There’s greatness and then there’s Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford.
Tonight, they were one and the same as the Omaha, Nebraska native became an overnight superstar at 35 winning the biggest fight of his career and the most meaningful bout of 2023 by dismantling the last-man standing at welterweight, Errol Spence.
Crawford, the WBO champion, gathered Spence’s WBC, WBA and IBF straps with a dominant performance that underlined his brilliance and displayed a vast gap between the No. 1 welterweight in the world and the No. 2, who had, between them separated themselves from the remainder of the pack at 147.
Crawford, now 40-0 with 31 stoppages, said he was open to the rematch, despite his supremacy, and Spence said he wanted it in December, but that he hoped it would take place at 154lbs.
It would be easy to run out of superlatives for what the 35-year-old did here tonight. We knew Crawford was special, but we probably haven’t appreciated him as we should have over the years, but maybe that’s because he has still not been extended out of fourth gear.
Yet tonight was the culmination for him, the night he achieved the recognition he felt he’d had to fight for for too long, through boxing politics, against the establishment and any number of out of the ring adversaries.
“It means everything because of who I took the belts from,” Crawford said. “They tried to blackball me. They kept me out. They talked bad about me. They said I wasn’t good enough and I couldn’t beat these welterweights. I just kept my head to the sky and kept praying to God that I would get the opportunity to show the world how great Terence Crawford is. Tonight, I believe I showed how great I am.”
The T-Mobile was a tinderbox of anticipation before the opening bell. Firstly, Spence was rapped to the ring by BigXthaPlug with Texas. Then, Eminem appeared and escorted Crawford to the ring with Lose it causing the crowd to lose its collective mind.
The Las Vegas masses were split. Supposed 50/50 fight with 50/50 audience.
By 2-32 of the ninth, when referee Harvey Dock saved Spence from three more rounds of hurt, the crowd was filled with nothing but respect for both, acknowledging Spence’s guts, fortitude and courage and Crawford’s wondrous skills, his torturous jab and his overall excellence.
Performances like this do not happen overnight. Crawford has been boxing since he was nine-years-old to be this good on this night.
“Like I said before, I only dreamed of being a world champion,” said Crawford. “I’m an overachiever… I am so mixed with so many emotions, I can cry right now.”
The victor thanked Spence and his team, “because without him none of this would be possible,” and Crawford almost cracked emotionally when questioned by Jim Gray in the ring afterwards as he reflected on his journey to the pinnacle.
It all started okay for Spence. ‘Bud’ made his customary slow start; Spence bulled him to the ropes for a moment and was busy enough to take the first. The threat of violence loomed large.
But fully aware that he couldn’t allow Spence to get a foothold, Crawford flicked the switch in the second. Spence tried to cuff some left hands around Crawford’s high right hand, but Crawford fired off deterrents with whistling jabs that were absolutely statements of intent. Then, building from that foundation, Crawford crashed in a short left with Spence caught out of position and a clipping right caused Spence to spill to the canvas and onto the seat of his trunks for the first time in his career.
The crowd went berserk. It had not been a huge shot but Spence looked shaken. So much for the slow start!
Spence tried to get physical in the third, attempting to work the body with both hands but Crawford’s educated double jab was wonderful at easing the pressure, the first was a warning, the second was an attack, and sometimes Spence’s low right invited abuse from Crawford’s lead hand.
Crawford, by the way, fought the entire time as a southpaw, and Spence might have felt he had steadied the ship in the fourth. The drama was riveting. The crowd whooped and hummed in anticipation.
Floyd Mayweather smiled at ringside. This was the good stuff.
Again, Crawford pinged his man through the fourth. A straight left was chased behind with a left uppercut. Spence tried to swing an overhand left back in reply but it only crashed partially off Crawford’s gloves.
Crawford’s jab was not the only difference maker, but Spence could do nothing to stop it. It was everything it needed to be; vicious, effective, masterful.
If ever it was important to show an up-and-coming fighter the importance of drilling the fundamentals, Crawford’s right hand possessed wand-like qualities. It danced, it mesmerised and ultimately it punished and dictated.
