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Nothing quite sells fights like true distaste and animosity. Just ask Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor who, despite what happened after their bout, still set a UFC record for most projected PPV buys in company history.

It’s no different in boxing, especially for WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford on Saturday in his home city of Omaha, Nebraska. In what was first met by critics as simply a stay-busy fight, Crawford’s title defense against fellow unbeaten Jose Benavidez Jr. at CHI Health Center (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET) has escalated into much more.

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Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs), a former undisputed junior welterweight champion who’s among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, said the war of words between the two began in February when Crawford attended a Top Rank event in Corpus Christi, Texas. Benavidez (27-0 ,18 KOs), who fought on the card, boldly approached Crawford to call him out.

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“He just came up to me, told me that I was ducking him, I never wanted to sign a fight, I never signed a contract, I was scared of him, and he was going to knock me out,” Crawford said. “So I told him, I said, ‘Man, don’t you got a fight? You need to focus on your fight before you focus on me right now. You need to be focused on your fight.’ Then just a little heated discussion.

“He’s trying to piggyback off of my name to make himself bigger. You know, talk is cheap. We’re in the same division, same promoter. It’s an interesting fight. He’s always saying that I’m fighting smaller guys, so this is a chance to see what you are made of.”

Months later, the fight became a reality as both added more fuel to the fire by exchanging trash talk in their respective interviews. But the tensions boiled over considerably on Wednesday during media day when Crawford walked in on Benavidez’s public workout and started having words.

RAW: @budcrawford402 and @josebenavidezjr exchange words at the #CrawfordBenavidez Media Day in Omaha, NE.

— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) October 10, 2018
Top Rank cameras picked up the exchange, which started a bit tongue-in-cheek and quickly turned serious when Benavidez said, “I’m going to do you a favor in Round 2 and fix your teeth” in response to Crawford telling him, “I’m going to beat your ass.”

With his team around him, Crawford drew big laughs by needling Benavidez by saying, “I’m going to get all them burritos out you boy.” He then challenged Benavidez to bet his entire purse on the fight. But tensions boiled over when Crawford, after being called a b—-, told Benavidez, “Your momma is a b—-” and the two fighters quickly needed to be separated.

On Friday, things got even hotter when Benavidez shoved Crawford during the weigh in and Crawford reacted by throwing a heavy right hook that just missed the target and could have caused an interesting situation for all involved. The two were quickly separated to keep cool.

Looks like the welterweight title fight between Terence Crawford and José Benavidez is starting a bit early.

— ESPN (@espn) October 12, 2018
The fight is an interesting one for Crawford, who stopped Jeff Horn in June to claim the WBO title in his welterweight debut and is seemingly short on big-name options considering the majority of top fighters at 147 pounds are aligned with Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions.

The 26-year-old Benavidez, the brother of WBC super middleweight titleholder David Benavidez, makes up for a lack of top-level experience with his exciting style and brash personality. And despite not having faced anyone of even remote comparison to the talent level of Crawford, Benavidez hasn’t backed down for a second. In fact, it doesn’t seem part of his DNA.

In a feature penned this week by ESPN’s Mark Kriegel, Benavidez talked at length about the turmoil that has embroiled his life outside the ring. Along with a difficult relationship with his aggressive father and manager Jose Sr., Benavidez survived a gun shot to the leg two years ago that left doctors believing he would never fight again.

Now, Benavidez enters the toughest fight of his young career against arguably the best in the sport in a challenge he brought on himself.

“It’s time to show the world what I can do. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Benavidez said. “I am here. I am going to take over this city, and I am going to take his belt. I’m not scared. I don’t see anything special in [Crawford]. I don’t know why everyone hypes him up so much.”

The lack of experience on this level certainly hurts Benavidez, who is as high as a +2000 betting underdog. Crawford, in fact, when asked what made Benavidez so special, quickly countered with, “Come on now, we all know who he fought.”

Benavidez may be cocky and aggressive but one can argue those are two characteristics that Crawford can eat up and use to his advantage. In fact, one can equally argue that past history has shown us that purposely trying to get under Crawford’s skin — as fighters like Horn, Dierry Jean and Hank Lundy have tried in the past — is the easiest way to bring out a nasty side of “Bud” who is hellbent on hurting his prey while embarrassing them.

Expect all the talk to bring out the very best in Crawford, whose combination of length, speed, power and precision is all but unmatched in the division. The best strategy for Benavidez is likely to double down on the all-or-nothing nature which got him the fight in the first place and try to entrap Crawford into the kind of messy brawl that might even the stakes just a bit.

It would be a long night for Benavidez to try and box Crawford considering how easily he floats between stances and varies his look and angles. It will likely be even shorter now that he has woken the beast inside of Crawford.

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