What a performance.
I've always been a Terence Crawford mark. I sang his praises and talked about his elite-level chops, even when his level of opposition had people forcing me to pull back and qualify my adulation. But this guy has always had greatness in him and in my usual self-absorbed manner, I’ll use his brilliant stoppage of Errol Spence Jr. Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to take a victory lap of my own. I was right about “Bud” and my “eye test” acumen remains undefeated.
But I'll go one step further and say that Crawford is in Sugar Ray, Hearns, Duran, Whitaker, Mayweather territory. He took apart a great fighter in Spence and showed the wide gap between great and historical greatness. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more one-sided elite vs. elite, no.1 vs. no. 2 fight in recent boxing history than this one and it was one-sided, not because Spence was bad, but because Crawford was THAT good.
Errol Spence only marginally looked like Errol Spence for the first two-and-a-half rounds. Crawford got fight-altering respect by the end of the third when he stopped Spence in his tracks with a few stiff jabs. That, right there, not the flash knockdown in the second (the first of Spence’s career), was the turning point in the fight.
By the fourth round, Spence was no longer Spence. His jab-- the most crucial aspect of his game-- was slowly vanishing, discouraged by a much sharper and quicker Crawford jab. The steady march forward that usually works to his benefit behind that jab was replaced by tactical retreat. It didn’t take too long before the defending IBF/WBA/WBC welterweight champ’s entire offensive effort revolved around the occasional lunge forward, followed by mostly meaningless arm punches easily dealt with by an increasingly on-point Crawford.
The 35-year-old WBO champ would drop Spence twice in the seventh round, confirming a beginning of the end that was already two or three rounds in the making. Spence managed to survive the eighth, but he was the walking dead by then and Crawford, one of the best finishers in the game, put an end to things in the ninth, forcing a merciful ref stoppage with about 30 seconds left in the round.
With the victory, Crawford, now 40-0 with 31 KOs, becomes the first fully unified welterweight champ in the four-belt era, a three-division world champ, and a two-division unified four-belt champ as well.
“Errol Spence is a tremendous talent,” Crawford told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the post-fight interview. “He’s got a great jab and we was worried about the jab coming in because that’s how he sets up all his shots, off the jab. So, our main focus was the jab. Take away his best attribute and, you know, the rest is history...Normally, in camp, we do a flicking jab, but we knew that wasn’t going to work with Errol Spence because he’s durable, he’s strong. So, we had to practice on a strong, firm jab to jab with him and stop him in his tracks.”
Spence, 33, falls to 28-1 with 22 KOs after this loss.
“He was the better man tonight,” Spence told Gray, displaying the class that has set him apart from other stars of the sport. “He was using his jab...My timing was a little bit off and he was catching me between shots...He was just better tonight. I make no excuses. He did his thing...He was throwing the harder jab. He was timing with his jab. He had his timing down on point...Hell yeah, we gotta do it again. I’m gonna be a lot better. It’s gonna be a lot closer...It’s probably gonna be in December, before the end of the year...Hell yeah, we gotta do it again.”
Needless to say, Spence should seriously reconsider this plan to exercise the contractual rematch clause. A part two, at any weight, would not be pretty.
At the end of the day, Crawford proved himself to be the ultimate fighter. He proved himself someone capable of BECOMING the weapon he needs for any task at hand. That kind of skill and discipline is the epitome of old school and you won’t find too much of that in today’s boxing world.
The Omaha, Nebraska native has had every right to carry around a chip on his shoulder these last few years. Remember, we’re not too far removed from him being dismissed and disparaged by his own promoter, Top Rank, for being a fail at the box office and a money pit of a loss for the company. A good chunk of fans and media also turned on him, pointing out dubious business decisions that seemed to take him even further from the legacy fights he said he wanted.
But a great fighter-- and a strong man-- uses that chip on the shoulder as motivation, as fuel for his fire. Crawford certainly has done that and, because of it, has confirmed his status as one of the modern greats.
Two months shy of his 36th birthday, there’s still work out there. The presence of 26-year-old next big thing Jaron “Boots” Ennis looms large. A run at a 154 lb. world title (or maybe all of them) is also a viable next goal.
Whatever’s out there, though, how could anyone, after taking in Saturday’s performance, ever doubt Terence Crawford again?
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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: SPENCE-CRAWFORD, THE POSTMORTEMBy Paul Magno | July 31, 2023
What a performance.