Once in a while, boxing fans are gifted with a super-fight, not in the context of how financially lucrative it is, but when you have two equally-matched pugilists that have a diverse range of skills, qualities and physical attributes to triumph in battle.
In the crème de la crème welterweight weight class, steeped in rich history, where we’ve had the most celebrated and widely acclaimed names go against each other. Most notably, Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao–Crawford v Spence is that fight, the makings of a real fifty-fifty pick’em. There are credible and strong arguments to be made for both combatants. It pits two of the most talented and consensus top two fighters of the division in an intriguing matchup.
Softly spoken and barely audible, Terrence “Bud” Crawford is a man of few words but has a mean streak in him, meaning he is able to punish any opponent that even dares to trash talk before their bout. Just ask Hank Lundy and Jose Benavidez.
Likewise the inconspicuous and physically imposing Errol “The Truth” Spence is not known for being outspoken until his recent out-of-character outburst at the post-fight press conference for Garcia vs Porter. Described by fans, pundits and media alike as the “killer” in the division.
Through the generations we have seen it continually and without fail–boxing politics will rear its ugly head.
In recent times the axiom “MMA is taking over combat sports” echoes in the wake of the rise of the MMA franchises such as UFC and Bellator–mainly UFC with crossover stars such as McGregor. Dana White consistently produces all-action, fan-friendly, competitive in-house fights and this reliably resonates with its blood thirsty audience. UFC’s in-house model inadvertently acts as a governing body–we as fans desire for something similar in boxing, where there is a central international commission/governing body that regulates boxing which will create competitive fights where the best fight the best.
The political obstacles I will outline below thwart combat fans to search for more appealing alternatives. We are in a renaissance period where there has been significant investment into the sport. Ordinarily, one would argue, this is a positive step and brings us closer to the fights we crave for in the boxing fraternity, however, it’s just not as simple as that, oh no.
Pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford recently signed an extension with his longstanding promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank on September 2018. This meant he would exclusively be with Top Rank and their TV broadcaster ESPN for the next few years with minimum purses of $3 million per fight, although financials were not disclosed. This goes hand in hand with the deal ESPN have in place with Top Rank being their sole promotional company for the next seven years, signed in August 2018, a month earlier.
For Crawford, the allure of DAZN money was not enough nor was the prospect of fighting Al Haymon’s 147lbs fighters at PBC and Showtime/Fox. He remained loyal to the promotional company that built him up to the present day P4P King. This effectively caused one roadblock in a potential matchup against the other world champions.
Al Haymon has a deep stable of fighters, which pretty much consists a monopoly of who’s who in the welterweight division. The Premier Boxing Champion roster boasts of WBA world champion Keith Thurman, WBC world champion Shawn Porter, with former world champions such as Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson, and of course IBF world champion Errol Spence Jr.
It was clearly discernible that Spence was intoxicated when he crashed the Garcia v Porter presser. He didn’t hold back at all in regards to his intention to become undisputed welterweight champion of the world. However, some would question his ambition with his inclination of only fighting PBC affiliated fighters/world champions. The majority of Al Haymon fighters are free agents with regards to TV networks. This effectively means it would be a smooth transition for Spence to fight on ESPN. Again, easy right? Well, no. Just like Top Rank, Al Haymon Boxing also have a profitable long-term, multi-year deals in place with both Showtime and Fox for the fighters he advises. For Spence, it’s a win-win because he can still fight the other world champions as well as being incentivised for this with huge purses and PPV money. This is yet another barricade in making this super fight.
Outside of PBC’s deal with Fox and Top Rank’s deal with ESPN, is DAZN, armed with a reported $1 billion investment, annual budget of $125 million for the next 8 years. This is an aggressive foray into boxing and a statement of intent looking to speedily sign the big names in boxing and add stiff competition in the hugely competitive boxing market.
