by Leo Adam Biga
Terence “Bud” Crawford, cemented his status as King of Omaha Sports Figures by dispatching Dierry Jean in a WBO super lightweight bout on October 24 before 11,000 hometown fans at the CenturyLink Center arena.
Crawford, who’s quickly become The People’s Champ, imposed his will on the game, but overmatched the contender from Canada. He dropped Jean three times and had him in serious trouble again when awarded a 10th round technical knockout. The Omaha native carried the fight from the opening bell, using superior boxing skills and decisive height and reach advantages to repeatedly back Jean against the ropes and in the corners, landing nearly at will when pressing the action. The few times Dierry managed an attack, Crawford countered with combination barrages that left the challenger bloodied and bruised.
The end was never in doubt because Crawford was never in trouble. It was just a matter of when Derry would go or when the referee would stop the scheduled 12-rounder.The event marked another coronation for Crawford, who has gone from a hungry kid just looking for a shot, to a mature champion on the cusp of being one of his sport’s highest paid big names. Along the way he’s captured the hearts and minds of a city he is proud to call his own. From the moment this local hero entered the arena amidst entourage members holding aloft his two title belts, the fighter exuded the confidence and star quality associated with sports icons.
In the days before the fight Jean and his manager called out Crawford, vowing to take his lightweight belt to Canada. When Jean trash talked during the bout, Crawford first let his fists do the talking before variously chirping back. Stomping the canvas and smiling at the crowd as if to say, “I’ve got this” and “He’s mine.”
During the HBO interview just after the fight’s conclusion Crawford taunted Jean and his manager in the ring with, “Did you get what you were looking for?” The crowd erupted in cheers. He also got a big response when he answered commentator Max Kellerman’s question about the source of his fierce fighting nature with, “Where I’m from…” and gestured to friends and family who share the same neighborhood he does. He also expressed love for all the support Omaha gives him. The way he handled everything, from the crowd, to the media, to Jean, and still took care of business showed a professional athlete with real poise and presence. The more the spotlight shines on him, the more the boxing world discovers he’s also a humanitarian with a deep commitment to his community.
At the post-fight press conference, where WBO head Bob Arum sat next to him and all but crowned him the fight organization’s next superstar, Crawford was the calm, confident picture of Boxing’s Next Big Thing. Crawford’s already the toast of this town.
Now he’s the toast of New York City, where he’s fighting challenger Hammerin Hank Lundy Feb. 27 at fabled Madison Square Garden. In the Big Apple for a press conference announcing the fight, Crawford was afforded star treatment. He got more of the same attending a Knicks game at the Garden, where he was pictured with the likes of Spike Lee, Ice Cube, Floyd Mayweather and Carmelo Anthony. It turns out those celebrities are fans and followers of The Champ.
Omaha’s African-American community has produced high achievers in many fields, but none more than in sports.
A small sampling of black athletic greats from Omaha include:
Eugene Skinner, Charles Bryant, Marion Hudson, Bob Boozer, Bob Gibson, Roger Sayers, Gale Sayers, Don Benning, Ron Boone, Marlin Briscoe, Johnny Rodgers, Mike McGee, Larry Station, Maurtice Ivy, Jessica Haynes, Andre Woolridge, Ahman Green, Peaches James, Ashley Carter, RaVaughn Perkins, Mayme Conroy, Niles Paul.
The list goes on and on.An undisputed new entry to the list of great athletes from Omaha is Crawford. The North Omaha native is enjoying a ride few in sport or any endeavor ever experience. In less than two years he’s gone from being just another challenger, to the man nobody wants to face. Along the way singlehandedly reviving the city’s long dormant boxing scene.
Everywhere he fights, he represents by wearing trunks emblazoned with Omaha and caps bearing University of Nebraska emblems.
The unbeaten fighter’s dramatic ascent began with him taking the WBO lightweight title from reigning champ Ricky Burns in Scotland.
Crawford then twice successfully defended that belt in his hometown before mega CenturyLink crowds, scoring a 9th round technical knockout against Yuriokis Gamboa and then tallying a unanimous 12-round decision over Raymundo Beltran.
Those three signature wins in 2014, all carried by HBO earned him the Fighter of the Year recognition from the Boxing Writers of America.
Crawford then went to Texas last April to capture the vacant WBO junior welterweight title by dismantling Thomas Dulorme via 6th round TKO. His dominance over Dierry back in Omaha this past fall was the latest in a string of convincing wins for the unbeaten (27-0) fighter.
It’s all in a day’s work for Crawford.
“I’ve always been confident,” he says. “I’ve never doubted myself.”
Not since Bob Gibson carried the St. Louis Cardinals in three World Series in the 1960s has a Neb.-born athlete dominated a sport in so many high-stakes settings.
Crawford’s work landed him on the cover of Ring Magazine and reinforced TopRank’s grooming of him to be prizefighting’s next king.
In addition to the BWA and Ring honors, he’s been:
- Inducted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame
- Inducted into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame
- Added to the Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor roster
- Immortalized in a mobile mural by artist Aaryon Lau Rance Williams
- Nominated for an Espy as Fighter of the Year
That’s a heady rush of fame and adulation for a 28-year-old, yet he’s taken it all in stride. His cool-under-pressure comes from childhood, when he first dreamed of being a champion. He got steeled early on by countless scrapes and school suspensions, He often sparred guys older and bigger than him. He never gave in. He never gave up.
