WHAT do we want? Errol Spence versus Terence Crawford! When do we want it? Three years ago! This is the bout that hardcore boxing fans have been dreaming about for an awfully long time. Its delay speaks of a longstanding problem in boxing, but its deliverance, we hope, is a clue – particularly after a solid year of matchmaking thus far – that new habits are being formed. So, let’s all unite and thank the heavens, because – wait for it, compose yourselves – Spence and Crawford will go nose-to-nose in a matter of days.
The two leading welterweights on the planet come together to decide, very simply, who is the best. It’s a wonderful concept that fuels every single sport, it’s the heartbeat of every sport, it’s what makes sport, well, sport. However, it’s also a concept – the act of deciphering the world number one – that boxing has struggled to regularly deliver since ranking organisations multiplied like Gremlins in water and started popping out belts. Evidence of such can be drawn from this bout’s tagline: Undefeated. Undisputed. Unprecedented.
While the rest of the boxing world mindlessly boasts about the rarity of such contests taking place, and therefore underlines the problem, we will mention this only once: All available 147lbs sanctioning body titles are on the line for the first time since Lloyd Honeyghan stopped Donald Curry in 1986 (before the days of the WBO).
And we only touch on that because, in 2023, ‘undisputed’ is a ridiculous term that only highlights what a mess the rankings bodies – and the promoters and broadcasters and media who embraced them – have created. It is frankly tragic that it has been 37 years since a welterweight could call themselves the lone world champion. And one can be certain that, regardless of what happens on Saturday night, whoever wins and whoever loses and whatever they choose to do next, the championship status at welterweight will not – I betcha – be ‘undisputed’ this time next year. It will quickly fracture. Confusion will again run riot.
So welcome, for a little while at least, to the Boxing News way of thinking. The winner of Spence versus Crawford will be the world welterweight champion. They will remain so until they lose that championship in the ring, or they choose to relinquish it by retiring or campaigning in another weight class. And should the winner move up to 154, as we can expect if Spence triumphs, the vacant championship should simply be decided by one fight between the leading two welterweights who remain. It really should be that simple, folks. It’s the way it used to be when countless undisputed champions roamed the boxing world without the need to prefix their status with ‘undisputed’ because there was only one of them per division. So undisputed is not remotely unprecedented; boxing did not begin in the ‘four-belt era’, it simply lost its way. Undisputed, or at least the current inane way that word is used, only became a thing due to the disputes created by too many belts.
Now, the good news. Both Spence and Crawford – despite both, completely understandably, embracing the undisputed tagline – have voiced similar concerns heading into this bout. Spence rightly questioned exactly what the substantial amount he will cough up in sanctioning fees is paying for, while Crawford, who managed to win all the straps down at super-lightweight, voiced his desire for only one sanctioning body to exist. Small steps they might be, but if the subject is raised in fight week, with all manner of ears listening, they’re exactly the kind of steps – those taken by the fighters at the heart of the matter – that could one day lead to change. Better still, after years of rival managers and promoters trying and failing to get this one over the line, Spence and Crawford had a half-hour conversation on the phone to finally deliver a full stop to the drawn-out negotiations.
Last (succinct) point on it: At BN, we’d have no problem with four sanctioning bodies if everyone – including managers, promoters, and broadcasters – worked together to make one champion a priority, so it wasn’t so rare, so it wasn’t so difficult, so it wasn’t deemed as ‘unprecedented’. As things stand, that does not happen.
What can’t be disputed, at least at this juncture, is that both Spence and Crawford are indeed undefeated. And that undoubtedly adds to the intrigue that oozes from this 12-round contest, set for Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. Better still, neither has come close to losing. Without barely a bad habit or nervous moment between them, it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to reach a conclusion about who wins this fight. And that uncertainty only heightens the excitement and anticipation heading in.
What we don’t know at this stage is if one or both will already be past their peak at the sound of the opening bell. Back in 2015, the year of the last genuine welterweight super-fight, it now can’t be denied that both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao were past theirs. Furthermore, both had already experienced bona fide superstardom, so both – I’d argue – were already in something of a comfort zone. Consequently, that fight did not deliver, it came too late. For Spence and Crawford this is the first time either, despite their advanced ages, will have experienced anything like this. It’s fair, then, to expect far more passion and entertainment than what we got from Floyd and Manny.
Spence, 28-0 (22), is 33 years old compared to Crawford’s 35. The latter, 39-0 (30), has also had the longer and more arduous career; he turned over in 2008 whereas his rival waited until after London 2012 before ditching his vest. But to say that Spence – who has fought 142 pro rounds compared to Crawford’s 224 – is therefore the fresher of the two is barely arguable.
Neither has been hugely active by old school standards, but Spence’s inactivity in recent years could be deemed a concern by some, particularly when the reasons for it are explored. The Dallas native has been involved in two car crashes, the first and most serious in October 2019 when he was ejected from his Ferrari 488 Spider and left with facial and dental injuries. (In June 2022, he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated). The second came in December last year when a car that ran a red light smashed into his vehicle, leaving Spence with a leg injury. In the interim, a scheduled bout with Manny Pacquiao had to be cancelled after retinal detachment in his left eye was discovered in the final stages of camp. For months afterwards, Spence had to sleep only on his left side, he couldn’t train, he couldn’t even run.
Since the first accident, Spence has fought only twice. Though he was not at his best when outpointing Danny Garcia in December 2020, Spence turned in an impressive showing to patiently dismantle Yordenis Ugas 16 months later. That 10th round stoppage, in April 2022, remains Spence’s most recent action.
