The Time Is Now
POLITICS, LAWSUITS AND MONEY ISSUES HAVE STOOD IN THE WAY OF BOXING’S BEST MATCHUP FOR YEARS, BUT ERROL SPENCE JR. AND TERENCE CRAWFORD MIGHT FINALLY BE CLOSING IN ON A DEAL
Errol Spence Jr. thought he was through. The crowd surrounding the welterweight titleholder on the raised interview platform in the bowels of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, had thinned some. Spence had just vanquished Yordenis Ugas in 10 rounds to unify his IBF and WBC belts with the WBA title he claimed from the Cuban expatriate.
The event had spilled into an early Sunday morning. Spence was growing agitated over the countless questions about someone everyone in boxing has wanted to see him fight for the last five years: WBO welterweight beltholder Terence “Bud” Crawford.
When someone holding an extended microphone asked Spence for what seemed to be the eight billionth time why he thinks he can beat Crawford, Spence had finally had it. In a brief burst, he belted out to his inquisitor in his slow Southern drawl, “I don’t think I can beat him. I know I can beat him! What do you think I’m supposed to say? I’m sure he feels the same. It’s a fight that has to be made and a fight that’s going to get made!
“Hey, as I said earlier if you weren’t listening: Everybody knows who I want next. I want Terence Crawford. That’s the fight that I want. That’s the fight everybody else wants. Like I said, I’m going to get these straps then go over there and take his shit, too. Terence, I’m coming for that belt!”
So much “wanting” hasn’t meant much yet.
Will the boxing world – and more importantly the sports world, since this fight certainly carries over into mainstream appeal – see Spence-Crawford this year?
Can boxing fans finally get what they want before the sell-by date passes?
Spence, 32, just came off a 17-month layoff in which there was some question about whether the car crash he survived in October 2019 would affect the southpaw Texan’s pristine boxing skills. But against Ugas, Spence (28-0, 22 knockouts) was as brilliant as ever.
“Everybody knows who I want next. I want Terence Crawford.”
– Errol Spence Jr.
The 34-year-old Crawford, defined as a southpaw but able to box on the elite level from either stance, anxiously waits for any news. Languishing in promotional limbo, Bud has fought two times in the last two years against two fighters who have since retired, Kell Brook and Shawn Porter.
“When I’m not watching my daughter run out of her track shoes, I’m working out, staying ready,” said Crawford, laughing, when The Ring reached him in mid-May and asked what he’s been doing lately. “I know the world wants to see me fight Spence and I want to fight Spence. I know he wants to fight me. I’ve been in contact with him over the last five months. I have a lot of motivation to make this fight. He has a lot of motivation to make this fight.”
“He wants the fight. I want the fight. Let’s make it happen.”
– Terence Crawford
Indeed, perhaps the best bet for Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) is to rip a page out of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s book. If you’ll recall, Mayweather went directly to Manny Pacquiao at a Miami Heat game and the two legends talked it out and – with a considerable push from then-CBS CEO Les Moonves – eventually came to an agreement for their 2015 fight.
“I respect Spence,” said Crawford. “I respect every fighter. There are a lot of politics that are factoring into this fight being made. I’m hoping it can be made. I can’t see why it can’t be made unless I get low-balled. I’ve called Spence on numerous occasions. I’ve played my part in getting the fight made and what not. You can’t get away from the politics of it, though. There really is nothing dramatically in the way of the fight being made. Me and Spence haven’t spoken lately about the fight, but he knows how to reach me. I don’t see the problem.
“He wants the fight. I want the fight. Let’s make it happen.”
Derrick James, Spence’s trainer, said the biggest issue lies with money. The timing couldn’t be any better. Spence has the IBF, WBA and WBC belts. Crawford holds the WBO title. Before, James pointed out, neither Spence nor Crawford had cleaned out “their side of the street.” They since have.
“But this fight has to carry beyond just boxing fans. It is a mainstream fight that sports fans, not just boxing fans, are going to want to see,” James said. “I think the problem is some boxing people may see it as a ‘boxing fight,’ something that doesn’t carry the weight Mayweather-Pacquiao did. These guys are stars in their prime right now. This is a fight that needs to be treated along those lines, where serious business people need to get involved.
“If it were up to Errol and Crawford, yes, the two of them sitting down would make this fight happen. I believe that. I really believe that. But it is the number one fight in boxing people want to see. Though it’s kind of a sad statement to make, boxers need businessmen to deal with this. This is a fight with world appeal and has to be sold to the people as a fight that the world is intrigued about. And it’s true; the world does want to see it. The problem lies with the purses that Errol and Crawford may be asking for – boxing fans may not be able to facilitate that.”
It’s an interesting point.
Spence could be the A-side, since he has three welterweight titles and Crawford has one. Supporting Spence is the Ring’s No. 1 rating at welterweight. Spence has done more financially successful pay-per-view shows and he’s done the heavy lifting at 147 pounds, clearing out the division for Crawford (beating Danny Garcia, Ugas, Shawn Porter and Kell Brook in their prime). Porter, Garcia and Ugas are Spence’s last three fights, so “The Truth” has not gotten any breaks over the last three years.
