Battle Plan: Spence vs. Crawford (featuring Stephen Edwards and Jose Benavidez Sr.)
The following feature article appears in the June/July issue of The Ring. You can own a print edition of this limited collector’s issue that commemorates the Spence-Crawford undisputed welterweight championship by ordering it from The Ring Shop. Ring subscribers can read the digital version here.
TWO RESPECTED TRAINERS – STEPHEN “BREADMAN” EDWARDS AND JOSE BENAVIDEZ SR. – REVEAL HOW THEY WOULD TRAIN CRAWFORD AND SPENCE TO WIN THE UNDISPUTED WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
It’s the fight that fans have been screaming about for years. On Saturday, July 29 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, they’re finally going to get it when IBF/WBA/WBC titlist Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 knockouts) takes on WBO beltholder Terence “Bud” Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) for the undisputed welterweight championship.
Spence and Crawford, respectively ranked No. 4 and No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, will be looking to make history as the first undisputed welterweight world champion in the four-belt era. As the pair are also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the division, the vacant Ring belt will be on the line as well.
The 33-year-old Spence has done far more work at 147 pounds, having spent his 10½-year career at or near the weight, while the 35-year-old Crawford has only been there for his last seven fights and is a former junior welterweight and lightweight champion.
Spence likes to keep opponents at the end of a commanding right jab, back opponents to the ropes and throw either a left uppercut or a right hook. Rinse and repeat. Crawford measures opponents and uses great footwork and solid fundamentals while switching stances to confuse his victims, often starting slow and then cranking up the aggression.
Can he do that against Spence? Which fighter will impose their will? Can Spence keep up with Crawford? How will Spence deal with Crawford’s counterpunching?
The Ring sought out the keen insight of two world-renowned trainers – Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, who trains former junior middleweight titlist Julian “J-Rock” Williams, and Jose Benavidez Sr., who guides sons Jose Jr., who fought Crawford in October 2018, and David, The Ring’s No. 1-rated super middleweight who in his last fight beat Caleb Plant (who was trained by Edwards).
Here are the battle plans they concocted for each fighter:
STEPHEN “BREADMAN” EDWARDS, ON HOW HE WOULD TRAIN TERENCE CRAWFORD:
“Without really knowing Crawford’s body, I would like an eight- to 10-week training camp. He would usually spar three times a week, up until the last week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Then we would taper off the last week of training camp.
“We would start sparring four to six rounds and then build up each week. Maybe about five or six weeks in, we would max out, going around to 12 to 15 rounds, and then we would gradually go back down and taper off in the last weeks of training camp. He’ll be ready to go. I would build him up to 10 to 15 rounds, then down to eight and six rounds, and that takes you right into the fight. I don’t believe in wasting a fighter in training camp.
“From everything that I hear, Errol is one of the more physically imposing and strongest welterweights that most guys have ever felt. I don’t know if I would so much go large with sparring partners, but use physically imposing guys, and I would want Terence to constantly feel that. If I couldn’t find any welterweights as strong, I would go to junior middles to impose that physical aspect. I also want three guys and switch them out, bringing in new guys so Terence would not get too used to the sparring. He’s going to have to switch during the fight, so we’ll work on having him switch during sparring.
“Terence is well-conditioned, and I wouldn’t change anything in his conditioning. I’m a firm believer in new-school stuff and the old-school stuff. Guys change their conditioning too much today; it’s why guys have shaky conditioning. I also would want him around 160, 162 in camp. I would want him to be strong at a weight he would rehydrate back up to. The week of the fight, he could be around 156, 157, as long as his water intake is high. When he cuts weight, he’s cutting into water, not muscle. It’s a problem a lot of guys have; they cut their water intake out too early and they cut into their muscle. If he drank over a gallon of water a day, it’s easier to cut out the water than cut into muscle.
“I always have a fight plan strategy, but I also have a backup plan that we can go to in case a guy takes away the original plan. I also believe you fight one round at a time. You can’t get to the 12th round unless you get through the first 11. I like to break the fight down into increments. It’s not one big 36-minute fight. A guy like Crawford, if you look at him real close, he’s collecting data the first three, four rounds of a fight. He’s not a super dominant fighter early on. He builds. And with a guy like Errol, I would want him to get his jab going.
“A lot of times Terence switches to southpaw. He does that against orthodox fighters. Errol is a southpaw, and that switch may not have the same effect against a southpaw of Errol’s caliber. I would have Terence stay orthodox and collect data the first few rounds and get off the jab.
“I would want Terence to go to the body. Errol is imposing. He’s like a snowball that builds up. He’ll have to slow down Errol’s train early. We would be fine breaking even, two-two, after the first four rounds. We would work on offsetting Errol, invest in the body, and gradually begin taking something out of him.