“I was one of those kids they said was never going to make it – I used that as an opportunity to prove them wrong.”
A wakeup call that nearly cost him his life happened just as his pro career was taking off when he caught a bullet in the back of his head after “hanging with the wrong crowd.” Since that 2008 incident he’s rededicated himself, staying away from bad elements and throwing himself into a grueling training regimen. His renowned mental and physical toughness, plus his well-studied approach, has thus far made him an unstoppable force in the ring.
Until Crawford, Omaha hadn’t seen a pro title fight since Ron Stander fought Joe Frazier in 1972. Thanks to Crawford, Omaha’s now hosted three in short order. He once again brought the focus of the fight world back home when he scored that TKO over Dierry Jean in October.
Crawford’s best performances and biggest paydays may yet be ahead, including possibly facing legend Manny Pacquiao in 2016.
Through it all, Crawford’s hometown rootedness remains strong. His community giveback saw him and co-manager Brian “BoMac” McIntyre open his own gym, the B&B Boxing Academy, in his old neighborhood. He sees the gym as a refuge for youth and young adults to escape the streets and engage in positive, supervised activities. It’s the same mission Carl Washington’s CW Boxing Club served for Crawford when he was growing up.
“I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances,” Crawford says. “They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.
“It’s not just all about boxing. We’re trying to teach kids how to be young women and young men – to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. Boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.”
He knows from experience the difference caring adults make.“If they feel like nobody cares, than they’re not going to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person.”
Among those to take an interest in him was boxing coach Midge Minor. He’s been with the fighter all through the amateur ranks and up the pro ladder and is still a vital Team Crawford member today.
“He’s got the wisdom,” Crawford says. “Every fight, he tells me what he thinks I should do, and we go from there. Midge is the brain. Everything goes through Midge before it’s all said and done. Without the brain we can’t do nothing. So it’s very important Midge is there.”
He says Minor saw his potential and convinced him he was special.
“Midge always instilled in me ‘can’t nobody beat you,’ especially if you work hard and put your heart into your training. The fight’s the easy part. Preparing for it, that’s the hard part.”
Crawford’s surrounded by figures influenced by Minor.
“Every person I turn to in my corner that’s giving me instructions came up under Midge,” he says.
The fighter’s allegiance to Omaha extends to his crew.
“Midge always told my manager, ‘Don’t let nobody get a hold of him.’ A lot of people were coming at me with deals, wanting me to move out of town, trying to get me to fight for them and sign with them, telling me I can’t make it from Omaha. They said I need new corner men – that they took me as far as they could.
“But I’m loyal and I think that’s what a lot of people didn’t understand. My coaches have faith in me and they trust I’m not going to do nothing to jeopardize our relationship. And I trust them and have faith in them.”
Some public school teachers have been instrumental in his life as well, including Jamie Fox Nollette, who taught him in fourth grade at Skinner Magnet School. The pair forged a bond then, but they lost touch with each other in the ensuing years. They only reconnected 2 years ago and in short order he was traveling with her to Uganda and Rwanda, Africa, where her Pipeline Worldwide nonprofit supports sustainability, self-sufficiency and empowerment programs for vulnerable populations.
He went with her again in June. They visited humanitarian organizations and met the people running programs and receiving services. They visited places benefiting from clean water wells and other places in need of resources. They ventured into crowded urban slums and small rural villages. They went on safari. They danced with locals. They shopped at outdoor markets.
Crawford and Nollette went every step of the way together. He helps raise awareness for her organization’s work and she helps do the same for his gym. She’s leading a $1.2 million building campaign to renovate and expand his B&B gym at 3034 Sprague Street.
The fighter and his former teacher have something special together.
“It’s a very close relationship,” he says. “She treats me like a son.”
“Terence is really family to me. He’s like this second son I feel responsibility for looking after,” Nollette confirms. “At the end of the day I care about him and what happens to him and his future. I just want to be there for him.”
Their friendship is largely why he’s twice gone to these developing nations wracked by poverty and the aftermath of violence. His girlfriend and the mother of his children, Alindra “Esha” Person, accompanied him the second journey.
He says “seeing the Motherland” always appealed to him and Nollette afforded the chance to show him things he might otherwise not see.
“You know you only live once and certain opportunities don’t come every day, so I just saw this as an opportunity to get out and see something new.”
Experiencing Third World conditions, he says, “just made me appreciate things more – it kind of humbled me in a way to where I don’t want to take anything for granted. Their way of living and our way of living is totally different. They appreciate everything that comes upon them, even if it’s just a hug, even if it’s a handshake, even if you give them a piece of paper.”
He returned a different man each time.
“It’s life-changing when you get to go over there and see people and help people. I had a great time with great people. I experienced some great things.”
Just like he wants to assist Uganda and Rwanda, he’s committed to North Omaha.
“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul.
I could be anywhere, but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”
The same message he delivered to African boxers, he delivers here:
“Work hard, stay dedicated, give your all every time you go in there and who knows maybe you can be the next champion of the world.”
Just as he will “never forget” the people in Africa, he will never forget the people in his hometown.