COVID-19

Terence Crawford’s Path to Errol Spence

Marilyn Paulino/Round By Round Boxing

Even before the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the one big fight which seemed most out of reach was the matchup between the two undefeated, prime Welterweights at the top of their division.

Terence Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs) and Errol Spence Jr (26-0, 21 KOs) have been orbiting each other since Crawford cleaned out the 140-pound division and moved to 147 two years ago. Crawford’s first fight at Welterweight was against Jeff Horn for the WBO title–the same title which many thought Horn had been gifted against Manny Pacquiao in July 2017.

Ridiculous scorecards aside, Pacquiao undeniably had trouble with Horn’s size and mauling style. If Horn was expecting to do the same to Crawford, then his efforts to do so were brutally met by the reality that there are levels to boxing.

Crawford out-boxed him from the opening bell in a performance which confirmed what most outside of Horn’s friends and family knew, that it was a stylistic mismatch, and that the talent gap was simply too wide.

Crawford has since followed that ninth-round TKO with three title defenses–all ending inside the distance. Of his three opponents, two were undefeated, and the third was a former unified champion. Though the two undefeated men–Jose Benavidez and Egis Kavaliauskas–were more than deserving of a shot at Crawford, he has still drawn criticism from many for his opponent selection.

To say this is unfair is an understatement. In his title reigns at 135 and 140, Crawford fought everyone. His Lightweight run was capped off by a 12-round shutout of Ray Beltran, the consensus No. 2 in the division at the time.

At 140, it was more of the same, as Crawford won all of the belts to claim undisputed status. The only man to make it the distance was the formerly masterful Viktor Postol and even he went down twice, while losing all but two rounds.

Crawford surgically broke Viktor Postol down in their 2016 matchup. (Mikey Williams/ Top Rank)

At 147 pounds, the problem has been getting the right men in the ring with Crawford to further prove his legitimacy as a top pound-for-pound fighter (No. 1 on this writer’s list.)

Before saying any more, it is necessary to make the following point. Professional fighters at the highest level, do not fear one another. They have elected to pursue a living in the hurt business, and to make it to the top of the food chain in such a hostile environment necessitates a certain mental makeup. Of course, all people feel fear, and entering a boxing ring is a harrowing ordeal for most non-fighters.

The important distinction here is between nerves and fear. All fighters experience nerves to some degree leading up to a fight. My own experience has shown that those nerves serve to sharpen the senses and make one more alert.

But fear? No. When fans make statements alluding to fear in top fighters (ie. “Spence is afraid of Crawford,” or vice versa,) it is a projection of their own mental makeup onto the athlete in question. It has no bearing in reality.

Terence Crawford, similar to many forebears cut from the same cloth, suffer from a similar affliction. Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins…all the way back to Sam Langford. Every era has its fighters whose notoriety and brand don’t quite match up to their ability. That makes them easier to avoid or dismiss.

Bernard Hopkins (left) struggled for recognition even well beyond his prime (Al Bello/ Getty Images)

Terence Crawford isn’t a perfect analog to those greats of yesteryear. He’s about as well-known as the other top names at Welterweight, except the legendary Manny Pacquiao. What hamstrings him in the quest for a top opponent is his promoter, or rather the single promoter who represents every single other top Welterweight.

Terence Crawford is represented by Bob Arum‘s Top Rank Promotions. Errol Spence, Manny Pacquiao, Shawn Porter and many top Welterweight prospects, are signed with Al Haymon‘s Premier Boxing Champions. Al Haymon himself has been reticent to work with other promoters in the past, especially Bob Arum.

The promotional divide makes Crawford easy to avoid. It isn’t so much that the PBC Welterweights are actively ducking him. But why bend over backwards to make a fight with someone who hasn’t proven themselves to be a great pay-per-view draw?

Crawford’s two headlining efforts on pay per view cards have yielded terrible numbers. Just 60,000 buys when he fought Viktor Postol and 150,000 when Amir Khan was his dance partner.

Manny Pacquiao has done numerous million-plus buy events, including more than four million in his much-anticipated tilt with Floyd Mayweather. Errol Spence exceeded 300,000 buys in both of his pay-per-view events, with one of those co-starring his PBC stablemate, Shawn Porter.

Errol Spence, to a point, has already proven himself as a pay per view attraction. (Stephanie Trapp/ Trappfotos)

Even though real boxing fans know what they’re watching, and a fantasy matchup between Crawford and Spence would likely do 750,000 buys, present circumstances make Crawford a relatively easy fighter to ignore.