In the last 20 years, only twice have we seen two rival networks/broadcasters come together to show a fight, and this has only been in exceptional circumstances such as super-fights Tyson v Lewis in 2003 and Mayweather v Pacquiao in 2015. Both times Showtime and HBO came together to show simultaneous PPV broadcasts. In both cases, these were long awaited and much anticipated fights that had been talked about for several years. This is where it gets even more complicated, for this to happen for Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford, it has to be financially viable for all parties involved, fighters, promoters, TV networks, etc. One phrase that has been coined by both Oscar De La Hoya and Bob Arum is “To marinate a fight”, and it seems like both of these fighters don’t have the profiles that cross over to the mainstream “casual” audience, if you will, to make it financially rewarding for every entity involved. Lewis, Tyson, Pacquiao and Mayweather were all global superstars and PPV attractions.
Both of these supreme athletes simply do not have the fan base, exposure, or mass appeal to generate that kind of revenue to entice rival networks to work together on the fight. You get the gist of it, another barrier in making this fight. This bout will require the necessary publicity to bring together the powers that be to make this match a reality. In essence the fight needs to be “marinated”. A recent unexpected meeting at the Alex Saucedo vs Maurice Hooker fight in Oklahoma only fuelled the thirst for this fight. Both were not afraid to exchange verbals back and forth to gain the mental edge with their respective entourages. This was a momentous occasion in garnering attention for this fight, where both finally met face-to-face for the first time and gave fans an insight to see who wins in the psychological battle of wits, given that both are less talkative individuals.
It is one of the most important aspects of boxing, the “pre-fight build up”, this helps to bolster the fight and captures the imagination of the audience. Furthermore, it enables social media debates of each fan base, with fan-boys analysing the mental gymnastics of the opposite fighter, seeking weaknesses and whilst ensuing praise for their favourite fighter.
Enough of the stumbling blocks, promotional clatters, network collisions and the whole political rollercoaster ride in making the fight. It’s time to examine the fight from a technical and tactical standpoint and discuss how this fight may pan out.
Terence Crawford: 34-0-0 (25 KOs)
Best wins: Burns, Beltran, Gamboa, Postol, Diaz, Horn, Benavidez, Indongo
The most accomplished out of the two is unquestionably Crawford, turning pro in 2008, his career has gone from strength to strength. Starting off at lightweight and picking up the WBO strap by outclassing veteran world champion Ricky Burns in his own backyard in Glasgow, Scotland, he announced himself on the world stage. In his very first defence, he took on the former Olympic gold medallist and former unified featherweight world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa. This was Crawford’s first exam in the pro-ranks, fighting a highly skilled, well-schooled undefeated Cuban. With Crawford being the slight betting favourite, it was a stern test for the Omaha native. In a fight of the year candidate that was supposed to be a tactical chess, the match turned into a gruelling confrontation for Crawford. Gamboa out-landed him in the early rounds, attacking the body and even rocking him. Eventually, Crawford used his physical advantages in the fifth round and floored Gamboa with a hard right and left. Crawford didn’t stop the onslaught and in the eighth round steamrolled to a savage TKO win.
Crawford continued his surge up the weights and won the vacant WBO light welterweight belt. This is the weight class Crawford truly conquered, cleaning out the division to become the first undisputed champion of the world (since Jermain Taylor in 2006 ) whilst dominating undefeated world champion in Viktor Postol, blowing away undefeated Julius Indongo and beating former Olympic gold medallist, Felix Diaz in career-defining fights.
Out-growing the 140lbs division, Crawford has shown no signs of stopping, recently moving up to welterweight to become world champion in his third weight class. He quelled any criticism of being the weight-bully and beating up small fighters, by knocking out a big, tough and rugged Jeff Horn (who previously beat all-time great Manny Pacquiao). In his first defence he finished the once touted future world champion Jose Benavidez (27-0), also another big welterweight. In both of his fights at 147lbs, he has surgically broken down his opponents. With Benavidez nipping at the body and up-top with his dagger jab, then went for the killer blow with a peach of an uppercut through Benavidez’ guard in round twelve. This demonstrates Crawford’s power has carried through the weight classes and subdued critics who say he is too small and his power would not be commanding enough to gain the respect of his adversaries in the welterweight division. His trainer Brian McIntyre did make the admission Crawford would’ve comfortably made his debut at welterweight at the Horn press conference, which further quashes the size reservations.
