ORLANDO, Fla. -- Lightweight contender Terence Crawford of Omaha, Neb., returns to action with a lot at stake.
The 26-year-old Crawford (21-0, 16 KOs) faces Andrey Klimov (16-0, 8 KOs), 31, of Russia, in a scheduled 10-rounder on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT), on the Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez undercard at the Amway Center, knowing that a victory probably is the last hurdle to a world title shot.
If all goes well for Crawford, who is a mandatory challenger for titleholder Ricky Burns, he should be facing him early next year.
Top Rank, Crawford's promoter, is hoping to make a deal with Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn to bring Burns from Scotland to New York to face Crawford on an HBO card in early 2014.
"I'm ready [for a title shot] but I am not looking past Klimov," Crawford said. "I will look to go in there Saturday night and handle my business and after the fight we can see what's next. But I don't think about [a title fight]. My focus is on Klimov. I'm not worried about who I might fight after him because I have to handle my business and then I can think about fighting someone else."
When pressed, Crawford did admit he has at least let the prospect of fighting for a world title cross his mind.
"I've had the thought of it, but I try to block it out and not get too excited about it because anything can happen in boxing," he said. "But it's good to know that it's there. I felt like I should have been at this pinnacle a long time ago. I have the skills and ability to be word champion. I was being patient and waiting for my chance for a big fight and when I got my chance with [Breidis] Prescott [in March], I showed the world what I could do and I did what I said I could do."
Crawford, taking the fight on short notice when Prescott's original opponent dropped out, schooled the longtime contender in a lopsided 10-round decision win that impressed many, including the HBO executives. They liked him so much that they brought him back in June, when he stopped Alejandro Sanabria in the sixth round, and hope to make him a major part of their boxing stable.
Klimov, however, stands in the way of Crawford's title fight. Klimov scored a majority decision win against fringe contender John Molina in June, a fight Crawford said he watched live on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."
"I watched the fight with Molina and my coaches," Crawford said. "They have looked at the fight and came up with a game plan."
If there is one thing that might throw a wrench into any title plans for Crawford -- besides a loss -- it could be Burns' highly controversial draw against Raymundo Beltran on Sept. 7. That was a fight in Burns' native Scotland in which Beltran dominated long stretches, scored a knockdown, broke Burns' jaw and appeared to have won -- but was saddled with a draw.
The WBO might order a rematch between Burns and Beltran, which would put Crawford's shot off at least another fight.
Burns had a titanium plate put in his jaw, which is supposed to be removed soon. He is expected to be able to fight again in early 2014, but if he can't, it would not be a surprise if Beltran and Crawford (as long as he wins Saturday) were ordered to meet for an interim title with the winner to face Burns when he is healthy.
Whatever happens, Crawford is in a great spot as long as he handles his business with Klimov.