No hard evidence that a fight with him yields a more significant financial gain than a fight with any other top welterweight. Promotional roadblocks in the way. It isn’t so much that anyone is ducking him. If a fight makes dollars, it makes sense. Terence Crawford’s past box office flops mean he makes less sense as an opponent, given the high risk posed by his ability.

Now, we’re faced with the question of how Crawford lands a big fight. Hopefully, the big fight with Errol Spence.

In recent weeks, Kell Brook has emerged as a potential frontrunner. Depending on your point of view, Brook is either at the very tail end of his prime, or well past it.

He turns 34 in two weeks, and the two losses on his record represent heavy beatings and shattered orbital bones. Not to mention, he is simply not a 147 pound fighter anymore.

Brook has taken damage in his two losses, but still holds an undeniably big name in the sport. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Brook had always blown up in weight between fights, even during his stint as champion at Welterweight, reports of his weight exceeding 180 pounds were widespread. It wasn’t that he was fat at that weight. He was just killing his body to make the Welterweight limit.

Since the loss to Errol Spence, Brook has had three fights at 154, each separated by long stretches of inactivity. His debut at the weight came nine months after losing to Spence–a two-round blowout of Siarhei Rabchenka. Another nine months later, he was back in with Michael Zerafa. It was a lackluster effort in which Brook still won most of the rounds.

Many expected it to be a showcase for him, but Brook decided he was going to make a statement on the scales by coming in at 150 pounds–four pounds below the Super Welterweight limit.

All it did was prove pundits right in their position that Brook could no longer make the Welterweight limit healthily. The extra four pounds had immeasurably detracted from his energy and power. 13 months and another knockout against an overmatched contender later, and here we sit.

There could still be an incentive for Crawford to take this fight. Brook would be ill-advised to pursue this any further, but no other avenue for an immediate large payday exists for him. He would be a legitimate title threat to any of the belt holders at 154, but that may require another few fights.

With his activity rate, he may be 36 or older by the time that path to a title and a payday reaches its conclusion. Not soon enough. With the potentially huge domestic clash against Amir Khan appearing out of reach, Crawford may be Brook’s best option for immediate gratification. That is, aside from the horrible weight cut and the beating everyone would expect the American to put on him.

Crawford may be advised to take the fight with Brook. He is now in a position to do what all-time-great champions Muhammad Ali and Manny Pacquiao have done in the past: to chase down their desired opponent.

When Joe Frazier had beaten Ali in their epic first fight in 1971, Ali went on a mission to force Frazier to fight him again. Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis, Bob Foster, Jerry Quarry (for a second time). Frazier fought them, so Ali made it his business to beat them even more convincingly.

Were it not for Frazier running headlong into George Foreman’s sledgehammer fists and Ali getting his jaw broken by the unknown Kenny Norton two months apart, then Ali-Frazier II would have been for the Heavyweight title. But Ali still got Frazier back in the ring by employing this strategy, and that is what counts.

Similarly, when Pacquiao found it difficult to get Mayweather in the ring with him, he decided try to build a list of common opponents. Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and many others.

The only common opponent between the two who Pacquiao did not beat more impressively was Juan Manuel Marquez. But, styles make fights. Mayweather likely would’ve beaten Pacquiao even five years earlier than when they actually fought. But, Pacquiao’s efforts did plenty to fuel speculation about the eventual super fight, and greatly inflated the record fight purse that the two would earn.

The point; chasing works. Eventually. If Crawford opts for that strategy, Brook is his only option. Errol Spence’s championship ledger is far thinner than Crawford’s, which gives him fewer options to choose from. He’s in a position where all of his opponent choices will draw criticism anyway, but many of Spence’s championship opponents simply aren’t viable.

Carlos Ocampo? Hell no. He was a mandatory challenger who got blown out in a round. Lamont Peterson has retired since challenging for Spence’s title. Mikey Garcia got totally shut out by Spence, so beating him wouldn’t prove much at Welterweight.

Kell Brook actually won rounds against Spence when they fought. Whether he is still the same fighter may be immaterial. The fact of the matter is that Crawford decisively beating him would create a far greater stir than would beating any of Spence’s other championship opponents.

Crawford Lundy

Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing

This matchup seemed unlikely but, whenever public sporting events do resume, look for Crawford vs. Brook on your fight radar. Like watching any other top pound-for-pound fighter in their prime, the pick for this fight is obvious: Crawford by dominant decision or late stoppage.

But such high-level skill in anything is a rarity, and should be appreciated and watched while it’s here regardless. Even if top level opponents aren’t exactly lining up to fight Terence Crawford, his ability is something to behold.

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