The battle for 140-lb. supremacy unfolds on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas as undefeated fighters Terence Crawford (28-0, 20 KOs) and Viktor Postol (28-0, 12 KOs) square off in one of 2016's most anticipated matchups. In the last few years, Crawford has emerged as one of the sport's finest practitioners. An athletic, cerebral switch-hitter, Crawford has been a puzzle for his opponents. Featuring full arsenals from either stance, Crawford has the boxing prowess to win rounds and the finishing ability to end fights early. Postol displays a punishing jab and has deceptive power. Working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, Postol has continued to patiently break down his opponents and there's been some significant improvement under Roach's tutelage in the effectiveness of his power shots.
Overall, Crawford-Postol is a tantalizing title unification match between prime junior welterweights. The winner should be in store for even bigger things in the near future but first things first: Saturday's difficult assignment. Below are my keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Postol's jab
At 5'11" and featuring a 73.5'' reach, Postol has imposing size for the division. And unlike many tall and long fighters, Postol uses these attributes to get the better of his opposition. His jab is strong and constant, often having the effect of a power punch. He also double jabs well and throws the punch sharply; his jab isn't easily countered.
Against Crawford, Postol will have advantages of three inches in height and three-and-a-half inches in reach. Working off his jab, Postol usually establishes the punch from the opening round and gradually incorporates power shots into his attack as fights progress. In slower moments, he'll continue to throw his jab, scoring points while his opponents wait for openings. Postol's size and how he utilizes his jab are significant advantages against any fighter at 140 lbs.
2. Crawford turning southpaw
In a number of his fights, Crawford has turned southpaw for large chunks of time – it could be minutes or even multiple rounds. Many fighters find it more difficult to jab as well against southpaws as they do when they face orthodox boxers. With Postol's significant advantages with the jab, Crawford will want to do everything in his power to reduce that punch's effectiveness. By turning southpaw, Crawford provides a more challenging angle for Postol to land his jab.
If Crawford spends a significant amount of time as a southpaw, Postol will be forced to adjust his offensive attack somewhat. He'll need to lead with his straight right hand at points and figure out a way to penetrate Crawford's tricky defense.
In my opinion, Crawford is more defensively responsible as a southpaw. As an orthodox fighter, he's more explosive offensively but also more vulnerable to return fire. In his bout against Ricky Burns, he fought a majority of rounds out of the southpaw stance and cruised to a fairly comfortable victory. However, when he faced Thomas Dulorme, a fighter who had been susceptible to Hank Lundy's switch-hitting, Crawford stayed in the conventional stance, dropped a few rounds and then scored a knockout. There was hardly any resemblance between the bouts. It will be fascinating to see which choices Crawford makes against Postol.
3. How fast does Crawford get started?
Two elite fighters of recent vintage, Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins, often gave up early rounds to an opponent. They used the first quarter of the fight to figure out what a foe had in the ring and how he could best be exploited. Eventually, they would open up offensively and turn the bout in their favor. Crawford often utilizes a similar style. He dropped early rounds to Hank Lundy and Dulorme. As those fights progressed, he capitalized on defensive mistakes and scored knockout victories.
However, facing a higher caliber opponent in Postol, and one who has a pretty tight defense in his own right, Crawford can't afford to let too many rounds slip away before he opens up offensively. Postol will continue to jab and put rounds in the bank until Crawford decides to take offensive chances. Crawford will want to be patient – and he should be to a point – but he needs to win rounds. Upping his offensive output in the third round should be fine but starting in the fifth will leave him with little margin for error.
4. Postol's deceptive power
Glancing at Postol's record, the 12 knockouts are an unimpressive number. However, the right uppercut that knocked out Selcuk Aydin and the right hands that ended Lucas Matthysse's night were punishing shots. Postol isn't a typical one-shot knockout artist (despite the Aydin punch) but he hits much harder than his record would suggest.
Opponents become so conscious of his jab that openings are created for his power shots. All of Postol's punches are short and effective. He's also fairly accurate with his power shots. In exchanges, Postol should, at a minimum, hold his own with Crawford. And if Crawford takes too many risks (which happened against Yuriorkis Gamboa), Postol certainly has enough power to send Crawford to the canvas.
Crawford has a tremendous advantage over Postol in foot speed and overall athleticism. He's more coordinated, probably has quicker hands and can better use the ring to his advantage. Another approach to taking away a jab is to leave the pocket. Crawford can force Postol to follow him around the ring. Potshotting Postol with jabs, single power shots or quick one-two's, Crawford can neutralize or severely minimize Postol's effectiveness with the jab. Furthermore, he can ensure that the fight doesn't wind up at mid-range too often, which is Postol's preferred ring geography.
To combat Crawford's athleticism, Postol will have to cut the ring off effectively. In addition, he must use his body to keep Crawford in front of him, especially as the action gets closer to the ropes. Postol can be a tad lumbering in the ring but he's a very smart fighter. I'm sure that he and Roach have worked on a variety of techniques to keep Crawford in punching range. However, will he be able to execute them against a supremely athletic talent? If Postol can somehow reduce Crawford's athletic advantages, he will have a much easier path to victory.
After four rounds, I expect the fight to be very close, with the score tied or Postol up 3-1. Postol will start the bout pumping single jabs and scoring points while Crawford patiently circles and looks for opportunities to land counters. I expect a lot of staring early in the fight. Postol's punch volume and the effectiveness of his jab will be the difference in these initial rounds.
Eventually, Crawford will find success by countering with right hooks out of the southpaw stance or straight rights in the orthodox position. The match will open up somewhat with each fighter gradually incorporating more power shots into his offensive attack. I don't expect the fight to be an all-action war but it should be a fascinating tactical battle as Crawford increasingly lands with his power shots while Postol scores with enough jabs to make the rounds close. I think that the bout will feature an overall low punch volume. In this context, every landed shot will be vital and every miss could lead to a crucial opening.
I'm banking on Crawford's ring IQ to be a determining factor in the fight. Eventually, he will see an opportunity (or opportunities) and exploit it. The best fighters force opponents into making mistakes. I believe that Crawford will goad Postol into making himself vulnerable (such as lunging in with his shots or giving up his reach to land more effectively); he'll set traps that will pay off in the second half of the match.
Ultimately, I think that Crawford's versatility, intelligence and athleticism will be enough to carry the fight. He'll maneuver his body around the ring to find angles for his punches to land, scoring with his fair share of power shots. I believe that Crawford's clean, effective punching and ring generalship will give him enough rounds to win a highly competitive fight.