OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — As fighters went through their paces one recent night at B&B Sports Academy, its co-owner, world welterweight boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, got right in the mix, interacting with pros and amateurs alike. He coached boxers at the North Omaha gym, teased them, cajoled them, encouraged them.
He occasionally glanced over at 11-year-old Reno Busby, a nationally ranked USA Boxing bantamweight. Busby’s coaches – and Crawford himself – believe the Davis Middle School sixth-grader may have the talent to go far in the sport.
But on this evening, Busby had a different job. No boxing. Instead, clean the entire gym. And watch.
“His grades are a little down, so he’s gotta come down here and watch everybody else work out while he cleans up,” Crawford said. “He’s got a job to do. That’s his punishment.”
Most sports-loving Nebraskans know that Bud Crawford is an undefeated 38-0, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today, one of the best athletes this state has ever produced.
Many don’t know that Crawford had a mentor, the late Midge Minor, who taught him about boxing and life during Crawford’s rise from promising amateur to icon.
Now, Crawford tries to befriend young fighters, like Midge befriended him. One of the young fighters who has caught his attention: Reno Busby.
That means investing time in his young protege. Time to talk things out, and time to have fun. If the champ learns that Busby’s in a bad mood, he’ll arrange to take him to his house, where Busby plays video games and spends time with the champ’s young sons.
“I put him under my wing and show him the ropes,” Crawford said of Busby. “I just take that time out to clear his head away from boxing and to be like a big brother figure in his life.”
Busby’s mother, Jache Thompson, signed him up for Crawford’s open gym at 3034 Sprague St. when Busby was 8.
Crawford saw the boy was in the gym every day. Rain or shine. Heat or snow. He always wanted to get in the ring and spar. If a group of kids Busby’s age showed up, Busby would quickly become the leader of that group.
It reminded Crawford of someone.
“He reminds me of me. His consistency, his ability, his desire to win, his attitude,” Crawford told the Flatwater Free Press. “If he gets in trouble his mom will come and let us know he’s doing bad at school or messing up.
“Reno is a good kid. I try not to get on him too hard or yell. I just try talking to him about doing things different. That you don’t gotta get an attitude or get mad and flip out. There’s other ways.”
Busby lost his father to violence. Reno Busby Sr. was stabbed to death in 2011 in an altercation with family members. Boxing fills a need for after-school structure, male role models, and an outlet for anger issues.
A hard young life is something Crawford said he can relate to after growing up poor in the same neighborhood. He came of age as gang life became a rite of passage for classmates, neighborhood kids, friends. Temptations and threats surrounded him. Crawford believes that a gunshot wound to the head he suffered as a young adult set him on a different path that ultimately led to boxing stardom.
B&B super middleweight contender Steven “So Cold” Nelson grew up with Crawford. Now he views Busby as the champ’s “mini-me.”
“When those gym doors open, he’s there,” Nelson said of Busby. “Even when he’s not working out, he’s there watching, soaking up everything.”
Busby’s mother, Thompson, is thrilled to have the positive influence in her son’s life. Before boxing, she got him involved in karate. By age 8, she felt his behavioral issues called for another structured activity.
Enter boxing, Crawford, and B&B Sports Academy.
Busby didn’t take to it at first. Not until, as he said, “I got the hang of it.”
Once he got past early frustration, she said, “you could immediately see changes in Reno.” She loves that, among other things, the sport affords travel opportunities and learning experiences.
“Boxing’s something Reno loves to do. He’s so dedicated, determined Reno gives it his all,” Thompson said. “I let him try other sports but he’s like, ‘Mom, this is where I’m supposed to be, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
What do you like best about boxing, Reno?
“Winning belts,” Busby said.
Not taking care of business has lately relegated him to the sidelines.
Sometimes, Crawford said, “We make him clean up the gym,” teaching there are consequences for not doing the right thing. When Busby chomps at the bit to get back in the ring, Crawford sees himself. “That’s how I used to be.”
The champion boxer appreciates that Busby’s mother trusts the gym to discipline her son. “She’s very supportive of him, but she’s also supportive of the gym.”
Tough love is one thing coming from her, he said, “but it’s different coming from men you look up to.”
Thompson thinks that trust is well-earned.
“It’s more than just the gym. It’s literally a boxing family,” said Thompson. She’s noted positive changes in her son.
“I see him more calm, more patient. I totally see a growth. It’s a great experience. I’m actually setting my son up for success.”
Busby is still prone to act out with temper tantrums and anger issues. Poor academic progress and demeanor led coaches to hold him out of a recent national tournament. How he responds may determine how far he goes in the sport.
“Reno’s on that course of doing good things,” Crawford said, “but it’s just that he’s so young right now and he hasn’t even come across half of the distractions that’ll come when he gets older.”
Busby will want to try other things, Crawford thinks. He will want to date. He may want to spend his time somewhere other than a hot gym all day.
“That’s where it’s going to matter most,” he said. “That’s where you start understanding a lot about yourself. That’s when it’s really going to show what he’s made out of.”
B&B coach Hugh Reefe believes in Busby’s potential, but also expressed concern that the boy is straddling a dangerous line between home versus street influences.
No one wants to see him swayed in the wrong direction, Reefe said. All it takes is one bad choice. It’s why Reefe, Crawford and Co. form a village with his mom to try to make good choices more likely.
Crawford knows that having Midge Minor in his corner helped him become a champion. It wasn’t just about studying boxing either. It was getting affirmation that he mattered.
“I want to be a world champion,” Busby said.
Only time will tell. Meanwhile, he has the champ to remind him, as Crawford did on a recent day: “It only comes with work and sacrifice.”
Crawford can only take him so far. The rest, he thinks, is up to Busby.
The Flatwater Free Press is Nebraska’s first independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on investigations and feature stories that matter.