Best wins: Brook, Peterson, Algeiri, Bundu, and Garcia
The sparring stories surrounding Spence have assembled a mythical reputation. Some of the rumours include Spence handing out one-sided thrashings to none other than all-time great Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr and to boxing’s outspoken and outlandish former four-weight world titlist Adrien “The Problem” Broner. Spence vehemently denies these rumours, possibly due to his close friendships/allegiances to said fighters. Sparring rumours can be nonsensical and just chatter, we all know the true test of a fighter is in the squared circle, under the lights and in the fights that leave a stamp on your record.
With the moniker of being the “boogeyman” of the division and his mantra of “Man Down”, southpaw Spence has certainly lived up to the status thus far with a knockout percentage of 84%, blowing out 21 out of his 25 opponents.
Spence’s first real step-up came against former 140lbs titleholder, Chris Algieri. Algieri previously had a slugfest against the rugged Ruslan Provodnikov to win the WBO belt, so we knew he had a durable chin. Fans were about to find out the power in the fists of “The Truth”. Effectively using his jab as a sniper scope as a means to initiate his assaults to the head and to the body, Spence ensured Algieri tasted the canvas multiple times in rounds four and five. He was simply too much for Algieri, bulldozing him to a round five TKO. The next opponent was the hardened, never previously stopped Leonard Bundu. The Italian had previously taken Keith Thurman the distance. What did Spence do? He demolished him within six rounds.
Climbing up to IBF rankings as their mandatory for the world title, England’s Kell Brook had no choice but to take up the challenge of this highly-rated contender. Spence, carrying the aura of invincibility, set up a clash of what was billed as a match-up of equal proportions on paper. Brook the experienced reigning world champion, Spence the undefeated terminator. This was the fight that was crucial to stifle the Spence naysayers. Yes, Brook’s resume was thin, but we knew about his skills, he had beaten the undefeated Shawn Porter in the States to win the title. Going into the territory of the champion (much like Crawford in Glasgow), in Sheffield, he weathered the early storm where Brook was really showcasing his boxing ability, catching Spence flush with uppercuts on the inside, straight rights and moving around well in the ring. Spence came back with a vengeance and a never give up attitude, relentlessly punishing the body with barrages of punches, each punch landing with, as the cliché goes, “bad intentions”.
The early part of the fight, when Brook was winning on the scorecards, didn’t faze Spence at all. He stayed disciplined and reaped his rewards in the end, and Spence submitted Brook into taking a knee in the eleventh round in a tremendous performance. He put the division on notice. Next up was seasoned veteran and former unified IBF/WBA world champion Lamont Peterson. In a routine defence of his title, going up against very good boxer in Peterson, Spence just chopped away and finally broke Peterson’s will down in round seven. Peterson was battered and bruised with both eyes swelled up like compound ant eyes. Spence Jr landed 161 of 526 punches (31 percent), and Peterson connected on 45 of 158 (28 percent).
In the most recent fight, Spence faced off against P4P star and undefeated, four-division world champion Mikey Garcia. Mikey called for this risky fight and was daring to be a great in a PPV clash at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in front of a raucous crowd of 47,000. Most saw this as career suicide for Mikey, as many picked Spence to brutally KO him, being the bigger guy, two weight classes above. Spence showcased a new dimension to his game. In displaying his boxing IQ, he outboxed the gifted Garcia, utilising his size and reach advantages, peppering him with jabs and finishing with vicious hooks to which Mikey had no answer. Spence cruised to a shutout decision win on all three scorecards (120-108, 120-107 and 120-107).
You would be forgiven to think Crawford’s resume and achievements overall are superior, there is no doubt. However, at 147lbs the resumes are somewhat comparable. In both cases, Crawford and Spence would have beaten a former world champions (Algieri, Peterson and potentially Khan), reigning world champions (Horn and Brook) and undefeated contenders (Ocampo and Benavidez).
Nonetheless from the above it is quite clear, Crawford, a three-division world champion, undisputed in one division and amassing a record of 34-0, is the most proven.
From a stylistic standpoint, Spence’s style is reminiscent of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, with the lethal solid jab he uses to make his opponent aware of his power and what is to come later on. Funny enough, both won their world titles on the road in England (Hagler beating Alan Minter). Spence adorns a physical presence and could easily venture into the 154lbs division. He utilises his frame and bullies his opponents on the inside and unloads ruthlessly with looping left hooks to the body and once the guard is down, unleashes wild hayemakers to the head to finish proceedings. The mentality of seek and destroy has allowed for great success in exhibiting his knockout power. Don’t rule out Spence’s boxing IQ. He has shown this a few times, most recently vs Mikey Garcia, where he showed that he has the ability to outwit his opponents, though maybe not on the same level as Crawford.
