By Sunday, barring a draw, there will be only one.
Errol Spence and Terence Crawford have all the hardware available right now at welterweight, Spence with three belts and Crawford with the lone trophy missing to complete what Spence calls “strap season.” The winner will be recognized by TBRB, Ring Magazine, and history going forward as the resumption of one of the great lines of champions in all of boxing.
The winner will be the welterweight champion of the world, period.
Being that man means something. Unification of any weight class is meaningful but to be the last man standing at welterweight means a little bit more. The line of great welterweight champions is basically its own wing in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Spence and Crawford are fighting for the moment, the glory, right now.
All time, they will cement their place as part of a broader tapestry. History’s crown at welterweight has been worn by legends like Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jose Napoles, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
The winner Saturday (Showtime PPV, 8 PM EST) doesn’t have to be better than any of those men. They’ll be in the club.
For Spence, it will be his fifth consecutive fight against an opponent ranked by TBRB and Ring Magazine in the top ten of their weight class (four at welterweight, one lightweight) and seventh in his last eight starts. Spence, at 33, doesn’t have an incredible volume of fights in part because of two long injury delays in his career and in part because he spent more than a year refusing to accept anything less than the only fight left at welterweight that mattered. He’s still gathered all but one of the recognized alphabet straps in the class.
Can Spence finish the run?
Crawford has always appeared to be the biggest threat to Spence’s goals to do so. Before Crawford even stepped in the ring for what was assumed to be a fait accompli for a welterweight belt against Jeff Horn, the speculation had already started. This looked like the finish line in 2018. The road took its twists and turns but through five years the destination never changed.
Crawford hasn’t been able to secure the consistent opposition fans wanted at welterweight but he maintained just enough quality, including the first stoppage loss of Shawn Porter’s career, to keep the fire burning. Four of his last seven opponents in the class were ranked in the top ten by TBRB and Ring and Crawford enters with ten consecutive knockout wins. The former lineal lightweight and undisputed junior welterweight champion has a chance to become the first fighter since the birth of the WBO in 1988 to unify all four major sanctioning body titles in two weight classes.
Is Crawford on the verge of making a closing statement for a case as the best fighter of the post-Mayweather era?
It’s the fight everyone wanted and it’s here.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Titles: IBF welterweight (2017-Present, 6 Defenses); WBC welterweight (2019-Present, 2 Defenses); WBA welterweight (2022-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’9 ½
Weight: 147 lbs.
Hails from: Dallas, Texas
Record: 28-0, 22 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-0, 4 KO
Last Five Opponents: 154-8-1 (.948)
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring), #1 (ESPN)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Kell Brook KO11; Lamont Peterson RTD7; Mikey Garcia UD12; Shawn Porter SD12; Danny Garcia UD12; Yordenis Ugas TKO10
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Chris Algieri TKO5
Title: WBO welterweight (2018-Present, 6 defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO Lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring Lightweight (2014-15); WBO Light Welterweight (2015-17, 6 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring/WBC Jr. welterweight (2016-17, 3 Defenses); WBA Super Lightweight (2017); IBF Jr. Welterweight (2017)
Weight: 146 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Omaha, Nebraska
Record: 39-0, 30 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (ESPN, BoxRec), #2 (TBRB, Ring)
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-0, 14 KO
Last Five Opponents: 153-12-3 (.920)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB/Ring Rated Foes: Ricky Burns UD12; Yuriorkis Gamboa TKO9; Ray Beltran UD12; Thomas Dulorme TKO6; Dierry Jean TKO10; Viktor Postol UD12; John Molina TKO8; Felix Diaz RTD10; Julius Indongo KO3; Jeff Horn TKO9; Egidijus Kavaliauskas TKO9; Shawn Porter TKO10; David Avanesyan KO6
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Jose Benavidez TKO12; Amir Khan TKO6; Kell Brook TKO4
The Case for Crawford: Crawford may sometimes have slow starts but it’s what happens after those starts that stands out. Crawford has an uncanny ability to measure the range and timing of opponents before slowly taking them apart. His fluidity and length are a big part of that. Crawford has exceptionally long arms, holding a reach edge of a couple inches over the taller Spence. Crawford can fight seamlessly from both the southpaw and orthodox stances and may show both early against Spence as he figures out what works best.
Crawford has to be careful on Saturday not to let activity be his enemy. According to Compubox, Crawford on average throws and lands fewer punches per round than Spence. The landed volume is roughly six punches a round; the thrown difference is a margin of roughly 25 punches and in big fights activity can sometimes matter. Crawford will have to exploit Spence’s activity by landing when Spence is on the attack, but what happens if he can’t hurt the Texan? Crawford will have to slow Spence’s output down with good defense and the sort of counters that make landed punches stand out from aggression. It’s a tough needle to thread but Crawford is capable of pulling it off.
The Case for Spence: Spence is a machine on offense when he gets into rhythm, a strong and physically consistent threat whose fundamentals and conditioning make him a problem for three minutes of every round. Spence lands well to the body, can throw hard to counter short hooks on the inside, and seemingly never ignores a stiff, straight southpaw jab. Even against fighters who operate with higher activity, as Danny Garcia did in their fight, Spence’s better accuracy and underrated defense make for a difficult task.
For Spence, the body attack will be critical this weekend. He may find landing the jab easier in the early going than later on in the fight. Staying at mid-to-close range where Crawford can’t extend on his shots and his flanks are exposed will keep the pressure on. Crawford can land from angles few other elite battlers can so Spence will have to be aware of the incoming at all times but he’s had good whiskers to date.
Crawford has been wobbled in the past and had issues with the size and strength of Jesse Benavidez. Spence will have some moments to catch the eye with big power shots but imposing his natural size advantage could drag Crawford into deeper waters than he’s ever seen.
The Pick: Less than 24 hours from the fight and this is as tough a pick as there has been…in at least four days. Naoya Inoue-Stephen Fulton looked like a pick ‘em on paper earlier this week and turned into a showcase. The thinking here is we won’t see that happen again. This is going to be a two-man show.
Spence is going to win rounds and may have 2-3 in the bank before Crawford really gets going. For Crawford, the trick will be putting rounds in his column before the fight gets too far away. If Crawford finds he can neither slow the attack of Spence nor significantly hurt him, then the Omaha native is going to have to fight out of character and pick up his preferred pace. That would mean fighting Spence’s fight and Crawford isn’t as likely to find a path to victory that way.
The thinking here is both men can be hurt and will be. That means some of the intangibles could factor in. Both Spence and Crawford are big fight performers throughout their careers. Spence traveled overseas and grinded away at Kell Brook in the second half to win his first title. He came up with the big knockdown against Shawn Porter when he needed it. Spence is a winner.
Crawford is a winner too. He’s also something else. There’s an air of meanness and violence to Crawford that has always felt like it would have been at home in any era. Crawford treats opponents who do get off to decent starts with disdain and at times he seems to almost enjoy not just defeating but embarrassing capable foes. The moment in the corner in his Porter fight, before the final round, when the suggestion that Porter could beat him was raised and Crawford reacted with disgust before going out and finishing matters was something we don’t see all the time.
He just flipped a switch against one of the best welterweights in the world.
Crawford’s killer instinct, combined with all the skill, talent, and power he displays, has set him apart for close to a decade. In his biggest moment, it could be the difference again. The pick is Crawford by late stoppage in a fantastic fight.
Rold Picks 2023: 23-6
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com