“He needs to establish his jab to wreck the rhythm of Errol’s jab. By the middle rounds, this will go against the grain a little; I would push Terence to be the puncher in this fight. I would want him walking down Errol. No one has backed Errol down before. Because Errol is viewed as the bigger guy, they assume he’ll be the puncher in the fight. Crawford may be as strong as Errol. He can hit guys with brutal shots. In the championship rounds, Terence will need to impose himself on Errol. The way you deal with a truck that’s trying to run you over is to flatten the tires. The early body investment will pay off here.
“I think that Crawford, if he can impose himself, he should go for it a little bit. Guys have shown Errol too much respect. Early on, Terence must be safe and smart. Later, we would take chances. Kell Brook and Yordenis Ugas were able to hit Errol with hybrid right hands. You have to change the angles of your shots, and Terence can do that. Change the angle of the right, because Errol likes to catch it with his right. After the fight settles down, Terence has to let Errol feel his viciousness. Terence can turn Errol and push him back. I wouldn’t be opposed to Terence going for a late stoppage.”
JOSE BENAVIDEZ SR., ON HOW HE WOULD TRAIN ERROL SPENCE JR.:
“I’m looking at an eight- or nine-week training camp. That would be good for this fight. For the first seven weeks, we would spar Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, twice a day, and do strength and conditioning two to three times a week. It depends on where the fighter is. I like to start gradual and work my way up with the intensity, but each fighter is different, and I would base my decision on what kind of shape Errol is in.
“What I like to do the first week is move slow, build up the second week and increase sparring, and the third week that’s when I would bring in the good sparring. I would look at two or three guys and ramp up the rounds. In the fourth and fifth weeks, move to eight- and 10-round sparring sessions. I like to get sparring partners that are fighting, not sitting around gaining weight. Preparing for Crawford, I would want boxers as sparring partners, guys who use their jab and use their distance, guys with good footwork. I would also use guys with deep amateur backgrounds, because Crawford is good at using distance, throwing straight punches and using his legs. We wouldn’t want any brawlers. I usually use three sparring partners, but for this fight, I would use four guys.
“In weeks six and seven, we would look at how healthy Errol is. We taper down to twice a week but increase the round intensity. I like to go 12, 14 rounds to get it in the fighter’s head that they went 14 rounds.
“For conditioning, I like to have my fighters swim the first week or two. In the fourth and fifth week, we would hit the road a little more. Yes, believe it or not, David swims. (laughs) I like it when my fighters don’t know how to swim – David is not a good swimmer – because fighters that struggle in the water use more muscle in the water to push. Other muscle areas are working. We would do track running and running mountains and stadium stairs. I like the incline. I like to mix that up because it keeps the fighter active and his mind fresh. It also tricks the body. In the middle of training camp, we would run three days a week. Knowing Spence, his weight won’t be an issue. In weeks eight and nine, we would taper down.
“I like to install the game plan right away. I’ve been studying Canelo Alvarez, for example, for four, five years, because David will be fighting him. I watched Crawford for two, three years, because I knew he would fight my son Jose Jr. I learned a lot about Crawford in breaking him down.
“The secret to beating Crawford is the jab. Once you throw that jab upstairs, feint a little bit, there are so many things you can do off that jab. You can throw a tap-touch jab, a stiff jab, feint jab, and once you throw that jab to the shoulder, then change it to the stomach and change it to the chest. That’s the key to beat Crawford. The other key is to stay a little low and control him.
“I think differently and do things differently. I want to make sure about their mental state. I would be willing to wait and see how aggressive or how laid-back Crawford will be. I go round-by-round how a fighter will react. It depends on the first round, and from there, we can start building. I would go and adjust as the fight progressed. The key is staying low, working off the jab and cutting angles. You have to throw big shots to back Crawford up. We have to put pressure on Crawford to back him up, get on him and not let him build any confidence.
“If everything is working, the pressure is working, we would begin opening up and risking more in the middle rounds. By the championship rounds, we should have him figured out. We’ll know what kind of condition Crawford is in. I think we’re going to need to knock Crawford out to win. Crawford has never been stopped. He’s never been in trouble since he fought [Yuriorkis] Gamboa [in June 2014]. Errol has to knock out Crawford to win. He must knock him out. Spence sits on his punches a little more than Crawford does.
“I will tell you right now, the only way Errol wins is if he knocks out Crawford. If he doesn’t knock Crawford out, I don’t think Errol can win. I love Errol Spence. I respect what he’s done in his career. But in my mind, ever since that car accident [in December 2022], Errol has not been the same. Something happened there that has slowed his reflexes and his ability to think faster. He’s capable of being outboxed, and Terence Crawford could do that. There’s no other way to fight Crawford. If you try and box him, it’s not going to happen.”
ERROL SPENCE JR.
Record: 28-0 (22 KOs)
Reach: 72 inches
Location: DeSoto, Texas
Trainer: Derrick James
Titles held: IBF/WBA/WBC
Last fight: TKO 10 Yordenis Ugas
Record: 39-0 (30 KOs)
Reach: 74 inches
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Trainer: Brian McIntyre
Title held: WBO
Last fight: KO 6 David Avanesyan
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.