It would be easy to draw conclusions, largely negative ones, from all of that. Eye injuries as severe as the one he suffered are rarely fixed to satisfaction, particularly when combat sport is the occupation of the afflicted. But there is plenty of positivity to gain as well. Spence could have walked away from boxing, he could have lost his desire, he could have left the welterweight class that he has been competing in since his amateur days. Yet his desire to rule without argument at 147, coupled with his eagerness to earn the riches that only a Crawford contest would make, prevented that from happening. Whether or not it soon becomes apparent that his body is feeling the strain, it’s worthwhile remembering that level of mental fortitude, the kind that Crawford has not yet had to draw from, is exceptionally useful in contests such as this.
“He could easily have stepped up to 154 by now,” Crawford said of Saturday night’s opponent. “He didn’t do that. He stayed at 147 because he wanted to prove he’s the best, he wanted to fight me. I commend him for that.”
There is nothing foolhardier than a boxer, however. Spence, taller than the 5ft 8ins Crawford by an inch-and-a-half, has found making welterweight a struggle for several years and though his nutritionist, Elliot Buckling, has created a strict diet plan to combat incessant hunger during his training camp, Crawford is unquestionably more comfortable at the weight. A long and draining contest, one fought at high intensity and skill, can often be decided by such detail.
The darling of Omaha, Nebraska – where ‘Bud’ has a street named after him and where he was granted a carnival to wish him luck before he headed to camp with longtime coach Brian ‘Bud’ McIntyre in Colorado Springs – has fought four times since the problems started piling up for his rival. In December 2019, Crawford halted Egidijus Kavaliuskas in nine, he walloped a past-his-best Kell Brook in four 11 months later, followed that by ending the career of Shawn Porter in November 2021 (becoming the first to stop Porter – in the 10th – in the process) and, most recently, he won every round before halting David Avanesyan in the sixth back in December last year.
With each passing outing, Crawford has wowed. Like Spence he’s a southpaw but he switches with such ease and effectiveness, classifying him as a left-handed fighter is like saying Zinedine Zidane could only strike a ball with his right foot. In fact, one could make a case for Crawford being the most complete fighter in boxing today, such is the wizardry from which he can draw at any given moment. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Crawford is how calculating he is. On the odd occasion he loses rounds – and they tend to be early ones – it soon becomes apparent that he was merely taking his time while formulating plans to deliver the punches required to win. In that regard, though defensively savvy, he’s not afraid to take a few to craft opportunities to hurl his own.
Spence perhaps lacks that all-round versatility of Crawford, but he has an exceptional grasp of the fundamentals and, when in full flow, is one of those fighters who looks almost impossible to beat. Adept at range and in close, and perhaps the faster starter of the two, Spence, so graceful and pure in his art, is difficult to shift from his rhythm. He uses his long wingspan to great effect and throws far more punches than Crawford, which could be a factor on the cards.
Both fighters can bang, albeit in different ways. Spence’s blows tend to slash and hack, while there’s an audible thud to what Crawford unloads. Neither has really encountered any real trouble inside the ring though Spence was unquestionably ruffled and thrown off plan by the industry of Porter in 2019.
It’s tempting to look at Spence struggle with Porter back then and compare it to Crawford stopping the same opponent and conclude that Terence is the better fighter. That argument gathers further pace when examining their form against their only other common opponent, Kell Brook. The Brit gave Spence a decent scrap in 2017 before being obliterated by Crawford three years later. Yet this might well be logic that we should flip; Spence fought better, fresher, more ambitious versions of Porter and Brook to come out on top. In fact, throughout his time among the elite, Spence has fought a higher standard of welterweight. While Crawford has been thrashing decent opposition, Spence is the one who brings three belts to the party, having taken them from Brook, Porter and Ugas along the way.
The rivals can each boast solid teaching and, more importantly, have teams behind them with whom they are exceptionally at ease. McIntyre has long been by Crawford’s side and Derrick James – currently flavour of the month when it comes to coaches – largely made his name from his work with Spence. Both trainers know how to get the best from their charges and, from what we’re led to believe, both combatants remain grounded and mentally sound as a consequence of the families they both hold dear.
Ultimately, we suspect, this will all come down to how each fighter adapts in battle. Spence is excellent in centre ring and it’s feasible that he will be the one more eager to gain an early foothold. And when he does that, as we’ve seen throughout his career, he settles into a groove from which he can confidently flow up and down the gears, chucking punches for fun as he goes. Even Crawford will find that cycle difficult to break. Furthermore, we have seen the Nebraskan struggle – by his uber high standards – when faced with speed being used artfully. Jose Benavidez Jnr had the odd moment of success, likewise an ageing Yuriokis Gamboa and even Brook was up on two of three cards at the point of being blitzed.
However, Crawford has exhibited greater versatility throughout his career and never once looked remotely flustered in a prize ring. It too can be argued his killer instincts are more pronounced and, though he doesn’t throw as many punches as Spence, the rarely wastes a bullet when his opponents stray into the target zone. Even if Spence does edge ahead early, as we expect, it’s difficult to see what Spence then does to take the contest beyond the reach of the enemy. As such, with Spence lulled into a sense of superiority, the older man might be countering with increasing regularity by the midway point before stealing control down the stretch. When faced with such ferocity it’s impossible to predict how Spence will cope, but it seems unlikely – given what we’ve seen and what we know about his character – that he’ll merely take a step back, play it safe, and gamble his early work is enough to nick a decision. Therefore, the pick is for Crawford to take advantage of his opponent’s willingness to trade and score his eighth consecutive stoppage in as many welterweight bouts, in rounds 10 to 12.
That, of course, is just one of numerous plausible outcomes in a bout where we expect, at the end, to applaud both for their significant efforts. “We both know what’s at stake,” Crawford said. “May the best man win.”
THE VERDICT: Simply irresistible.