With wide left and right hooks, come defensive vulnerabilities. Spence can leave himself wide open and susceptible to be caught flush. Brook early on was able to tag him quite easily, as was Peterson. This is where Crawford would capitalise, he would maintain distance and look to outbox and counterpunch Spence.
A rare switch-hitter, this idiosyncratic skill that Bud possesses is one of his many talents. It is a weapon in his arsenal that he has exploited to adapt to different styles of opponents. Only a few in the boxing sphere have the ambidextrous ability to switch stances such as Ward, Judah and Hagler to name a few. Not just in boxing but sports stars in general whether it is snooker’s Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan, football’s elite Ronaldo and Messi or cricketing legend Hanif Mohammed.
A single all-time great trait in my opinion, is the ability to make in-ring adjustments when the fight is not going your way and it is something Crawford possesses. His cerebral nature and boxing IQ has enabled him to alter on-the-fly to figure out his foes. Crawford will always discover his opponent’s weaknesses, and once he has cracked the code, he takes over in the middle rounds. Against the bigger guys like Horn and Benavidez, he started off slow and just chopped away with the jab to the body and up-top and stayed patient. Tactically astute, Crawford takes away your strengths by constantly switching stances to keep guys guessing. After a while he will use his power to finish them off. This dismisses the notion that he doesn’t have power, he has power in both hands. Being a slow starter has almost cost Crawford in the past, however. Gamboa was up on the scorecards as he was landing accurately with his blistering hand speed and even had Crawford buzzed. These slow starts are something Spence could very well benefit from by pressuring him with his immense work rate to land early on.
The most underrated win on Crawford’s resume is the comfortable victory against the Ukrainian Viktor Postol. Criminally overlooked, this was the same Postol who dismantled heavy favourite Lucas Mattyhsse in his previous fight. Postol is an archetypal European fighter that has a very good jab, defence and is polished in the way he sets up his punches. Equal in stature and size, Crawford frustrated him with his lateral movement, and kept hitting him with shots from different angles, forcing Postol to move in 360-motion countless times and made him look ordinary.
The common quality both fighters have shown during their career is the ability to make in-ring adjustments, weather the early storms (Spence vs Brook and Crawford vs Gamboa) and to finish emphatically. This is another reason why it makes this fight an even more mouth-watering prospect. As I’ve alluded to before it is something the past legends in the sport have managed to do, whether it’s the jack-of-all trades Andre Ward, boxing’s polarising personality Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Sugar Ray Leonard–they were in tough fights.
The first few rounds will be cagey as expected, with both fighters trying to figure each other out. I really cannot see a knockout, as is always the case when you have two elite operators. Make no bones about it, this will be a strategic game of checkers, a highly clash where we will see both guys in the middle of the ring at some point when the fight catches fire towards the middle rounds. Maybe just maybe the Hagler-Hearns of 4 rounds may erupt, but I suspect with both being evenly matched, this will go the distance. Both have physical and mental toughness, both have been hit flush and overcome challenges to win, however neither man has tasted the canvas.
Crawford wins in a close competitive fight. Spence’s keys to win will be his bodywork, work rate, thudding jab and his hard-hitting power generated via his constant hooks. Nevertheless, I give the edge to Crawford due to the superior boxing IQ, the ability to make adapt quicker, and being the switch-hitter in this matchup increases his repertoire of skills exponentially, adding a wide-range of advantages such as check hooks and lateral movement.
We’ve witnessed it in the past on many occasions (Pacquaio vs Mayweather and Lewis vs Tyson), that despite many hindrances and numerous impediments, this didn’t stop us from seeing the fight we wanted to see, so I remain optimistic of this fight taking place in the future.
An enthralling war awaits and this will surely captivate every boxing fan, this hotly anticipated matchup of two elite welterweights. I do hope it’s the fight for all the alphabet trinkets (however meaningless in today’s era), with all the marbles on the line it will be a true undisputed fight to determine the welterweight king.