THE long-awaited welterweight showdown between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford came to pass at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on July 29. Crawford was masterful and dominated Spence en route to an unexpectedly one-sided ninth-round stoppage.
Crawford and Spence have been at or near the top of most pound-for-pound lists for years. But neither man had the signature victory on his resume that a fighter needs to be considered great. Crawford’s most impressive performance had been his 2021 stoppage of Shawn Porter (who’d gone the distance in losing a split-decision to Spence two years earlier). Errol had dominated some good fighters but no great ones.
Boxing makes fans wait years for match-ups that other sports deliver during the course of a single season. Spence-Crawford took far too long to make. Six months ago, ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame fighter Tim Bradley voiced his frustration with the delay and held Errol’s feet to the fire, placing blame for the delay squarely on Spence.
“Errol Spence is running from Crawford,” Bradley declared. “He’s running like a son of a gun. That’s the only fight that you said you wanted. That’s the fight that you said you were gonna deliver to the fans after you won the three titles. You straight up lied.”
Finally, on May 26, Spence-Crawford was announced. No purse totals or financial splits were made public. What overcame the reluctance of Spence and Premier Boxing Champions impresario Al Haymon (Errol’s de facto manager and promoter) to make the fight?
First, Crawford was now free and clear of contractual obligations to Top Rank, which meant that PBC could completely control the promotion. Second, the financial success of Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia earlier this year led to the belief that pay-per-view revenue from Spence-Crawford might be greater than previously thought. And third, it’s uncertain that Showtime will continue to televise boxing after its current contract with PBC expires. Without Showtime, PBC would be on the receiving end of sexual intercourse. Fashioning Spence-Crawford and distributing it on Showtime Pay-Per-View was a way of strengthening Showtime’s boxing franchise.
Fights between elite fighters in their prime are far too rare in boxing. Usually, when future Hall of Fame fighters collide, one of them is clearly on the downside of his career. Not so with Spence (who entered the ring with a 28-0, 22 KOs record) and Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs).
“Mega-fight” might be the wrong word to describe the proceedings because the promotion didn’t reach significantly beyond the boxing community. But for true fight fans, this was the most important fight that could be made. The fact that all four 147-pound belts were on the line (while the subject of considerable hype) was almost incidental.
“A lot of people is asking why it took so long,” Terence said at the June 14 kick-off press conference in New York. “Doesn’t matter. We’re here now.”
Spence and Crawford evinced mutual respect throughout the promotion. In fact, they seemed to like each other. Many of the barbs that they exchanged during the build-up to July 29 were spoken with a twinkle in the eye. Both men stayed refreshingly clear of the ugly name-calling and histrionics that too often mar the selling of a fight.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Spence said of Crawford. “He’s a great fighter; very good skills, talent, mindset. He’s a cool dude. I don’t have to not like somebody to make a good fight.”
Crawford responded in kind, saying, “I’m a fan [of his]. This fight sells itself. You don’t need me going out there, acting all crazy. You don’t need him going out there, acting all crazy. Boxing doesn’t have to be aligned with disrespect to be entertaining. You don’t have talk about somebody’s dead people in the grave to get him mad. I think it can be where you all both respect each other but let each other know that, come fight night, you all coming for each other’s head.”
Tensions rise as a fight gets closer. Things got heated between Derrick James (Spence’s trainer) and Brian “Bomac” McIntyre (Crawford’s mentor) at the final pre-fight press conference. Then the entourages got loud. But Crawford made a plea for sanity, imploring, “My family, Errol’s family; you gotta calm down. ‘Cause things can get real sticky real quick and then everybody will say this is what we do every time we come out. Bro, listen. It can turn deadly real quick. On both sides. So why not support your fighter. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Let’s come together. Make this event a success instead of everybody saying every time we get together it’s always shootin’ and violence. You can say whatever you all want. But I’m probably older than you and more mature. I wish Errol and his people the best. Let’s go.”
Age wasn’t expected to be a factor. Spence is 33 and Crawford is 35. Both fighters had been clear favorites in all of their previous outings. This time, the odds favored Crawford by a narrow 7/5 margin.
Each fighter voiced confidence in the outcome of the fight.
“Whoever can impose their style on their opponent will win,” Spence said. “He’s gonna come and fight. But I’m gonna break his will. I’m gonna break him mentally and physically. It’s gonna take a few rounds because he’s a tough dude. But everyone gets broke and we’re gonna break him down. I just have the better fundamentals. He’s gonna find out that my skills are superior.”
