NIK HEFTMAN | DAILY TIMES HERALD
Terence Crawford, an Omaha boxer regarded by many experts as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, speaks with the media following his knockout of Julius Indongo Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.
NIK HEFTMAN | DAILY TIMES HERALD Terence Crawford, an Omaha boxer regarded by many experts as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, speaks with the media following his knockout of Julius Indongo Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

August 22, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska

A handful of miles south of Missouri Valley on Interstate 29 views of Omaha’s skyline fill the winshield. It’s just minutes from the urban reaches of Nebraska’a largest city to the vastness of farmland that stretches here to west-central Iowa.

Most of us are familiar with Omaha, either through the rich, deep connections between local Catholic education at Kuemper in Carroll, and Creighton University, or the raft of entertainment options a city just less than two hours away offers.

We know about the Old Market. The world-class zoo. The College World Series. Olympic swimming. The reemergence of Omaha neighborhoods like Ak-Sar-Ben and Blackstone.

We, of course, know about Nebraska football. This is, after all, western Iowa, and the Husker cheering section is hardly lonely.

Here’s something else we Midwesterners need to know about Omaha. It’s home to a famous son who never went prodigal.

Terence “Bud” Crawford.

He’s my favorite contemporary boxer. And he should be yours, if, of course, you base rooting interest on geographic loyalty ­— among other things. Like class. Like talent. Like lightening in a bottle unleashed.

Crawford, a junior welterweight, and arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer alive, grew up in hardscrabble North Omaha. He’s a global name, but like Warren Buffett, with whom he is friendly, Crawford (32-0, with 23 knockouts) ignored the siren calls from America’s sun-and-fun towns, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, or its fame capital, New York City.

He still lives in Omaha. He remains one of us. A Midwesterner.

Omaha’s motto: “We Don’t Coast.”  It fits the 140-pound Crawford, a family-man, Missouri River-fisherman — and as of Saturday night — the only undisputed champion at any weight class in all of boxing, and the first since Jermain Taylor in 2005.

At Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, before a crowd of more than 12,000 people (at least 11,500 rooting for Crawford) — and amid chants of “Omaha! Omaha!” and “Crawford! Crawford! — the home-state fighter knocked out Julius Indongo in the third round with a punishing body shot.

As Indongo tumbled to the canvass the Pinnacle Bank crowd rose as one in jubilation as if they, too, had won a fight. It was an all-for-one, one-for-all moment rare in sports today — and even rarer in the nation. That one punch, even if for a passing instance, cauterized our cultural cuts. Rural lept with urban, young with old. This is the Midwest firing a fierce punch back at the snarky commentators with their flyover views of our lives, struggles.

“He hit me hard to the body,” Indongo said. “I couldn’t breathe. It hurt so bad.”

It’s the first boxing match I’ve attended live as I joined Nik Heftman from our Daily Times Herald staff ringside for the bout, which along with two fights before it, were televised on ESPN.

Prior to Crawford-Indongo my experience with boxing had been limited to watching some Mike Tyson fights on pay for view in the 1990s during parties, and the “Rocky” movies.

You often hear baseball is a sport better consumed live. Take that times 10 for boxing.

We covered several fights before the main event. Some takeways:

— One of the easiest jobs in America is that of the round card girls, the scantily clad ladies who parade around the ring between rounds holding up signs indicating, well, the next round. There were three of them Saturday night, so they get a lot of breaks. What’s more, they don’t need to even know basic math, as Top Rank, the promoter of the fights, has an assistant on hand to organize the cards to make sure one of the pretty things doesn’t hit the ring with the wrong number. Not that anyone is paying attention to the number.

— The entrances of fighters with their entourages (the pre-fight hype) is as amazing as you think it is. My personal favorite: Omaha light-heavyweight, Steve “So Cold” Nelson, arrived strapped to a dolly and costumed as Hannibal Lecter in “Silence Of the Lambs” — complete with the straight-jacketed arms and the face mask.

At a fight earlier this summer in Omaha, Nelson came in to the arena dressed as Uncle Sam, with “Living in America” playing in the background — just like Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” franchise.

Nelson won his fight with Cesar Ruiz of Mexico.

— Fighter to watch: He has talent and charisma. Featherweight Shakur Stevenson, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, defeated David Paz of Argentina, in a unanimous decision. Stevenson moves with grace and power, and has clear star quality.

— The most moving moment of the night? After going 10 hard rounds in which he took more punches than Sylvester Stallone’s body double, journeyman Rob Frankel chatted in the media area. The National Anthem started to introduce the final three fights of the night, and Frankel, who lost to up-and-comer Mike “Yes Indeed” Reed, stood for the full anthem, hand on heart, sweat rolling down his swollen face. Then, at the end of the night, he was talking with friends, family and well wishers in the parking lot. The 37 year old from Denver is 35-18-1.

— Prediction: Look for Crawford to fight some day in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. He talked about this at the post-fight press conference.