LAS VEGAS – Errol Spence Jr. didn’t dismiss Keith Thurman as a potential opponent when he moves up to the 154-pound division.
Spence simply had no interest in fighting Thurman next. Even as it seemed Spence and Thurman would meet in a junior middleweight match, the unbeaten IBF/WBA/WBC welterweight champion made it clear to his handlers that Terence Crawford was the only opponent he wanted to face in his first fight of 2023.
The 33-year-old Spence realized that he and Crawford needed to finally fight, no matter what it took to make that happen. The southpaw from DeSoto, Texas therefore made the necessary financial concessions during another round of laborious negotiations to ensure that their welterweight title unification match materialized.
“Keith is a very formidable opponent, you know, great resume,” Spence told BoxingScene.com. “But at the time, I didn’t feel like even considering Keith Thurman as an opponent. It was being pushed on me, but you know, I wanted to fight Terence Crawford. Anything could’ve happened. I could’ve, you know, got injured during the Keith Thurman fight or after the Keith Thurman fight, and that would’ve prolonged the Terence Crawford fight. So, I was gonna wait till, you know, everything was situated for the Terence Crawford fight to make it happen.”
Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) and Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) are scheduled to square off Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. Their 12-round, 147-pound fight for the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO titles will determine the first undisputed welterweight champion of the four-belt era.
The 35-year-old Crawford, of Omaha, Nebraska, is slightly favored by most sportsbooks to top Spence in their Showtime Pay-Per-View main event ($84.99; 8 p.m. EDT; 5 p.m. PDT).
Now that their much-anticipated scrap is nearly here, Spence cannot wait to prove his superiority over a three-weight world champion who has knocked out each of his seven opponents since he moved into the welterweight division five years ago. Spence feels a sense of relief as well now that he’ll get the career-defining fight he has long wanted.
“The negotiations with Terence was grueling and taking a long time,” Spence recalled, “so you know, my team wanted to go somewhere else because it just was taking too long and he had pulled out and fought [David] Avanesyan [on December 10]. So, my team wanted to go somewhere else, but I just said, ‘I’m fighting Terence Crawford.’ ”
The 34-year-old Thurman, meanwhile, probably will fight former WBA welterweight champ Yordenis Ugas in his next bout. The Clearwater, Florida native hasn’t boxed in 17 months, not since the former WBA/WBC welterweight champ handily outpointed Mario Barrios (27-2, 18 KOs) in a 12-round welterweight fight that took place in February 2022 at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena.
The Cuban-born Ugas (27-5, 12 KOs) would also end a long layoff if he encounters Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) later this year. Ugas lost his WBA belt to Spence in his last fight, a 10th-round, technical-knockout defeat in April 2022 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.