Crawford could counter that he’s accomplished more at various weight classes. The twist is here is that although Spence holds The Ring’s No. 1 rating at welterweight, Crawford is now The Ring’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter, behind IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk, after Canelo Alvarez tumbled down the list due to his upset loss to Dmitry Bivol in May.
The one huge hammer Spence has in his hands – well, actually two – is the support of Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime. If Spence wants the Crawford fight – and he does – PBC owner Al Haymon will do everything in his power to accommodate his fighter. Showtime will come along. After the Spence-Ugas fight, Stephen Espinoza, president of sports and event programming for Showtime, said a Spence-Crawford fight would be the “natural next course Spence takes, as long as it’s a fair business deal.” Espinoza also stressed, and Showtime maintained, nothing would be negotiated publicly through the media.
“Spence and Crawford both have been very clear this is the fight they want next, and that makes perfect sense,” Espinoza said. “The winner will be inarguably the No. 1 boxer in the welterweight division in the wake of the Floyd Mayweather era. We have a better chance to make this fight today than we’ve had at any point in the past few years, so I am optimistic that it will get done.”
Both Spence and Crawford recognize this as their “legacy fight.”
They both could use it.
Crawford, though a superstar in the sport, is still highly underrated, if that’s possible. Crossover fans should be aware of Crawford’s brilliance – but they are not. Many sources around Crawford say he felt that he was woefully underpromoted in his time with Top Rank, which ended in late 2021. On January 11, Crawford threw more angst on an already contentious relationship when he filed a lawsuit against Top Rank seeking nearly $10 million for a breach of contract and alleging “revolting racial bias.” Top Rank CEO Bob Arum didn’t help matters when he said “I could build a house in Beverly Hills on the money I’ve lost on him in the last three fights” about Crawford.
So, who do Spence and PBC negotiate with?
It looks like Crawford himself.
There is dialogue. And without dialogue, there is no fight.
“I know there are a lot of people out there downplaying my accomplishments, saying I haven’t fought anyone, saying I’m this and I’m that,” Crawford said. “But [when] I fight and I win, there are a lot of people in boxing that don’t know too much about boxing, and that’s the narrative that they have. I saw Spence’s fight against Ugas. I actually thought Errol did well. He did everything he had to do to win. But there are some fighters out there who pose certain threats, and I’m a fighter who poses more threats than an opponent can handle.
“My arsenal allows me to capitalize on the mistakes Errol will make. He does great things that I’m sure will make this a great fight. Again, like I said, if it were up to the two of us, this fight would be made. I don’t think I get the respect that I deserve. I think that I am underrated. I can come at an opponent a million different ways. I can change hands in the middle of a round, and I have power with both hands. If I switched from orthodox to southpaw, or southpaw to orthodox, some may think I’m giving up power in my right hand, or power in my left. I’m not. That would be a mistake.
“I hit hard with both hands equally. Errol and I are both in our primes. He has three belts, I have one. There is no better time for this fight to happen but right now.”
Who would win if Crawford and Spence were to fight?
“One of Crawford’s strongest skills is his ability to fight equally well right-handed and southpaw,” said Hall of Famer and Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood. “When he switches, he switches for a purpose. He’s also great at making adjustments in fights, which allows him to often dominate in the second half of fights. Crawford has decent power, but when he’s cooking, he has great accuracy. He’s a very smart fighter.
“Crawford is a dominant fighter who’s been dominant at more than one weight. He’ll need to establish distance against Spence and decide and adjust during the fight whether he wants to fight right-handed or southpaw. Keeping distance will be important because it would limit Spence’s body attack. He needs to box and make it a long fight, a distance fight, where he can come on in the second half of the fight.”
Spence, Farhood stressed, picks his punches beautifully, and his solid jab and body attack would give Crawford problems.
“Spence also takes a very good shot and he’s never been down, I don’t think,” Farhood said. “The key for Spence to beat Crawford is to stockpile rounds early in the fight, because Crawford tends to be a slow starter. If Spence could come out fast, put on effective pressure right away, he could win those early rounds and that could be the difference, should the fight go the distance.
“Spence’s body attack could drain Crawford. He’s also the more natural welterweight, and he’s a big welterweight. Crawford started as a lightweight.”
Al Bernstein, also an acclaimed Showtime analyst and Hall of Famer, likes Crawford’s boxing ability to frustrate Spence – maybe take a page out of Porter’s approach and box Spence.
“I think Crawford will spend a lot of the fight as a lefty and, with his boxer-puncher skills, depending how things go, may be willing to engage more and sit down a little more on his power punches,” Bernstein said. “I think we saw in the Ugas fight that Spence is very good when he jabs his way in, which he would try and do against Crawford. Get on the inside and throw a lot of combinations, the body shots, the uppercuts. He needs to make Crawford uncomfortable the way he did for Ugas. That’s where Spence wants this fight to be. He doesn’t want to fight from range.
“It’s a really good style matchup, because both men are skillful with slightly different approaches. They’re made for each other, because they’re both boxer-punchers who will engage. Spence is more willing to attack on the inside. Stylistically it lends itself to a really good fight. The general sports media knows this is a fight that has to be and needs to be made. As for its significance, it is the fight in boxing. Both Spence and Crawford know it’s the time to make this fight.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for The Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito.
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