It's strange how some memories fade away like forgotten ghosts and others seem eternally lodged in the hippocampus. That would certainly account for Terence "Bud" Crawford's vivid recollection of his first trip to a boxing gym almost 25 years ago, when he was 7. He didn't realize it at the time, but he had found his calling.
There was a faint trace of youthful joy in Crawford's voice when he recalled the momentous day he first entered the C.W. Boxing Club in Omaha, Nebraska.
"I just wanted to hit the speed bag and spar," Crawford said of his first visit. "When kids talk to me about boxing, the first thing they ask is, 'Can you do that ball?' That's what they call the speed bag. It was the first thing I wanted to do, and then I wanted to spar because I was always fighting. After about two weeks, they let me spar my cousin and we really went at it."
Back then, Crawford was a skinny kid with a bad temper who loved to scrap so much he was kicked off the football team for fighting.
"If it didn't have anything to do with fighting, it wasn't fun," Crawford once told Tony Boone of the Omaha World Herald. "That's what I like to do, fight."
Maybe that shouldn't be too surprising. Crawford's father and grandfather were amateur boxers, as were two of his uncles. It's in his blood.
There are plenty of kids who give boxing a try, particularly those hoping to punch their way out of poverty. Some stick with it and others don't, but very few have accomplished as much as Crawford. There's something extra inside him, something that has infused his life and fueled his passion.
"I fight so hard because I've been scared since a child," reads a post on Crawford's Twitter account from a year ago.
Not many boxers would make a public confession like that, but Crawford is comfortable enough in his own skin to be candid. He has the casual self-assurance of somebody who knows who he is and what he can do.
Success and the money it brings don't appear to have affected him in any fundamental way. Crawford still likes to fight as much as he did the first day he arrived at the C.W. Boxing Club. But things might have turned out differently if trainer Midge Minor hadn't taken a liking to him because he had a "fighter's attitude."
With Crawford's father away in the U.S. Navy much of the time, Minor became Terence's surrogate father. The teenage years were particularly challenging. Fearing he would lose him to the streets, Minor would pick up Crawford after school and show him boxing videos until it was time to go to the gym.
There are a lot of wise old heads in boxing gyms, hoping to turn kids' lives around, and Minor is one of them. He was there when Crawford needed him and helped fashion the angry child into arguably today's finest prizefighter.
Since turning pro in March 2008, Crawford has accomplished things he could only dream of as a kid. He's undefeated (34-0, 25 KOs), has won titles in three weight classes and is currently No. 2 in ESPN.com's pound-for-pound rankings. In 2018, he won an ESPY for Fighter of the Year.
"I'm a fan of the sport. A lot of times I get to the fights real early and watch all the fights. I also like to see the top fighters in the world, see how they break down their opponents, what they do in certain circumstances. I look for anything where I can get an edge." Terence Crawford
Crawford, who will make a second defense of his WBO world welterweight title against former junior welterweight champion Amir Khan on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, remains a zealot married to his craft. Ten years into his professional career, the 31-year-old still has an agile mind and a natural cruel streak that's totally old-school.
Remember those images of Marvin Hagler running through the snow in Cape Cod, ice on his beard, wind and snowflakes blowing in his face? Crawford has that same kind of intensity. There was a similar shot taken of him recently while out for a frosty run down a snowy road.
Crawford seemingly can't get enough. His frequent presence at fights has not gone unnoticed. Television broadcasters often mention it when the camera scans the audience for celebrities. But Crawford is not there to be seen. He's there to watch the fights and maybe learn a thing or two.
"I'm a fan of the sport," Crawford said. "A lot of times I get to the fights real early and watch all the fights. I also like to see the top fighters in the world, see how they break down their opponents, what they do in certain circumstances. I look for anything where I can get an edge."
Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker were Crawford's early muses. These days he's often ringside to support Top Rank stablemates such as Steve Nelson, Jamal Herring, Shakur Stevenson and Ismail Muwendo. Crawford is particularly enthusiastic about ESPN.com's 2018 prospect of the year, Teofimo Lopez, another Top Rank boxer, about whom Crawford says, "He's got everything he needs to become boxing's next superstar."
He sees more of those young fighters in action than those he's preparing to fight himself. Somewhat surprisingly for a guy who examines boxing and boxers the way a theoretical physicist studies quantum mechanics and black holes, Crawford is not big on watching videos of his opponents.
"I don't for the simple fact that he's not going to fight me like he fights everybody else," Crawford said. "I make sure I'm at my best on fight night, so I'll be ready for whatever."
We've heard the same thing come out of the mouths of dozens of boxers, with mixed results. Crawford, however, has the smarts and ability to consistently pull it off.
He's a master of the midfight adjustments. It's as if he has an invisible toolkit from which he can produce whatever move or punch he needs on a split-second's notice.
There were moments of uncertainty on his way to a ninth-round TKO of Yuriorkis Gamboa in June 2014, but there hasn't been a single instance when Crawford looked in serious danger of losing a fight.
He is already good enough and accomplished enough to be a mainstream star. But it doesn't always work that way. At the moment, Crawford is stuck somewhere between underappreciated virtuoso and household name.
Crawford's plight is reminiscent of Hagler's protracted slog to success. After laboring far too long just below the surface of crossover popularity, Hagler's breakthrough came in the wake of his iconic knockout of Thomas Hearns. But it came too late. Two more fights and Marvelous Marvin was gone, retired, never to fight again.
Crawford has yet to find his Hearns, and it's unlikely that he will when he takes on Khan (33-4, 20 KOs).
Still, win or lose, Khan always puts on a good show. He's a good puncher and has the guts to go after Crawford, which could very well result in a violent finish, most likely in Crawford's favor.
The way it looks now, Crawford will likely get his due incrementally, with a definitive victory over Khan another step in that direction.
Crawford's numbers continue to rise. There were 13,328 fans in attendance at Omaha's CHI Health Center to watch his TKO of Jose Benavidez Jr. on Oct. 13.
The Khan fight is on pay-per-view, which will provide a more accurate indicator of Crawford's popularity. TV fans didn't have to pay a premium to watch Crawford's three previous fights.
It will be Crawford's third match as a welterweight, a talent-packed division where opportunities to find an opponent capable of providing a signature win are far greater.
Crawford and his girlfriend, Alindra Person, are raising three sons and two daughters. These days you're much more likely to find Crawford taking his son to a youth wrestling match than shooting craps on the corner.
Crawford is not a scared child anymore, but the memory of how it felt lingers, reinforcing his commitment to his trade and his family. He doesn't want his children growing up around gang violence the way he did.
Whether he was born to fight or circumstances made him a fighter is a distinction that no longer matters. What's important is that Crawford held his destiny tight to himself and never lost his love of fighting. It's always been what he does best.