While junior welterweight titlist Terence Crawford insists that he is taking challenger Dierry Jean seriously, another name looms over the promotion of their fight: Manny Pacquiao.
Crawford, the 2014 fighter of the year, moved up from lightweight in April and knocked out Thomas Dulorme to win a vacant junior welterweight title. He will be making his first defense when he faces Jean on Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at the CenturyLink Center in Crawford's hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
But what comes next, provided Crawford takes care of business, could be the fight he has wanted -- a showdown with the great Pacquiao, who plans to fight on April 9 in what could be the final fight of his career.
"Dierry Jean is a good fighter. I am not overlooking him," Crawford said. "There is a lot at stake for both of us. One of the secrets to my success has been to never look past an opponent or train less than 110 percent for a fight. It's all about focus and keeping the blinders on. If you don't respect the talents of the man in the opposite corner then you're asking for trouble."
Nonetheless, Pacquiao will be returning from his decision loss to Floyd Mayweather on May 2 in the most lucrative fight in boxing history. Pacquiao is running for senate in the Philippines and the elections are this coming May. If Pacquiao wins a seat, retirement from the ring looms because of the intensiity of the political work, which is far more time-consuming than what Pacquiao has to do in his current role as a congressman for his province.
Crawford is on the short list to be Pacquiao's spring opponent, but not without a win against Jean.
"I'm ready for Manny. I'm ready for whatever lies in my future," Crawford said. "That will be a big fight. It's a fight we want, a fight we look forward to take my career to the next level and becoming a pay-per-view attraction. That's the fight we need right now. I think I just need to win Saturday, just fight my fight."
The Crawford-Jean telecast will open with replays of last Saturday night's pay-per-view bouts from New York's Madison Square Garden: Gennady Golovkin's eighth-round knockout of David Lemieux to unifiy middleweight titles and flyweight champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez's ninth-round knockout of former unified titleholder Brian Viloria.
While others have also been mentioned as a possible opponent for Pacquiao, such as Amir Khan, Top Rank's Bob Arum promotes Pacquiao and Crawford and said he would like to make that fight provided Crawford defeats Jean, although he added that the final decision will be Pacquiao's.
Arum said Crawford would happily move up to welterweight to face Pacquiao or "Manny, frankly, would welcome fighting at 140 pounds again. The weight is not even an issue."
Arum said if it's Pacquiao versus Crawford "it could be a passing-of-the-torch kind of fight" because the 36-year-old Pacman is on his way out and Crawford, who turned 28 last month and in his prime, is still on the ascent in his career.
"But it would be a very tough fight for Crawford," Arum said. "There are some people in the company (Top Rank) who feel Manny would be a big favorite to beat him. But, in any event, there's no downside for Crawford because he's going to get enormous publicity. He won't disgrace himself even if he lost and he will make a lot of money."
"I'm ready for Manny. I'm ready for whatever lies in my future. That will be a big fight. It's a fight we want, a fight we look forward to take my career to the next level and becoming a pay-per-view attraction. That's the fight we need right now. I think I just need to win Saturday, just fight my fight." Terence Crawford
In Jean, Crawford (26-0, 18 KOs) will be facing a quality contender who served as one of Pacquiao's sparring partners as he was getting ready to face Mayweather.
"Who cares if Jean sparred with Manny Pacquiao? That's sparring," Crawford said. "I've seen him. He's a good, well-rounded fighter. He will come to fight. He has a big right hand. We're ready for whatever he brings. He's hungry. I think he's getting up in age and might not get too many more chances. So I know he's coming to my hometown looking to win. Anybody that steps in the ring as a professional is a threat to me. That's how I look at it."
Jean's only previous title fight resulted in his only defeat, a competitive decision to then-junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson in his hometown of Washington, D.C., in January 2014.
After the loss, the 33-yar-old Jean (29-1, 20 KOs), a native of Haiti fighting out of Montreal, dropped down to lightweight and won four fights in a row. But then he called out Crawford and was rewarded with the fight, so he is moving back up in weight and ready for the challenge.
"Terence Crawford is the HBO darling, but I will hurt him," said Jean, who is dedicating the fight to his older brother, who died two months ago. "Fighting in Omaha will have no effect on me. No pressure. I'm not here to win over Crawford's hometown fans. I'm here to beat their champion.
"I love being the underdog. I'm always the underdog. I'm used to it. I'm going to show everyone that I'm the top man in the junior welterweight division. I'm going to shock the world."
He said he learned a lot from the loss to Peterson.
"It was my first world title fight. I went full out trying to get the early knockout and by the fourth round I was really gassed," Jean said. "I rallied in the later rounds but then I ran my tank empty. This time I'm going to box Crawford and if I catch him with a good punch I will finish him. It's all about being first -- first with the jab and first with the counter punch."
Crawford had a big fighter of the year campaign in 2014, winning a lightweight title and making two defenses -- and winning all three fights impressively against quality opponents in Ricky Burns, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Raymundo Beltran -- but 2015 has been a bit of a step back. He will only fight twice this year and neither bout will have been against a big-name opponent, although Dulorme and Jean are both legitimate contenders.
"It was a little bit of step back, but I just fight," Crawford said, noting that other big names were not available to him this year. "Am I disappointed I'm only going to fight twice this year? Yeah, but it happens. But I'm looking forward to staying active in 2016. I don't make the fights, I just fight them."
He has Jean in front of him, but Crawford is hoping one of those 2016 fights will be a career-defining bout with Pacquiao which, as Arum said, could signify a passing of the torch from a great past champion to potentially great future one.