By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s a once-in-a-generation proposition.
Two unbeaten welterweights at the peaks of their abilities meeting in a championship-level showdown.
It happened in 1981 when Ray Leonard met and defeated Thomas Hearns at Caesars Palace.
It happened again in 1999 when Felix Trinidad met and – at least according to Jerry Roth and Bob Logist – defeated Oscar De La Hoya just 10 minutes down the road at Mandalay Bay.
And after Errol Spence Jr.’s Saturday night coming-out party near Dallas, the appetites predictably began whetting for this century’s first crack at a high-profile prime-vs.-prime event at 147.
After all, the Texan is 24-0 with 21 KOs, holds the IBF’s version of the welterweight title and is surely approaching the height of his powers at age 28. Conveniently enough, he’s joined among the division’s elite by Terence Crawford, who holds the WBO’s title, has won 24 of his 33 fights inside the distance and will be just 31 years old when he next celebrates a birthday in late September.
They’re similarly joined when it comes to the pound-for-pound types, too.
Crawford is No. 3 and Spence No. 7 according to the latest list compiled by Ring Magazine, while the numbers-crunchers at Boxrec.com label “Bud” as the top P4P performer on the planet and place “The Truth” just outside the all-encompassing penthouse door at No. 11.
Not surprisingly, no other 147-pounders are included in either discussion.
So, given all those hors d’oeuvres, all that’s left for us as fans is to sit and wait for the latest main-event course, right?
Well, err… maybe not.
Because Spence is allied with the omnipotent Al Haymon and Crawford remains a loyal foot solider for Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing, it’ll take a gargantuan change in mindset to get both enterprises to agree to put their premier welterweight commodities in significant harm’s way for a chance at ultimate glory.
For example, Spence’s last three fights have been carried via Haymon-approved broadcasts on Showtime, while Crawford led a recent Arum-steered exodus to the ESPN family for his last two fights after building his brand across eight fights on HBO when it was the go-to home for Top Rank’s top stars.
They tend to mine their own stables or those of cordial relations when it comes to opponents – Spence’s Saturday victim, Carlos Ocampo, was aligned with Zanfer Promotions – so unless one of the fighters demands it or the hue and cry from the public renders it unavoidable, it’ll remain on the back burner.
In other words, no Leonard-Hearns 2.0.
No De La Hoya-Trinidad reboot.
And no real satisfaction for those unwilling to settle for less than best-vs.-best.
“It is so far an enclosed maze with built-in exits if you want to avoid risk,” said HBO’s Jim Lampley, “and Haymon's central mantra is to avoid risk. That is a long way of saying we are nowhere near Leonard vs. Hearns and the likelihood is we don't get there at all if these conditions maintain. If Arum hasn't persuaded Haymon to risk (Keith) Thurman or Danny Garcia, how in the world does he line up Crawford vs. Spence, who is so much more talented than Thurman and Garcia?”
Arum, after Crawford defeated Jeff Horn earlier this month, said his man was “equal or better” than Leonard.
“They are being taught avoidance of risk as a general ethic, which flies in the face of the obvious reality that the sport is about risk. They are cutting their own throats. How can you be compared to Leonard when your promoter/manager is protecting you from Hearns and Duran? You just can't.”
The Leonard-Hearns welterweight summit was promoted by Main Events, though both fighters had worked with other operations, while the De La Hoya-Trinidad was also a melding of combatants typically associated with Top Rank (De La Hoya) and Don King Productions (Trinidad).
Arum was also responsible for putting together another noteworthy welterweight showdown – the first meeting of Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito – in 2008.
Meanwhile, it was a Top Rank truce with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his promotional apparatus that enabled “Money’s” long-awaited blockbuster with Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
It’ll take another backroom détente to make it happen again, leaving Lampley less than optimistic.
“Someday? 40/60,” he said. “But not now when both are the best they will be. It’s a better fight than May-Pac because both are in their primes, right at their peaks, so you have to go back to September ’81 to match it in my view.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO minimumweight title – Umata, South Africa
Simphiwe Khonco (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Toto Landero (No. 8 IBO/No. 20 IWBR)
Khonco (18-5, 7 KO): Third title defense; Won 12 of 13 fights since 6-4 start (12-1, 4 KO)
Landero (10-2-2, 2 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost WBA title shot at 105 pounds in March
Fitzbitz says: The South African took two tries to become a champ, but he’s assumed the role well and seems better now on the top level. Landero is a test, but one Khonco passes. Khonco by decision (75/25)
Vacant IBO welterweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Diego Chaves (No. 28 IBO/No. 70 IWBR) vs. Thulani Mbenge (No. 31 IBO/No. 92 IWBR)
Chaves (26-3-1, 22 KO): First title fight; One win in five fights outside of Argentina (1-3-1, 0 KO)
Mbenge (13-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Three straight decision wins after starting with 10 straight KOs
Fitzbitz says: This is not a great title fight – especially in a division with as many high-profile fighters as welterweight. And Chaves is on a steep downward slide that’ll continue. Mbenge in 9 (65/35)
WBC super featherweight title – Merida, Mexico
Miguel Berchelt (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Jonathan Victor Barros (Unranked WBC/Unranked IWBR)
Berchelt (33-1, 29 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in dozen fights since 2014 loss (12-0, 11 KO)
Barros (41-5-1, 22 KO): Eighth title fight (3-4); Zero victories since 2016, lost only fight in 2017
Fitzbitz says: Barros is a worthwhile customer in terms of his name, but he’s not fight since 2017 and not won a fight since 2016 – so it’s hard to imagine him stopping the Berchelt train. Berchelt in 10 (85/15)
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Spence, Acosta; LOSS: Flores)
2018 picks record: 42-20 (67.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 963-324 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.