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SPINKS BROTHERS MADE HISTORY TOGETHER, BUT THEY WERE DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT

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When you think about it, the odds against two brothers each winning the heavyweight championship of the world have to be staggeringly high, almost Powerball lottery-winning high. The odds against it happening twice have to that much higher.

While the combined heavyweight reigns of Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko lasted longer and almost certainly will gain both induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the towering Ukrainians are merely the second set of siblings to pull off the improbable double-dip. The brothers Spinks – Leon and Michael – out-Klitschko’ed the Klitschkos by making history sooner and, in some ways, even more notably. Consider this: Although Wladimir won the super heavyweight gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Vitali was denied a shot at Olympic glory when he was removed from the Ukrainian team that year after testing positive for a banned substance. The Spinks brothers, meanwhile, each took gold in 1976 in Montreal (Leon at light heavyweight, Michael at middleweight) as members of what many consider to be the finest U.S. Olympic boxing squad ever. And, before he moved up to heavyweight, Michael also was the undisputed light heavyweight champ as a pro, and one of the best ever at 175 pounds.

But there are other, very stark differences between the Klitschkos and the Spinkses. For one thing, the now-retired Vitali (at 43 he is five years older than Wladimir) and Wlad not only look and fight alike, they are almost mirror images of one another in their personal and professional demeanors. For all intents and purposes, they might as well be twins.

As for Leon and Michael … well, that isn’t really the case, is it? Leon, perhaps the more naturally gifted fighter, was a mercurial, unfocused free spirit, unwilling or unable to handle the pressure that came with the sudden onset of fame and fortune. He has been to the IBHOF, but only as an invited guest; it is highly unlikely “Neon Leon” ever will go to Canastota, N.Y., in any other capacity. Michael, his more serious, more dedicated younger brother, already has been officially certified as an all-time great, having been inducted into the IBHOF in 1994.

As further proof of the strength of the Spinks brothers’ pugilistic gene pool, Leon’s son, Cory Spinks, went on to win versions of the welterweight and junior middleweight championship.

The strange, intriguing and disparate journeys of the Spinkses are especially called to mind in September, the anniversary month of events for each that, as much as anything, define their legacies. On Sept. 15, 1978, exactly seven months after he shocked the world by wresting the WBC and WBA heavyweight titles from Muhammad Ali on a split decision at the Las Vegas Hilton – in only his eighth pro bout! – Leon came completely unglued in dropping a unanimous decision to Ali (only the WBA belt was on the line in the rematch), who became the first man to claim boxing’s biggest prize for the third time. A then-record indoor crowd of 63,500 jammed into the Louisiana Superdome to witness one of the oddest heavyweight title matchups ever.

“I know I could have made Leon upwards of $50 million if he had disciplined himself doing the right thing for four or five years,” Butch Lewis, who promoted both Spinks brothers and died in 2011, told me of the problems he encountered in trying to keep his unruliest charge under some kind of reasonable control. Instead, Leon blew through his $5 million in ring earnings ($3.75 million of which came from the second Ali fight) at warp speed and he tumbled into a tailspin that left him virtually destitute and his career in tatters. Evicted from his home for failure to keep up with the mortgage payments, Leon had to put most of his possessions into storage, and when he also got into arrears on that account, the most visible reminders of his former prominence were dispersed in an auction in which one lucky buyer acquired his heavyweight championship belts.

“What a waste of talent,” Top Rank boss Bob Arum, who promoted both Ali-Spinks bouts. (Lewis was a Top Rank vice president until, depending on whose version of the story you choose to believe, he was fired or left the company voluntarily after the rematch), said of Leon’s, um, casual approach to not only boxing, but just about everything.

Fast-forward seven years and six days, to Sept. 21, 1985, and Leon’s kid brother, Michael, made history on several fronts with his split decision over the heavily favored IBF heavyweight champ, Larry Holmes, at the Las Vegas Riviera. Michael’s upset of Holmes, who was making his 20th world title defense, not only prevented the “Easton Assassin” from stretching his record to 49-0, which would have tied the mark set 30 years earlier by the great Rocky Marciano, but it enabled the then-29-year-old Spinks to become the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title since Tommy Burns had done it in 1908. During the 77-year interim, there had been 13 challenges to the heavyweight title by nine light heavyweight champions or former champs, including failed bids by such legends as Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster.

As if all that weren’t enough, Michael – who had gotten only $100,000 for his final light heavyweight title defense, an eighth-round stoppage of James MacDonald – made $1.1 million for the first matchup with Holmes, kick-starting the most lucrative stage of a career which culminated in total earnings of $24 million-plus, $13.5 million of which came from his final fight, that first-round knockout loss to Mike Tyson in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall on June 27, 1988.

