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A Slickster with Substance: Philadelphia's Tyrone Crawley

by Greg Smith (October 2004)

Philadelphia is the ultimate blue-collar fight town, and is arguably the preeminent fight town in boxing history. Detroit and New York might disagree, but the breadth and depth of talent coming out of Philly over the last several decades is hard to match. It’s a tough town with tough people. As Bernard Hopkins once quipped, in Philadelphia, they boo Santa Claus.

Traditionally, Philly fighters often won bouts through pure fortitude and punching power. It was once said that Bennie Briscoe was the only fighter never to be booed in Philly. Bennie personified the ethic of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Bennie’s straight ahead, no nonsense body attack and relentless pressure often destroyed foes no matter what the final scorecards read. As Bennie once stated, when a guy was in the next room after the fight screaming in pain, and Bennie was still fresh and unaffected, you knew who really won the fight.

Philadelphia fighters are a special breed in boxing history, but as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the stereotype of the rugged, offensive-oriented Philadelphia fighter is only partially true. Philadelphia has actually produced numerous slippery technicians practiced in the art of nullifying big punchers.

Jimmy Young was a great example of that exception to the rule. For instance, during the HBO telecast of Hopkins vs. Trinidad in 2001, George Foreman seemed genuinely surprised by Bernard Hopkins’ ability to defuse Tito’s potent offensive repertoire with lateral movement and counter punching. Immediately correcting George, colleague and former Philly scribe Larry Merchant pointed out that in Philadelphia gyms, you needed to learn how to box to survive. Ironically, Foreman retired for the first time after losing to Jimmy Young in 1977, but didn’t seem to remember that the rough nature of Philly gyms also forges boxers along with punchers.

Tyrone “Butterfly” Crawley was also a departure from the bruising Philadelphia fighter. Tyrone, who grew up in West Philadelphia, was a quick, cagey craftsman who frustrated opponents with his style and intelligence. The 5’8 ½” Crawley was also ambidextrous, and a master of the difficult art of switching from orthodox to southpaw. This unusual talent bewildered some of his best opposition, and also made it difficult for Tyrone to get matches with the elite at 135 pounds because his style created unique problems.

Although many fighters avoided Crawley, the ESPN tournament in the early 1980s helped move his career forward. In his ninth pro fight, Tyrone won the ESPN lightweight title in 1982. After defeating future WBA jr. welterweight titleholder Gene Hatcher in his next fight, many felt Crawley was a prime candidate to act as a spoiler against the big names in the division.

After losing a twelve round decision to contender Melvin Paul in February 1983, however, some questioned Crawley’s status as a viable contender. Resolute, he rebounded with two ten round decisions, and then signed to face top contender Robin Blake on short notice.

The Robin Blake bout, held in Blake’s hometown of Levelland, Texas on October 8, 1983, was a rare Saturday night ESPN fight. Blake had been on a roll on network TV in the early 1980s. He was undefeated at 22-0 with 16 KO’s at the time of the Crawley bout, and had brutally stopped Tyrone’s nemesis, Melvin Paul, in his previous fight.

Most importantly, “Rockin” Robin was next in line to challenge Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini for the WBA title. Blake was a heavy favorite, but Crawley quieted the hometown fans with a tremendous display of ring savvy, and erased Blake’s title hopes with a unanimous decision.

For various reasons, Tyrone didn’t get an immediate title shot after defeating Blake. Over the next two years, Tyrone reeled off five consecutive wins, including a rousing twelve round decision over former IBF titlist and Philadelphia rival, Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown, for the NABF title in 1985.

Crawley finally got his title shot against Livingstone Bramble at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nevada on February 16, 1986, exactly one year after Bramble successfully defended his title against Mancini at the same venue. Crawley was considered a big threat to dethrone Bramble, but Bramble gradually took control of the bout, and stopped Tyrone in the thirteenth round.

Tyrone retired from boxing at the age of twenty-nine in 1988, and never made a comeback. According to several sources, Tyrone won two more fights in 1987 after losing to Bramble, and his final ledger is listed as 21-2, with 7 knockouts. However, Tyrone informed me that he actually had one more fight, a ten round unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden in February 1988. The fight is undocumented, and with some assistance, I hope to have Tyrone’s record completed in the near future.

All told, the story of Tyrone Crawley is not the sordid tale we’re accustomed to in the world of boxing. Educated, bright, and a practiced chess player, Tyrone knew when it was time to step away from the sport. In fact, from the beginning of his professional career, Tyrone was planning for life after boxing. He was cognizant of the fact that even the greatest fighters often end up broke and incapacitated, and he carefully followed a plan that would keep him from becoming another statistic.

Since retiring from the ring, Crawley has been a rock solid example of stability. He is deeply devoted to his family and his community. Married to his wife Gina since the 1980s, Tyrone has three children. Tyrone has been a Philadelphia police officer since 1986, and has been Director of the North Philadelphia Police Athletic League Center (PAL) since 1988.

Tyrone’s career working with inner city youth is of vital societal importance, and he strongly recognizes the massive role and impact he plays in that regard. Tyrone, who fought several memorable fights in New Jersey, was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.

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Greg Smith wrote this article for the boxing Web site 

Reprinted with permission from & Mr. Smith.