Now that plans are in the works for unified junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford to return to action Dec. 10 on HBO, filling the spot left open when the Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs camps concluded they could not finalize the mandatory bout in time to fight on that date, he needs an opponent.
Names thought to be in the mix are Russian world titleholder Eduard Troyanovsky (25-0, 22 KOs), a good fighter but totally unknown outside of his home country, and mandatory challenger Antonio Orozco (25-0, 16 KOs), who would be a huge underdog.
Probably the biggest fight out there for Crawford would be against former titlist Adrien Broner (32-2, 24 KOs), although he is linked to a possible fight with titleholder Ricky Burns (41-5-1, 14 KOs) of Scotland. Crawford easily beat Burns to claim a lightweight world title in 2014 before they both eventually moved up in weight.
So who’s out there who is ready, willing and able to fight Crawford in a match only seven weeks away, an opponent who would be a good fight, competitive and somebody HBO would approve?
How about Felix Diaz, a legit contender whether he is fighting in his natural junior welterweight division or at welterweight, where he has fought his past two bouts because he has been unable to get a top 140-pounder to face him?
Diaz (18-1, 8 KOs), a 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic, fits the bill for the 29-year-old Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs) in my book. The 32-year-old southpaw also said recently that he’s interested in fighting Crawford and willing to go to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where Top Rank plans to put on his fight.
“If Crawford is looking for a really good opponent for December, let’s make the fight with Felix Diaz,” Lou DiBella, Diaz’s promoter, told ESPN. “Diaz was going to fight in the Dominican Republic [on Dec. 10] to keep busy to be ready for this kind of opportunity. OK, Felix Diaz is high risk, low reward, but he fought in front of a lot of people in his last fight. More people saw that fight than probably saw Crawford’s last fight.”
Indeed, Diaz scored a big win over previously unbeaten contender Sammy Vasquez on Fox in prime time on July 16. A week later Crawford scored his biggest victory in a one-sided decision against Viktor Postol to unify 140-pound titles. That fight was a bust on HBO pay-per-view. According to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, it generated only between 50,000 and 60,000 buys in a money loser. Many industry insiders believe it didn’t even do 50,000 buys.
“Before that fight with Vasquez, Diaz was on NBC and a lot of people saw him get the wrong end of the decision against Lamont Peterson in another good fight,” DiBella said. “Diaz is an elite opponent, and Crawford has never been afraid of anyone.”
Before the prospect of Crawford fighting in December was ever raised, Diaz proclaimed his interest, saying in September, "I would love to fight Crawford. I believe that our styles match up perfectly and will make for a tremendous fight. I also believe that my style will give him a ton of problems. ... I am a big, strong 140-pounder. He has never faced someone like me. I fought Peterson in his backyard, and I have no problem coming to Omaha."
DiBella said making a deal would not be an issue.
“I know what would have to be done to make a deal with Top Rank,” DiBella said. “There can be options in the deal, there can be a rematch clause -- whatever they need within reason.”
Al Haymon is Diaz’s adviser and his fighters were at one point banned by HBO, but that has eased since Peter Nelson was promoted to run the sports division. Haymon fighters such as Amir Khan and Dominic Wade have been on, and there is a chance Jacobs will appear if the Golovkin fight is made.
“Boxing needs good fights, and here is a moment when a really good, quality fight can be made, so let’s make it,” DiBella said. “Nobody involved with Felix Diaz has any objection to this fight being on HBO or being in Omaha or being on a Top Rank card. None of that is an issue. This is a straightforward deal. Let’s make it. If HBO steps up and puts up the money to make the fight and Diaz would beat Crawford, we would do the normal things when a guy challenges a champion, like a rematch clause, and there is no objection to HBO being involved with Felix Diaz if this fight happens.
“I spoke to Al and he said he’s happy to do the fight with Top Rank and fine with HBO televising it. He likes the fight.”
After years as enemies, Arum and Haymon settled their antitrust lawsuit earlier this year and Arum has steadfastly said he and Haymon can do business together, although they have not yet. This would be a nice start.
DiBella and Arum spoke about the fight on Friday, but Arum has been so busy with his No. 1 priority -- promoting the Nov. 5 Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas pay-per-view fight -- that he told DiBella to talk to Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti about Diaz. But Arum told ESPN he has no objection to Crawford-Diaz, adding that he is not familiar with Diaz.
“I wouldn’t know Diaz from the man in the moon, so I told Lou to call Moretti, who is handling the Crawford opponent,” Arum said. “But that’s good that [Diaz] is a gold medalist. If you say he’s a good fighter, why not? I gave Carl the job to work that fight and get the opponent, but it’s fine with me.”