Unlike Leon, who scarcely trained for any fight, including his title-winning shocker over Ali, Michael was a tireless worker in the gym who wasn’t hesitant to try out unconventional methods if he thought they might prove beneficial. For the first go at Holmes, he turned himself over to New Orleans-based physical conditioning guru Mackie Shilstone, who held master’s degrees in psychology and nutrition. Shilstone – who later worked with Riddick Bowe, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. — formed an uneasy alliance with Michael’s old-school trainer, the legendary Eddie Futch, who grudgingly acquiesced to his fighter’s insistence on adhering to Shilstone’s deviations from long-held boxing precepts. Michael’s carefully monitored 4,500-calorie-a-day diet, which helped him pack on 25 pounds of muscle while reducing his body-fat percentage from 9.1 percent to 7.2 percent, obliged him to consume pancakes and protein shakes instead of steak, to lift weights instead of skipping rope, to run sprints instead of going on lengthy jogs.

For all their obvious differences, however, one thing remained constant: Leon was always there for Michael, just as Michael had been there in the chaos of the Superdome, lending whatever support he could to the perpetually distracted Leon. How could it have been otherwise? They had grown up in the notorious Pruitt-Igoe housing project, the bleakest of St. Louis ghettos, where gangs, drugs and violence were a way of life. Their overwhelmed father had abandoned the family when Michael was a toddler, leaving mom Kay to try to take care of her six sons and one daughter as a single parent.

But Kay couldn’t place a protective shield around her kids at all times. At some point Leon had had enough of the beatings he was getting from neighborhood toughs. He went to a nearby gym to learn to box, putting him on a path that eventually would lead him to Olympic gold and the heavyweight championship. Along the way he talked Michael into also trying his hand in the ring, and, well, of such things is destiny made.

Not that Leon was especially benevolent in taking young Michael under his wing. He seemed to delight in putting beatdowns on his little brother during their frequent sparring sessions, not out of cruelty but by way of teaching him that nothing worthwhile comes easily. Unfortunately for Leon, it was a lesson he was far more capable of passing along than in living out himself.

In 1994, Michael told me of the most important victory he ever registered, and, no, it was not his gold-medal triumph over the Soviet Union’s Rufat Riskiev, either of his signature points nods over Holmes or his light heavyweight championship slugfest over the rawhide-tough Dwight Braxton.

“It was back in St. Louis, in the early ’70s,” Michael recalled. “Me and Leon were passing by this gym, somewhere we’d never been in before. Leon said, `Hey, let’s check the place out.’ There was a ring in there, and Leon found a couple of pairs of gloves. We pulled them on and went at it for three rounds.”

This time, however, little brother gave as good as he got – even better, in fact.

“I couldn’t believe I was actually winning,” Michael continued. “You have to understand, Leon had always beaten the dog out of me. He always beat the dog out of everybody. Leon was the man in those days. There wasn’t anybody who could beat Leon. There wasn’t even anybody who could last three rounds with him. He used to beat me up so bad, I’d cry. He beat me like we weren’t even brothers. But he was trying to help me, in his own way. He’d say, `Mike, I know I take it hard on you, but if I took it any easier, you wouldn’t learn anything.”

Michael still had a warm, fuzzy satisfaction from the brotherly battle that is not part of either’s official records, and which caused him to believe that, just maybe, he, too, could become the man.

“I threw off the gloves and said, `Hey, man, I beat your ass. I got you.’ And that was it. We never sparred again. Looking back, that might have been my proudest moment in boxing. I figured if I could do that well against Leon, I could hold my own against anybody. From that point on, I was a completely different fighter. I had confidence in myself.”

But to most so-called experts, Leon, still on active duty with the Marine Corps, remained the brighter professional prospect during that magical Olympiad in Montreal. Although Sugar Ray Leonard was the clear breakout star of those Games, Leon was the brother who wangled a lucrative pro contract with Top Rank while Michael went back to his old job as a janitor at a St. Louis chemical plant where, as one co-worker later observed, his duties included “scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets.”

Top Rank eventually brought Michael into the fold, and the brothers continued to move forward in their careers, Leon at an accelerated rate. He was just 6-0-1 as a pro when he was granted his dream shot at Ali, who entered the ring out of shape and overconfident. But it was not as if Leon had prepared for the most important bout of his career any more intensely.

Butch Lewis recalled Leon’s training camp in Kiamesha, N.Y., a resort in the Catskills where the challenger was more apt to play hooky than to get in the kind of work a fighter, any fighter, needed to take full advantage of an opportunity of that magnitude. So notoriously unmanageable was Leon that Lewis had an associate sleep on a cot in front of the door to Leon’s room, to keep him from wandering off. The ploy failed; late one night Leon escaped anyway, through the window, over the roof and onto a porch, during a snowstorm. Lewis’ frantic search party found him the next morning shooting pool at a nearby tavern.