The worry for Spence ran deeper than that, however. Crawford not only had the faster hands, but he had the timing of Errol, too.
This week, Crawford said warned he was going to take a metaphorical belt to Spence to which the Texan had said he wasn’t one of Crawford’s kids. But Crawford was taking him to school through four rounds and in the fifth Spence couldn’t get out of the way of Crawford’s quicksilver gloves.
Spence made repeated attempts to work the body, trying to slow Crawford’s perpetual motion, but Crawford was imperious, boxing with an unflinching arrogance knowing this was destiny.
Spence was running out of track. Each time he tried to close the gap, he ate punches on the way in and Crawford was not slowing. Not only that, there was an increasing swagger to Crawford’s work.
Derrick James was animated trying to get his message through to Spence before the sixth but the Texan was losing his shape, falling short with jabs and struggling to get any kind of purchase in the fight.
Spence still tried to grind away in the basement in the sixth, as advertised, but a Crawford left-handed hammer earned gasps from the 19,990 at the T-Mobile in attendance and while Spence tried desperately to go the attractional route, Crawford was too sophisticated and too good to entertain those ideas.
One wondered early in the seventh if Spence had it in him to keep churning forwards, largely unsuccessfully, while getting repeatedly picked off, and then he really started to unravel. A right uppercut caused Spence’s legs to dip and as he began to crumple a second right forced him to the canvas once more.
Errol’s face was red and lumpy, his big, wide eyes were closing. The crowd was ready to blow but the life and fight was being sucked out of ‘The Truth’ before their eyes and Spence was then whipped into the ropes and on the deck by a picture-perfect right hook that will echo through the annals of welterweight history.
Inevitability greeted Spence in the eighth. He’d been down three times and his disappointingly one-dimensional approach had him looking bang out of solutions.
There had been respect before, but Crawford had put manners on him. Terence was like a lone gunman in a firing squad waiting for his moment in the eighth. His sickening jab again forced Spence to consider what distance he chose to fight at and before the ninth, Spence’s corner must have felt like they had some tough questions to answer about whether the contest should go on.
Spence re-emerged, a shell of what had started out with so much drive and ambition eight rounds earlier. Now he was guided by hope and prayer, but they were not enough.
Spence continued to take his lumps. He had not won a round from the first and he had not been able to keep Crawford off him. Spence still tried to get busy downstairs but Crawford’s jab was as good as anything you’ll see in the sport today, now, or if you choose to look back through to the icons who boxed in black and white decades ago.
The Nebraskan wizard was measuring Spence up and down. Then, suddenly but with unerring precision, Crawford seemed to unlock Spence. Crawford burst through with a series of blows from both gloves with blurring and decisive accuracy. Spence, trying to squirm out of the way any how he could, just could not avoid them. He was rocked this way and that and referee Harvey Dock leapt between them to call off the mauling.
It was all over and it could have hardly been more definitive.
It also immediately begged the question about whether the contracted rematch is necessary. Crawford said he was already a Hall of Famer, which was true. He is not simply the best fighter in the world today, he is an all-time great and, at 35, just delivered his most magnificent best yet.
“He was just throwing the hard jab,” conceded Spence. “He was timing with his jab. His timing was just on point. I wasn’t surprised by his speed or his accuracy. It was everything I thought.”
Then, rather optimistically, Spence added: “We gotta do it again. I’m going to be a lot better. It’ll be a lot closer. It’ll probably be in December and the end of the year. I say we gotta do it again. Hopefully, it will happen 154.”
“It was a good stoppage,” Crawford explained of the ninth-round climax. “I was on the verge of coming back with some hard shots. Everybody knows I’m a great finisher. The ref did what he was supposed to do to protect the fighter.”
Crawford is a great finisher and a great fighter. This was the night that his name joined the immortals, the night Crawford put his name up alongside those of Sugars Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Pernell Whitaker, Henry Armstrong and Manny Pacquiao.
Terence Crawford has now been undisputed in two weight classes. More accolades await, but the queue to face him might be pretty short, and the queue of those capable of challenging him is even shorter.