are a few fights I think are possible, in no particular order:
• Jessie Vargas: Vargas owns a secondary world title, shares promoter Top Rank with Crawford and looked good in an exciting win against Antonio DeMarco on Nov. 22 on the Pacquiao-Chris Algieri HBO PPV undercard. Vargas and Crawford share manager Cameron Dunkin, so that might be an issue given his reluctance to match his fighters. But for the right deal, I’d guess it’s possible. It would probably also be an entertaining fight.
• Mauricio Herrera-Jose Benavidez Jr. winner: Herrera will defend his interim belt against Benavidez on Dec. 13 on HBO, and the winner would be a logical opponent. Benavidez is also with Top Rank, and although Herrera is with Golden Boy, the two companies are at peace now and were easily able to make the fight with Benavidez. A lot will depend on how the fight goes Dec. 13. I think a Crawford fight would be more likely if the veteran Herrera wins rather than the younger, less experienced Benavidez.
• Algieri: He got schooled by Pacquiao on Nov. 22, but his promoter, Joe DeGuardia, is appealing to the WBO for stripping him of his junior welterweight belt before he challenged for Pacquiao’s welterweight title. While I don’t think the WBO is going to reinstate Algieri as its 140 titleholder, it could make him the mandatory for the vacant belt. Crawford, as the WBO’s 135 titlist, is entitled to challenge for the organization’s vacant 140 title if he seeks the mandatory position. I could see this fight as a good first step for Crawford to be uncaged at junior welterweight and a fight Algieri, knowing his competitive spirit, accepting.
• Ruslan Provodnikov: He lost his title to Algieri in a controversial split decision in June and returned Friday to smash the corpse of Jose Luis Castillo in Moscow. Provodnikov's next fight will be in the United States, and one with Crawford would be a big HBO fight and potentially could be for the vacant belt, given Provodnikov’s WBO ranking (No. 2 as of Nov. 15).
• Matthysse: I know I said forget about Crawford fighting a Haymon boxer, but this one might be possible even if I view it as a huge long shot. Matthysse is No. 1 in the WBO rankings. If Algieri is not reinstated as titlist and not made No. 1 contender, it seems the fight the WBO would order for the vacant title is Matthysse-Crawford. Under a purse bid scenario, it would not be entirely out of the question they could fight as other Haymon fighters and Top Rank fighters have done in the recent past under similar circumstances, such as Vasyl Lomachenko-Gary Russell Jr. and Erislandy Lara-Vanes Martirosyan.