And if Leon was the loosest of cannons previously, he went completely off the radar screen for the Ali rematch, which was billed as “The Battle of New Orleans.” The battle turned out to be more of a skirmish – Ali winning handily on scores (by rounds) of 10-4-1 (twice) and 11-4 – fight week was a hodgepodge of Mardi Gras, Southern Decadence and amplified French Quarter frolics. Even in a city known for having what might described as relaxed moral standards, the influx of out-of-town hookers constituted such an invasion that bar patrons hoping to order an adult beverage or to just listen to some jazz couldn’t even find stools to sit on in the more popular watering holes. No wonder part of the prefight festivities included a convention of COYOTE members, an acronym that stood for “Call Off Your Old, Tired Ethics,” an American sex workers activist organization. More than a few of the hundreds of media members in town for the fight filed sidebars about the COYOTE confab, which seemed natural when you consider that boxing is largely about sticking the jab and going to the body.

Where was Leon during all this hubbub? It was a bit of a mystery, but rumors flew – many of which turned out to have ample basis in fact – that he was pub-crawling not in the comparative safety of the French Quarter, but in dives in crime-infested neighborhoods that even the local police were hesitant to go into.

“He was drunk every night he was there,” a disgusted Arum said of Leon’s hard-partying ways. “Leon wen to places our people didn’t dare go to. I’m surprise he didn’t wind up with a knife stuck in him.”

One of the fight game’s quintessential storytellers, the late Bert Randolph Sugar, noted that Leon, upon being picked up at the New Orleans airport by a member of the local sheriff’s staff, promptly fired up a joint on the way to his hotel. It was in keeping with a lifestyle that always was played out fast, loose and with few worries as to possible consequences.

“One time, Leon woke up in a hotel room, stark-naked, his wallet, watch and false teeth missing,” Sugar said with a flourish of his ever-present cigar. “The girl he’d spent the night with was gone, too. Leon called the cops and told them he’d been mugged. He though that sounded better than telling them he’d gotten drunk and been rolled.

“Here he was, the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’d have the police believe that somebody took off all his clothes and made off with his false teeth.”

The madness continued on fight night, when Leon arrived at the Superdome with an unwieldly entourage of 70 or so acolytes in tow. And when the fight started, a half-dozen or so of the more favored members of his crew turned his corner into a mob scene, all screaming to get his momentary attention. Among those jostling for position were brother Michael, trainers Sam Solomon and George Benton, and gunnery sergeant Art Reddon, who had been Leon’s boxing coach in the Marines.

After the sixth round, Benton – who had prepared Leon as well as he could for the first Ali fight, and who later enjoyed great success working with, among others, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Mark Breland – simply walked away.

“It was a zoo,” Benton said later. “It was like watching your baby drown. There was nothing you could do about it. I had no more control of the guy. I was useless. All I could do was get the hell out of it.”

Nor would the situation improve in the years that followed. A month before the rematch with Ali, a concerned Michael said that his older brother’s “mind is a total wreck now. He doesn’t have anybody around him but people who want his blood.”

Trading on what remained of his reputation, Leon – his entourage now scattered to the wind — got one more shot at the WBC heavyweight title, and was stopped in three one-sided rounds by Holmes on June 12, 1981, in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. He dropped down to cruiserweight and was paired against WBA champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi on March 22, 1986, but was TKO’ed in the sixth round. His record after Ali II was 16-15-1, putting his final career mark at 26-17-3, with 14 KOs.

“Leon was an incredible physical specimen in that he won the heavyweight championship and never trained a lick,” said Tom Vacca, a Detroit matchmaker who put him in several fights late in his career, including his last-gasp bid for glory against Qawi. “You’d see him the day before a fight smoking a cigarette with a beer in his hand and a girl on his arm.

“But he had an incredible heart. He had the heart of a lion. He beat Ali on heart alone. At some point, though, his youth and his heart began to fail him and he didn’t know what to do when that happened. Let’s face it, Leon was no rocket scientist.”

The most obvious similarity between Leon and Michael, other than the fact they were world champions, is their gap-toothed smiles, a distinction shared by, among others, former New York Giants defensive-end-turned-“Good Morning America” co-host Michael Strahan and the late British comic actor Terry-Thomas. Michael, however, wrung every ounce from his considerable boxing gifts, going 31-1 with 21 knockouts, and for that he deserves to be thought of more kindly than for the 91 brutal seconds he was in there against Tyson before being steamrolled into retirement. Little brother made it into the IBHOF the old-fashioned way: He earned it.

September is the brothers’ month of months, a time of celebration for one and regret for the other, of summits scaled and abysses tumbled into. It is the sort of mosaic into which any family’s intermingled lives is woven, illustrating how far some of us have come and how far others still need to go.

Bless their hearts, the tale of the Klitschkos’ rise to prominence somehow just doesn’t seem as compelling.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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