Andre Ward continues to serve as the voice of reason… as well as hold out hope for fight to be made between two of the premiere pound-for-pound entrants in the world today.

Gone is another year where boxing fans are without a long-craved welterweight clash between unbeaten stars Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford. Between the two exists most of the relevant divisional hardware, with such a fight determining 147-pound supremacy along with a legacy-defining win for whomever prevails.

Such a fight isn’t any closer to taking place than when 2020 began, though at least one former pound-for-pound king is confident of the year ahead providing a new round of hope.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we’re gonna see this fight in late 2021,” Ward declared during an ESPN roundtable discussion in otherwise reviewing the past year of boxing.

Ward knows a thing or two about securing an everlasting legacy in the sport. The last American male boxer to win an Olympic Gold medal—doing so in 2004 Athens—went on to enjoy a near-perfect pro career. The Oakland-bred boxer won championships at super middleweight and light heavyweight before retiring from boxing in 2017 unbeaten, on top with his faculties intact and his finances well secured. 

Spence (27-0, 21KOs) and Crawford (37-0, 28KOs) both have the chance to accomplish something similar. Both are widely regarded among the world’s best boxers today, Spence currently holding two major titles in having emerged as the class of the welterweight division while Crawford has claimed lineal championships at lightweight and junior welterweight before winning a strap in the 147-pound division.

However, Crawford—once garnering near-universal recognition as the pound-for-pound king—has seemingly hit a wall shortly after wiping out then-unbeaten Jeff Horn to enter the welterweight mix following their June 2018 bout. Subsequent stoppage victories over unbeaten but relatively unheralded challengers Jose Benavidez and Egidijus Kavaliauskas, and faded former titlists Amir Khan and Kell Brook have furthered Crawford’s level of dominance, though in fights he was heavily favored to win.

A big factor in his career progress having stalled from a legacy standpoint is due to the political divide in the sport. Crawford remains under contract with Top Rank and ESPN at least for one more fight, while Spence is one of many top-tier welterweights currently under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner. With that affiliation has come notable wins over Shawn Porter—in their September 2019 unification bout and among the best fights of the year—and former two-division titlist Danny Garcia to go with his 11th round knockout win over Brook to ignite his welterweight title reign in 2017.

“Terence Crawford. Errol Spence. I know both guys personally, I’m not taking a side but I will say this,” Ward notes. “I get what Errol Spence and (PBC)… I get it. I get the play. A lot of people at this point get the point. You have the ace card. You have the majority of welterweights on your side. Well-played, you won the battle. But the war has yet to be fought and has yet to be won. The question is not, do these guys have to fight one another. It’s, do you want to fight one another? It’s where these guys are at right now.”

“I love Shawn Porter. I love Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman… I respect all those guys. But those guys are not Terence Crawford. At a certain point in time, you put the politics aside and you put the business of boxing aside—I’m not saying don’t get your money. Go get your money! But you tap your guy, your representative on the shoulder and say, ‘Make the fight! Now, let’s get as much as we can get, but make the fight.’”

Crawford and Spence both posted their latest wins just three weeks apart, which reasonably puts them on the same timetable should a mouthwatering showdown be considered by either party.

Both have instead made it a point to reference what they consider to be far more lucrative opportunities, namely a unification bout with legendary eight-division and reigning welterweight titlist Manny Pacquaio. It’s a reasonable holdout for any welterweight, with the Filipino senator and boxing all-time great currently on the hunt for an opponent in 2021 after having not fought at all in 2020. 

Spence is also on record in his willingness to move up two weight divisions to face Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, the reigning lineal 160-pound champion and two-belt super middleweight titlist and the universally-regarded pound-for-pound king.

“I would challenge both guys, Spence and Crawford—and I know that Crawford is saying that he wants it,” Ward notes, acknowledging the few bigger paydays for which both still hold out hope. “But outside of a Manny Pacquiao, I don’t see Errol Spence making the money he would make with this one. Maybe if he goes up and takes a crazy risk against Canelo. But outside of Manny Pacquiao, neither fighter is going to do bigger business than with each other.

“I know legacy doesn’t mean as much to anybody as it used to, but here’s the thing—I’m not just talking about you being remembered amongst your fanbase. I’m not talking about you being remembered amongst the people that support you. I’m talking about being in the history books, where you’re never forgotten. In order for that to happen, you have to fight a guy that doesn’t know how to lose and is threatening your legacy and threatening everything you’ve earned up until this point.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox