By Robert Hough
Julius Indongo is big news in his homeland, Namibia, which has about 2.5 million residents. He’s all over the country’s media in the days before his super lightweight unification fight with Terence Crawford.
Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs), who raised eyebrows when he went from his Southern African nation to Moscow in December and pulverized Eduard Troyanovsky with a first-round knockout and won the IBF belt, faces Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs) on Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska for all the light-welterweight belts. The 34-year-old, who ventured to Scotland in April and beat Ricky Burns for the WBA belt, carries the hopes of his nation, and the encouragement of the nation’s president.
The 2008 Olympian moves through life with his leader’s words in his mind: “Whatever your travels, be a man and know that you represent the whole of Namibia.”
While Indongo dominates the Namibian sports media these days, the 34-year-old knows Crawford’s a heavy favorite and a formidable talent, not that this is a concern to the man from a small country that is some way from being among the world’s richest.
“I am a humble guy, but I don’t fear anybody,” he said a few days before the ESPN-televised fight. “My focus, my game-plan, everything is in position.”
Indongo’s opportunities and accomplishments reflect boxing at its best, said Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank, which promotes Crawford and this card, which is set for Lincoln rather than Crawford’s home of Omaha because Lady Gaga got the Omaha venue first.
“This is a global sport,” duBoef said. “(In the USA) we’re relatively isolated to a small pool of fighters. What Indongo did was, the door of opportunity opened and he stepped through it.”
Fighters emerging from relatively unknown environments is a facet of the sport’s appeal, duBoef said.
“This goes back to what makes boxing so special: People take advantage of those opportunities and a diamond in the rough is discovered.”
Crawford, a heavy favorite who holds the WBC and WBO belts, discovered an intriguing opponent after the fight in Moscow.
“We never heard of Indongo or saw him fight before the fight he had in Russia,” Crawford said recently on a conference call. “We wanted Troyanovsky, but he turned us down and decided to go with Indongo. So, when we heard he got knocked out, we looked at the replay and that’s when we took notice.”
Indongo adding another belt by dominating Burns set up the rare prospect of a four-belt unification fight, which was no small challenge to sort out, DuBoef said.
“We had to work hand in hand with (Indongo’s promoter) Matchroom because obviously Matchroom and Indongo have two belts and Top Rank and Crawford has two belts and there were mandatories and everything that was coming into play,” he said on the call. “There were people that we had to appeal to and we said, ‘Hey, this is a rare opportunity that we are able to do this. Let’s try and work together and have a positive solution for the sport of boxing’ and I think we delicately managed it.”
They’ve managed to get the fight done when both men said they’re in a fresh, active groove; the fight will be Indongo’s fourth in the last 12 months, Crawford’s fourth in 13 months.
Keeping busy’s valuable, Crawford said.
“It’s always hard but at the same time, I just had a fight and getting back into the gym and back in the groove of everything, it’s tougher when you have a long period of time off because this time I was somewhat in shape.”
It’s serious work – most of the time, he added
“We like to have some fun in training camp. Training camp is always hard work but have fun, hard work, have fun, hard work – if you don’t love what you are doing then you need to get a difference job. We are dancing every single training camp that we had and play around – those are the different types of things that we do.”
Staying busy is good business, the 29-year-old pointed out. “I am trying to get my name out there and trying to get the recognition that I deserve,” he said. “I’m still young and in my prime.”
Indongo has a slightly different perspective.
“I know that I am holding my country and Africa, on my shoulders.”