Spence vs. Crawford is the best fight boxing has to offer: two quiet Americans go at it.

Errol Spence, left, and Terence Crawford pose on Friday after making weight for their forthcoming welterweight title unification fight in Las Vegas.Errol Spence left, and Terence Crawford posed for a photo on Friday after they both made weight for their upcoming fight in Las Vegas to unify the welterweight title. AP Photo by John Locher

Even though it might not get as much attention as Mayweather-Pacquiao, the long-awaited super fight between unbeaten welterweight masters on Saturday could be more exciting.

Bryan Armen Graham is in Las Vegas. His Twitter handle is @bryanagraham.
Sat, July 29, 2023, 10 a.m. BST
It took over five years for Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, two American welterweights who had never lost a fight, finally meet at a summit. All signs point to Saturday night’s fight for the undisputed championship in boxing’s glamour division being worth the wait.

Omaha’s Crawford, who used to be a champion at 135 and 140 pounds, has been fighting in the same weight class as Spence since 2018 when he moved up to 147 pounds to win the WBO’s version of the title. Spence, a 2012 US Olympian from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, had already won the IBF’s welterweight title after destroying Kell Brook at Bramall Lane the year before. Since then, he has also won the WBC and WBA titles.

That means the winner of their 12-round fight on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena on the hot Las Vegas strip, where the temperature has been above 110F (43C) all week, will be the first man to hold all four major welterweight title belts at the same time. He will also make a strong case, along with the Japanese terror Naoya Inoue, that he is the best prizefighter in the world, no matter what weight.

But if Crawford hadn’t answered the phone in March, the best fight boxing has to offer might never have happened.

It’s rare enough that two boxers at or near the top of the sport’s pound-for-pound list compete in the same weight class. It’s even rarer that they are both about the same age. For years, it has been clear that Spence and Crawford should fight to the death for the welterweight title. But Spence is promoted by Premier Boxing Champions, while Crawford spent most of his career with Top Rank. These rival promotion companies rarely cross the street to do business with each other.

When it looked like it would end up like so many other big-budget movies that didn’t make it, Crawford and Spence talked for half an hour on Facetime in March to discuss the details. From there, it didn’t take long for people to give in, agree on terms, and start the fight. Las Vegas when it’s hot.

The two-month buildup to the fight has been marked by mutual respect, which was on full display at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-in when Spence and Crawford made the divisional limit (after stepping on the scale behind closed doors for the Nevada Athletic Commission a few hours earlier) in front of several thousand spectators before coming together for one of the most honest staredowns in recent memory.

With a wry smile, Spence leaned in and said, “You don’t have to thank me for making this fight happen.”

“You don’t have to thank me either,” Crawford said, and the two of them shook hands to make their deal official. “We can both give thanks. We’re going to change the world.”
Errol Spence, left, and Terence Crawford shake hands during the traditional staredown after Friday’s weigh-in ahead of their forthcoming welterweight title unification fight.Errol Spence, on the left, and Terence Crawford, on the right, shake hands during the traditional staredown after the weigh-in on Friday before their upcoming fight to unify the welterweight titles. JP Yim/Shutterstock photo

They might do so. The main event on Saturday was compared to the last real welterweight super fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in 2015. That fight made over $600 million and broke box office records with 4.6 million pay-per-view sales and a $72.2 million live gate.

Spence and Crawford’s fight won’t come close to those numbers. For years, boxing fans have been excited about the fight between them, but it hasn’t made it into the mainstream culture in the US or elsewhere. (At least three taxi drivers I’ve used since I arrived on Wednesday didn’t know there was a fight this weekend.) Despite their achievements, including a combined professional record of 67-0 with 52 knockouts, both men have quiet, unassuming personalities. They have never been big on self-promotion, preferring to let their performances do the talking. Spence’s extended family, who yelled at Crawford from the front rows of Thursday’s final press conference as he tried to say a few short, boring things on the dais, have been the only ones to add a little spice to an otherwise pleasant promotion.

Stephen Espinoza, the president of sports and event programming at Showtime, a US cable network whose pay-per-view arm is showing the fight in the US for $85 a pop, took a philosophical approach when asked if the introverted personalities of the fighters will hurt the bottom line.

Thursday, Espinoza said, “It’s more like a mirror of society.” “The culture of today, at least in the US, doesn’t reward quiet and respectful people. It is about who can scream loud, make the most noise, and do the craziest thing. In this way, it’s a throwback to the days when guys let their skills, accomplishments, and résumés do the talking for them.

“I think there are still athletes like that, like Derek Jeter, but I think they’re getting harder to find. There are real feelings, real rivalries, and real competition, but there is also a lot of respect for each other and the sport.

The fact is that Mayweather-Pacquiao was finally made after both men had passed their prime, and Pacquiao had already lost to Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley in controversial ways. On the other hand, the Spence-Crawford fight features two future Hall of Famers with perfect records. Who will win, then?

Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) is the bigger man and probably the harder puncher. He uses a methodical southpaw jab to pressure his opponent and set up power shots to the head and body. The 33-year-old Texan’s jab is so good that he won big fights against top-tier opponents with just one punch. Spence’s style isn’t flashy or complicated. It’s just that he sticks to the basics and works hard at them. His discipline and willpower have helped him beat every opponent he’s faced.

Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) is a smart, flexible boxer who doesn’t rely on one skill. During his fights, he can switch between southpaw and orthodox stances on the fly. The 35-year-old punches with just as much power and accuracy from either side. He learned this skill when he broke his right hand in a school fight in 11th grade and kept going to the gym anyway. This ability, rare among top fighters, has made a difference in many of his victories. He is known for being a brutal finisher, and he has stopped ten straight opponents before the fight goes the distance. This includes all seven of his opponents since he moved up to 147 lbs.

During fight week, many people in the know picked Crawford, whose pure boxing skills have drawn comparisons to Mayweather and Roy Jones Jr. But the fact is that on Saturday night, when so much is at stake, each man will be facing the best opponent of his career. All major world welterweight titles will be on the line for the first time in 37 years. That was when Lloyd Honeyghan beat Donald Curry in 1986. Amazingly, all it took was a phone call.

“I feel like the fight wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t called him and we hadn’t been in touch,” Crawford said. “With Mayweather and Pacquiao, we already knew what to do. I just used what they did when they gave each other their phone numbers at a basketball game. Ali and Fraizer knew each other. History keeps happening over and over.”

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