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Terence Crawford punches ticket to big time with fight vs. Felix Diaz at Madison Square Garden

Terence Crawford is declared winner over John Molina

Terence Crawford is declared winner over John Molina Jr. after a WBO junior welterweight boxing bout in Omaha, Neb., Dec. 10, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Nati Harnik

Last year, Terence Crawford made his New York debut in the Theater at Madison Square Garden with an impressive fifth-round stoppage of Henry Lundy, and he followed that up with a dominant decision in Las Vegas over highly regarded Viktor Postol to add the WBC super lightweight title to his WBO belt and climb higher in the pound-for-pound rankings.

Now, Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) is making a move that speaks louder than his humble, understated words by facing challenger Felix Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs) Saturday night in the main arena at Madison Square Garden. It’s a move calculated to serve as a launching pad to elevate Crawford’s box-office status provided he handles Diaz, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic who said he is expecting “massive” support from his countrymen at MSG.

“I’m very excited and confident for this fight and I’m looking forward to it, especially being in the big arena where all the greats have fought at,” Crawford said. “It says it all, me going from the Theater to the big arena right now. That says a lot. I’ve just got to keep winning and keep putting on great performances and, eventually, my name is going to be bigger than it is right now.”

Crawford came in at 139.2 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in while Diaz weighed 139.4 pounds. Because Diaz often has fought as a 147-pound welterweight and believes he is stronger at 140 pounds, his size and strength might pose a problem for Crawford, but the champion has a longer reach and is a far slicker boxer.

“I never ran away from any challenge,” Crawford said. “He has the skills, he’s a good fighter and Olympic gold medalist. This is a fight a lot of people were calling for, and we’re here now.”

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who handles Crawford, said the fight would have been a sure sellout in the champion’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, but the chance to fight in the main arena at MSG was more attractive.

“Obviously, fighting in the big arena as the main event makes a statement,” Arum said. “Our plans are that Terence Crawford, before he hangs up his gloves, will be recognized as the greatest fighter of his time . . . Fighting on the big stage in Madison Square Garden, where Muhammad Ali fought and where Marvin Hagler fought, where Oscar De La Hoya fought, is a step in that direction.

“With all due respect to Las Vegas and other arenas, there’s no place in boxing that has the symbolism and the history of Madison Square Garden. Now, Terence will have the opportunity to perform on the biggest of all stages.”

Crawford already is high on most pound-for-pound lists, but he needs greater exposure if he ever hopes to gain a mega-fight comparable to the middleweight title bout scheduled between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez in September.

Asked if he pays attention to the unofficial pound-for-pound rankings, Crawford said, “I pay a little bit of attention to it. I look at it as playing a big part in the ratings, but I just worry about winning and everything will fall into place. ‘GGG’ and Canelo is going to be a tremendous fight. I’m looking forward to watching it. And yes, I think my name should be up there (with them).”

New York Sports