Terence Crawford is great, but his opponents have not been and that's why he hasn't earned mainstream recognition

There is always an excitement, as well as a sense of wonder, when one is privileged to watch the best in the world perform.

Terence Crawford is boxing's best, a truly great fighter with a list of skills and talents longer than Giannis Antetokounmpo's inseam. Crawford has largely lapped the field at welterweight, just as he previously did at lightweight and super lightweight.

He's a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer who will be elected on the first day he's eligible.

But he's 35 years old and despite being a world champion in three weight classes and the undisputed champion at super lightweight, he has yet to face a truly outstanding fighter who was anywhere close to his prime.

He passed on the best fight he could take, perhaps the best fight in boxing that could be made, and so, instead of fighting unified champion and pound-for-pound star Errol Spence Jr. for the undisputed title on the big stage in Las Vegas, he's on a considerably smaller stage in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where on Saturday he'll defend his WBO welterweight title against good but not great David Avanesyan.

Before we go any further, let's, as former President Richard M. Nixon would say, make one thing perfectly clear: The blame for the failure to make a Crawford-Spence fight rests equally on the shoulders of Crawford and Spence. One is not more to blame than the other; each man has to share in this failure.

The best fighters Crawford has fought to this point are a past-his-prime Shawn Porter, a well-past-his-prime Yuriorkis Gamboa, a solid but not great Viktor Postol and a past-his-prime Amir Khan. They're good fighters, all, but even at their primes, none was great the way Crawford is, the way Floyd Mayweather was, the way Sugar Ray Leonard was.

Leonard won a gold medal at 20 in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. By 23, he had defeated his first future Hall of Famer, Wilfred Benitez. By 24, he'd added a second to his resume when he beat Roberto Duran, and by 25, he'd bested a third when he scored a stirring come-from-behind KO victory over Thomas Hearns.

If Crawford had grown up in an era where there were welterweights the likes of Leonard, Duran, Hearns and Benitez, not to mention Pipino Cuevas, Milton McCrory and Marlon Starling, there would be no doubt about his greatness.

But as he prepares to fight Avanesyan on Saturday on a pay-per-view card being produced by an entity known as BLK Prime, one of his goals is to prove himself to the fans.

“My goal is to remind the world that I am the best fighter on the planet, so everyone needs to tune in [Saturday] on this new BLK Prime PPV platform," he said. "I am fighting not just to be the best, but to give fighters fair and equitable treatment in negotiations moving forward."

Now, let's be honest here: The second sentence of that quote by Crawford is utter BS. Crawford no more cares what other fighters make — nor should he — than he cares what the ushers, ticket sellers and security personnel at the CHI Health Center will earn per hour for working his fight.

Crawford has been paid handsomely throughout his career, though he hasn't been a ticket seller anywhere but Omaha (where the prices are much lower), and he hasn't been a pay-per-view seller. He's complained that fighting pay-per-view on ESPN+ made it impossible to sell, and sneered that it's impossible to sell fighting on an app. But that ignores the huge marketing push ESPN provides as well as the many fighters, both in boxing and in the UFC who have sold vastly more on pay-per-view than he's ever been able to do.

And Canelo Alvarez has fought "on an app" at DAZN and he's largely recognized as the biggest PPV star in the game at the moment.

WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford works out prior to his bout on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska, against David Avensyan. (Marvin Kelly/Marvelous Photography)
WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford works out prior to his bout on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska, against David Avanesyan. (Marvin Kelly/Marvelous Photography) ((Marvin Kelly/Marvelous Photography))

It would be a wildly over-the-top success on Saturday if his pay-per-view did as much as 50,000 sales. It would be great if it did, because it would be good for the sport. You know what they say about a rising tide lifting all boats.

There's one reason Crawford hasn't sold, and it's got nothing to do with fighting on an app or his talent. It's the talent of his opponents.

Mayweather wasn't a great seller early in his career. But when he fought Oscar De La Hoya, a huge name and the biggest draw in the sport at the time when they met in 2007, he sold over 2 million units and turned into a household name. From that point on, he turned into the greatest draw in the history of boxing.

Leonard had four fights against three boxers who would go on to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame by the time he was 25. Alvarez fought Mayweather when he was 23. He then fought Miguel Cotto when he was 25 and Gennadiy Golovkin just two months before he turned 27.

Alvarez was in huge fights against elite opponents with recognizable names, and he sold.

Simple, no?

Avanesyan is no bum, though don't make him out to be any kind of significant threat. There's a reason Crawford is a -1400 favorite at BetMGM.

There's time for Crawford to get all the fights the public wants to see, bouts that would enhance his stature. There's no reason he can't get back to the negotiating table with Spence and work out a deal for his next fight. There are young welterweights like Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr. on the cusp of stardom who would be big fights for him at some point. Crawford's even talked of moving up to super welterweight and challenging undisputed champion Jermell Charlo.

Fight those fights and the perception of Crawford will change dramatically. He's a great talent who has yet to be pushed by anyone remotely close to him in ability.

When, or if, he finally does, he'll all of a sudden start to sell tickets and PPVs.

Until then, well, he's just letting the prime of a great career slip through his hands.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 20: Terence Crawford is victorious as he defeats Shawn Porter for the WBO welterweight championship at Michelob ULTRA Arena on November 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford is a -1400 favorite at BetMGM to defeat David Avanesyan on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images) (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)