By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s a once-in-a-generation welterweight proposition.
And no, in spite of recent press conference chatter, the principals are named neither Manny, nor Keith.
Instead, it’s two unbeaten studs 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 late-winter pay-per-view debut against an outgunned Mikey Garcia 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 25-0 with 21 KOs, holds the IBF’s version of the welterweight title and is surely approaching the height of his powers at age 29. Conveniently enough, he’s joined among the division’s elite by Terence Crawford, who holds the WBO’s title, has won 26 of his 35 fights inside the distance and will be just 32 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. 2 and Spence No. 6 according to the latest list compiled by Ring Magazine, while the numbers-crunchers at Boxrec.com label “Bud” as the second-best P4P performer on the planet and place “The Truth” just one spot off the medals stand at No. 4.
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 soldier 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 several fights have been carried via Haymon-approved broadcasts on Showtime or its PPV antenna, while Crawford led a recent Arum-steered exodus to the ESPN family for his most recent appearances 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 – Crawford’s April victim, Amir Khan, was aligned with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn – 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 former HBO blow-by-blow man 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 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 last June, 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 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 legit title-fight schedule:
WBC minimumweight title – Chachoengsao, Thailand
Wanheng Menayothin (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Tatsuya Fukuhara (No. 4 WBC/No. 7 IWBR)
Menayothin (52-0, 18 KO): Eleventh title defense; First fight in Chachoengsao
Fukuhara (21-6-6, 7 KO): Third title fight (0-2); Lost to Menayothin (UD 12) in 2017
Fitzbitz says: Once a guy gets to age 33, it’s not unusual to expect fortunes to plummet. But considering the champ is 52-0 with a win over this foe, it’s not happening. Menayothin by decision (95/5)
IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles – New York, New York
Anthony Joshua (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. (No. 5 WBA/No. 19 IWBR)
Joshua (22-0, 21 KO): Seventh IBF title defense; First fight in the United States
Ruiz (32-1, 21 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost lone career fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: Joshua hasn’t looked as impenetrable lately as he had on the way up, but against a late-replacement challenger he should look impressive in a big American debut. Joshua in 6 (99/1)
WBA super middleweight title – New York, New York
Callum Smith (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (No. 13 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Smith (25-0, 18 KO): First title defense; Scored one-round KO in only other U.S. fight (1-0, 1 KO)
N'Jikam (37-3, 21 KO): Fifth title fight (1-3); First title fight at 168 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Smith is the top man in a division that’s hotter in the U.K. than in the U.S., but that won’t stop him from looking good in a stateside return. Good fight, but predictable end. Smith in 10 (95/5)
Last week's picks: 0-1 (LOSS: Ito)
2019 picks record: 43-7 (86.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,054-350 (75.0 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.