By Keith Idec
A boxing fan would’ve been excited this time a year ago if you had told him or her that we’d be tracking negotiations these days for a welterweight title bout between Errol Spence Jr. and another unbeaten champion who has won world titles in multiple weight classes.
Fans undoubtedly would’ve assumed you were talking about Spence-Terence Crawford, not Spence-Mikey Garcia. Back then, Crawford had already announced he was vacating his 140-pound championships and had been installed as the WBO’s mandatory challenger for Jeff Horn, then that sanctioning organization’s welterweight champion.
Interest in Spence-Crawford only has intensified since then, especially because Keith Thurman’s layoff now has extended to almost 20 months. Spence-Crawford clearly has supplanted Spence-Thurman as the fight in the welterweight division.
In fact, now that Crawford has scored two technical-knockout victories at welterweight, Crawford-Spence has become one the sport’s most anticipated fights in any division. It’s right up there with Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder and Vasiliy Lomachenko-Mikey Garcia.
Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near close to happening.
If we were a year away from Crawford and Spence stepping into the ring together, that’d be an acceptable, understandable timetable.
Spence hasn’t headlined a pay-per-view show, thus his fight against Garcia early next year will be a good gauge of how many buys a seemingly more competitive clash with Crawford could produce.
Crawford’s lone pay-per-view main event was a 12-round domination of relatively unknown Viktor Postol in July 2016. That show drew less than 100,000 buys, so Crawford isn’t a proven pay-per-view fighter, either.
From an all-important dollars and cents standpoint, Crawford-Spence unquestionably can be built into a bigger, more profitable fight.
But late 2020 might not even be a realistic expectation for Spence-Crawford at this point. And if Mayweather-Pacquiao procrastination taught us anything, it should be that you can wait too long to make even the biggest fights.
Spence spoke during the Shawn Porter-Danny Garcia post-fight press conference as if he has no intention of boxing Crawford until at least two years from now.
The unbeaten IBF welterweight champion wants unification fights against Porter, the WBC champion, and Thurman, the WBA champ. Thurman reportedly has petitioned the WBC for a rematch against Porter, whom Thurman narrowly beat by unanimous decision in June 2016.
If a Thurman-Porter rematch takes place prior to Spence fighting either one of them, that could shorten Spence’s path to Crawford. That, of course, is making the dangerous assumption that the skilled, powerful Spence will continue defeating elite welterweights without incident.
Beyond embracing other welterweight title unification fights, Spence emphasized that their promotional and network affiliations are obvious obstacles that’ll prevent them from fighting anytime soon.
The 28-year-old Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), of DeSoto, Texas, is aligned with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions and thus can fight on Showtime and FOX. The 31-year-old Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), of Omaha, Nebraska, is promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., which has an exclusive content partnership with ESPN.
“Like I said, he’s on the wrong side of the street,” Spence said of the WBO champion. “Who’s he calling out? Who’s he calling out? Al Haymon guys, right? How he gonna get that fight when he just signed with ESPN? I’m not going to ESPN at all, because the big-money fights and the fights that I’m really gonna make is with Showtime and FOX. … Terence Crawford’s gotta leave ESPN and come to Showtime or FOX. Or they do something where they both work together and then we both fight. I’m not worried about it at all. I’m not gonna discredit Terence Crawford. Terence Crawford is a great fighter. I like the way Terence Crawford fights. I respect him a lot. But like I said, he’s on the wrong side of the street.”
Arum doesn’t think the ESPN-Showtime situation is insurmountable.
After all, he’s only three years removed from making a much bigger fight, Mayweather-Pacquiao, with Haymon. That fight also required a collaborative effort between Showtime (Mayweather) and HBO (Pacquiao), which partnered to distribute that epic pay-per-view event in May 2015.
“It’s a pay-per-view event when they fight,” Arum said recently, “and the same way that we did it with Mayweather and Pacquiao, both HBO and Showtime were co-distributors of the fight and shared the distribution fee. All of that can be worked out. I mean, it’s silly. But again, you can always say that because of this and because of that something can’t happen.
“But if you have any kinds of brains or ingenuity, you can work through those problems to make it happen. Obviously, it would be wrong for Errol Spence to say, ‘Screw you, Showtime. I’m gonna fight Terence Crawford on a pay-per-view distributed by ESPN.’ I recognize that. And just as soon it would be wrong for Terence to say, ‘To hell with that. Thanks, ESPN, but I’m gone.’ No, but you can work it out like gentlemen.”
Arum calling Haymon a “cancer” recently obviously didn’t engender good will that’ll make the secretive adviser eager to begin negotiations for Spence-Crawford. Haymon also knows that, based on their rosters, Arum needs to make Crawford-Spence happen sooner than him.
While Haymon has several options to appease Spence, there aren’t many appealing non-PBC welterweight fights for Crawford to take. He could fight Lithuania’s Egidijus Kavaliauskas (20-0, 16 KOs), if Kavaliauskas can beat Nicaragua’s Roberto Arriaza (17-0, 13 KOs) in a WBO elimination match on the Maurice Hooker-Alex Saucedo undercard November 16 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Aside from Kavaliauskas, the promising welterweights Arum promotes – the Dominican Republic’s Carlos Adames (15-0, 12 KOs) and Russia’s Alexander Besputin (11-0, 9 KOs) – aren’t considered credible challengers for Crawford just yet. Adames also fights at 154 pounds, but can make welterweight, according to Arum.
Jose Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs), the popular WBC super lightweight champion Top Rank promotes, could eventually move up seven pounds to challenge Crawford. But beyond Kavaliauskas, who might become Crawford’s mandatory challenger, finding formidable, non-PBC opponents for Crawford will prove challenging for Top Rank.
Regardless, Crawford’s ESPN contract calls for him to make millions for even lower-profile fights. Boxing big underdogs won’t satisfy Crawford’s competitive spirit, but he’ll at least be compensated handsomely while awaiting the Spence fight.
Spence, meanwhile, could square off against the significantly smaller Garcia – a big underdog, but an undefeated four-division champion – and possibly Porter (29-2-1, 17 KOs), Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs, 1 NC) and whoever the IBF installs as his next mandatory challenger. If Spence can win those fights, that schedule could lead him into late 2020.
Crawford will be 33 by then, approaching the end of his physical prime. Spence would be 30.
The aforementioned factors likely are what caused Brian McIntyre, Crawford’s trainer and manager, to apply pressure on even his own promoter during a conference call before Crawford defeated previously unbeaten Jose Benavidez Jr. by 12th-round technical knockout October 13 in Omaha.
“Right now, the biggest name at the welterweight division for Terence is Errol Spence,” McIntyre said before referencing Top Rank president Todd duBoef. “So what we’ll do is, and I’m glad Todd is on this call, is just put the pressure on him. ESPN is the leader in sports. They want to be the leader in boxing, they’re gonna go out and make those fights happen. So that’s what Terence wants. They want Terence to be the No. 1 fighter in the world, so they must do their job, we do our job, Todd do his job and then the whole job is going to be done.”
Crawford knows he must defeat Spence to truly complete the job McIntyre mentioned.
How long it’ll take just to secure Crawford’s chance to beat Spence remains to be seen. Based on what we’ve seen and heard from both sides recently, though, it’ll take a lot longer than it should.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.