Friday, April 19, 2019

Crawford-Khan Preview

The 147lb. Welterweight division has as this observer has often said, been traditionally one of Boxing’s most historic and talent deep divisions. Recent times in the division have been no different, but what has been a little different is how the landscape of the sport in terms of how the sport is broadcast has indirectly had a ripple effect on Boxing including the Welterweights. As most Boxing fans know, 2018 saw a significant shift in various television networks both across traditional television as well as digital streaming offering significant contracts to promoters in the sport as well as some of the biggest stars in Boxing to exclusive deals for their respective platforms.

While this has seen benefits for the sport and its fan that has and will continue to show in years to come, it has also one might argue created a delay in some significant fights from being signed. In terms of the top of the Welterweight division, this has meant the respective world champions competing on competing platforms against different opposition than each other, which for the meantime has prevented any unification bouts from being made.

For a division that has been in a period of transition since the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, some might view it as a delay in determining who is the best Welterweight in the sport currently. Until unification bouts can be made, the best the Boxing fans can hope for is for the world champions in the division to make their case as being the number one fighter in the division. One fighter looking to continue to make an argument for himself is undefeated WBO Welterweight world champion Terence Crawford.

Crawford, a three-division world champion, moved into the Welterweight division after fully unifying the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division in 2017 to win his third world championship in as many weight classes stopping previously unbeaten WBO world champion Jeff Horn in June of last year. After a successful first defense of the WBO crown against a very “Game” Jose Benavidez in October of last year, Crawford now prepares for his second title defense as he will square off against former Jr. Welterweight world champion Amir Khan on April 20th at Madison Square Garden in a bout that will headline a card televised by ESPN Pay-Per-View here in the United States.

This appears to be an interesting clash of styles between two boxer/punchers. Crawford is a fighter who is very compact with his offense and is effective fighting out of either the orthodox or southpaw stances. While he has scored knockouts in twenty-five of his thirty-four career wins registering a career knockout percentage of nearly 75%, Crawford has also shown the ability to out box his opponents and can win fights that go the distance in convincing fashion.

In Amir Khan, Crawford will face an opponent who has extremely quick hands and like the champion is a boxer/puncher. A focal point of this fight in my mind centers on Amir Khan’s previous setbacks in his career. If the reader is a little confused by the previous sentence, allow yours truly to elaborate.

Khan is a former unified world champion and is one of the best fighters in the world. He is a fighter however, that may be more known for his setbacks than his accomplishments. Despite a solid resume in winning thirty-three of his thirty-seven professional fights, there are some who focus on his four losses and to be more specific, three losses in which Khan suffered a knockout. The losses Khan suffered at the hands of Breidis Prescott, Danny Garcia, and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Losses that have given Khan the label of having a suspect chin in the opinion of some.

It is indeed true that it can be easy for one to label a fighter off of what happens to said fighter when a fighter suffers a knockout loss. Khan has however, shown he can hold his own in some fights that did not go his way, in particular in his fight against Saul Alvarez. A fight where Khan moved up in weight to the Middleweight division up two weight classes from the 147lb. Welterweight division. Khan appeared to be getting the better of the action for a period of time in that fight before he was caught by an Alvarez counter overhand right that sent the former Jr. Welterweight world champion down and out on the canvas.

Amir Khan’s hand speed is among the best in the sport. It is crucial in my eyes that Khan be wary of potential counter punches by Crawford in this fight. Khan was also caught in similar fashion as he was by Alvarez in his July 2012 loss to Danny Garcia. While Khan may never be able to shake the label of some as having a suspect chin, these two knockouts suggest that he is more vulnerable to being caught in exchanges. 

To his credit, Khan will enter this fight with Crawford having won his last two bouts including a twelve round unanimous decision over contender Samuel Vargas in September of last year. Khan also showed in that fight where he was knocked down in the second round that he can get off the canvas to win a fight.

As this fight approaches, I believe the key to success for Amir Khan will be to establish the pace of the combat and be elusive. Khan is a highly skilled boxer, but he must not get into exchanges with Crawford, who will likely look to catch the challenger in an exchange of punches. While the hand speed advantage appears to be in Khan’s favor, Crawford is very accurate with his offense and the old adage that the best way to negate an opponent’s speed is by timing.

The champion can also be aggressive in applying pressure on opponents as he looks to gradually break them down over the course of a fight. I believe Crawford will take a similar approach in this fight, but the interesting question will be whether Khan will look to use his lateral movement to evade Crawford’s pressure or if he will be willing to be a more stationary target.

In terms of what the outcome of this fight could mean in the long-term for the Welterweight division it is difficult to say at the present time. This is due to the landscape of how the sport is broadcast continuing to change in different promoters and their respective stables of fighters having exclusive deals with broadcast networks/platforms, which can play a role in whether potential unification bouts get made. While yours truly intends to discuss this element of the “Business of Boxing “ in the days that will follow this pay-per-view card, it is something to keep in mind when discussing potential fights that may follow for the winner of this fight.

Something also to keep in mind, despite the sport’s gradual shift towards Over The Top (OTT) digital streaming with networks like DAZN and ESPN’s own ESPN+ offering economically reasonable subscription-based options for consumers, this card will be offered on a traditional pay-per-view format for $69.95 across cable/satellite, as well as being offered on streaming platforms including Fite TV, PlayStation 4, and ESPN+ PPV. In regard to ESPN+, as some might know, ESPN recently extended their agreement with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) MMA promotion to become the exclusive distributor of UFC pay-per-view events in the United States carrying those pay-per-view cards through the ESPN+ section on the ESPN app across mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices.

Beyond removing those cards from the cable/satellite medium, what is important to keep in mind is these pay-per-view cards are not included as part of an existing subscription to ESPN+, but those who purchase those cards will either have an annual subscription included with the purchase of a pay-per-view card or are offered at a slightly reduced price for existing ESPN+ subscribers.

While it is unclear as to whether ESPN will adapt a similar strategy for their PPV Boxing cards remains to be seen. Although this observer is on record including stating earlier this week across social media platforms that I feel providing a card like this as part of an ESPN+ subscription would be a better platform and approach, I am taking a wait and see approach regarding what appears to be a strategy ESPN is testing the waters with regarding using ESPN+ as a pay-per-view portal in addition to a subscription-based digital network.

In terms if the event itself at Madison Square Garden, it will be interesting to see how ticket sales for this event do when all’s said and done. This is due to a Kickboxing/MMA event that will be streamed on the UFC’s UFC Fight Pass digital network taking place in the theater at Madison Square Garden at the same time that the Crawford-Khan card will be taking place in the main arena. While this in no way is a criticism of the Crawford-Khan PPV card, it is the first time that this observer has seen a scenario where two separate combat sports events will be taking place in the same building at the same time.

For ESPN, the Crawford-Khan card represents only the second time that the network has ventured into the pay-per-view realm after a successful card promoted by Main Events at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV in April 2005. As someone who covered that card, which was headlined by a Welterweight world championship fight between Antonio Margarito and Kermit Cintron, I always wondered why ESPN did not continue with their foray into pay-per-view given not only the quality of the card that night, but also the top notch presentation that the network put forth in addition to a reasonable price point of $29.95.

The landscape of pay-per-view both as an industry and in terms of prices is considerably different in 2019 as compared to 2005. With the sport as a whole moving towards subscription-based streaming and away from a traditional pay-per-view model, it remains to be seen if ESPN’s second pay-per-view venture is a success. Much as was the case in 2005 however, the main event features two of the best fighters in the world going against each other and if both Terence Crawford Amir Khan bring their best it has the makings of a great fight. If it does turn out to be a great fight, it would be a shame if in the days that follow this fight if those of us who cover the sport talk more about the changing landscape of technology as well as how a competing event might all have an effect on how successful this card will be, instead of talking about what happened inside the ring.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Crawford vs. Khan takes place tomorrow night (Saturday, April 20th) at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. The card can be seen in the United States on ESPN Pay-Per-View across cable/satellite providers as well as Fite TV and ESPN+ PPV for $69.95. For more information contact your cable/satellite provider or please visit: www.Fite.TV or for more information.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the card can be seen on BT Sport Box Office PPV beginning at 11:30PM for £19.95 (Local UK time.) For more information about BT Sport Box Office PPV, availability in your area and to order please visit: Check your local listings internationally.

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