“I’m going to show everyone why this era is the Terence Crawford era,” Crawford countered. “Everything about me is better than Errol. When you look at what I do in the ring, it’s better than what he does. You all are going to witness greatness. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
Spence was the naturally bigger man, having fought his entire career at welterweight or a shade heavier while Crawford had worked his way up from 135 pounds. But Errol had fought only twice since 2019. He’d been hospitalized following a harrowing automobile accident that occurred while he was driving under the influence in late-2020, underwent surgery for a detached retina in 2021, and was involved in a second automobile accident (that wasn’t his fault) last year.
As for the size differential between them, Crawford declared, “All my life, I’ve always been the smaller guy but I’ve always been the strongest guy. So come fight night, we’ll see.”
And there was one more factor to consider. Crawford seems to have more meanness in him as a fighter than Spence does When everything else is equal, meanness can determine the outcome of a fight.
The pay-per-view was priced at $84.99 in the United States. Viewers deserved better than the flood of promotional spots for DraftKings that they were subjected to throughout the night.
There was a lucrative ticket resale market that the promotion deftly exploited.
The marketing people kept trying to draw comparisons with Leonard-Hearns I. But Leonard-Hearns I had Edwin Rosario, Tony Tucker, Tony Ayala Jr, and Marvis Frazier on the undercard in addition to Leonard and Hearns in the main event. The Spence-Crawford undercard was mediocre.
Spence had weighed in at 147 pounds on the morning before the fight; Crawford at 146.8.
Terence won a coin toss which enabled him to walk to the ring after Errol. He looked happier during his ringwalk than Spence did.
In Crawford’s last outing, he’d fought David Avanesyan in a BLK Prime promotion at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Now he was at the epicenter of the sporting universe.
Those who had envisioned a relatively slow-paced, tactical fight (including this writer) were wrong.
Spence is a southpaw. Crawford is ambidextrous but fought virtually the entire fight from a southpaw stance.
Round one was a feeling-out stanza. Neither guy did much, but Spence was the aggressor behind his jab.
In round two, things started to go wrong for Errol. He’d never been down as a pro and appeared to be comfortable when, out of nowhere, Terence dropped him with a stiff counter jab.
“He was just throwing the hard jab,” Spence said afterward. “His timing was just on point.”
Spence continued to force the fight in round three which could have been scored either way. That meant, but for the flash knockdown, Errol arguably could have won all three rounds. Then the roof caved in on him.
Earlier in the week, Spence had acknowledged, “Every fight that I done fought, I always envision a hundred different scenarios. Some scenarios got me hurt, coming back and winning. Some scenarios, I get beat up. It’s just different scenarios that go through my head throughout training camp.”
In the real-life scenario, Spence got beaten up. Badly, As the battle unfolded, the storyline was written on his increasingly disfigured face.
Crawford took control in round four, mixing a punishing jab with a variety of power punches. On the few occasions when Spence landed solidly, Terence took the blows without apparent distress. It seemed that he could hurt Errol far more than Errol could hurt him.
From that point on, Crawford dominated the fight. In round seven, he dropped Spence twice. First with a right uppercut and then with a hard right hook.
The bout was no longer competitive. In round nine with Errol being pounded around the ring, reeling and helpless, referee Harvey Dock stopped the fight. Dock did Spence a favor. It was about to get much uglier for Errol.
All three judges had Crawford ahead 79-70 at the time of the stoppage.
“He was just better,” Spence said afterward.
Hard to argue with that.
After the fight, Spence’s face was puffed, bruised, and swollen. Crawford was unmarked.
“We gotta do it again,” Errol said. “I’m going to be a lot better. It’ll be a lot closer. It’ll probably be in December, hopefully at 154.”
Spence is contractually entitled to an immediate rematch. But Crawford, as the winner of their first encounter, can dictate whether it’s at 147 or 154 pounds. “It definitely don’t have to be at forty-seven,” Terence said at the post-fight press conference. “Forty-seven was kinda hard for me, too. I was already talkin’ about moving up in weight, so fifty-four wouldn’t be out [of] reach.”
That said; Spence took a beating, physically and psychologically. We might not see the fighter he once was again.
Meanwhile, let’s evaluate what boxing fans just witnessed.
Crawford looked spectacular. When the spotlight shone brightest, he was at his best. With Canelo Alvarez having slipped a bit in recent outings, Terence now deserves to be called boxing’s pound-for-pound king.
More important, fighters are judged historically in large measure by how they perform in big fights. Against Spence, Crawford fought a defining fight. He’s now a candidate for ring greatness.
One reason that boxing was once a popular national sport in the United States is that it served up fights like Spence-Crawford on a regular basis. When people talk about Leonard-Hearns I, they don’t talk about how many closed-circuit theater buys it did. Joe Louis’s 1938 knockout of Max Schmeling isn’t remembered for the size of the live gate.
The ball is now in Crawford’s hands and in the hands of Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime. Let’s see what they do with it. Potential opponents like Jaron Ennis lie in wait.