When Floyd Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015, even though that fight happened way past when it should have, I don’t think the public’s interest in seeing it had waned. Both were also active – even though they weren’t fighting each other – and were involved in big fights outside of against each other.
Terence Crawford-Errol Spence, in contrast, has lost some some of his lustre – because it’s been delayed. We thought we were getting it last year, and we didn’t; it was only recently we learned that it was likely to happen soon; some are still wondering if it’s going to happen at all. All of those in combination have contributed to changing the public’s perception of Crawford-Spence, so in the context of historical importance it’s difficult to compare it to Mayweather-Pacquiao.
It would be hard to argue both fighters aren’t past their peaks, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still be a great fight – if two fighters are equally past their peaks you’ve got an even fight. Spence has had two major car accidents – one of them life-threatening – and has suffered a torn retina, which is an injury that threatens careers. He’s not the fighter he was.
Crawford, at 35, is two years older than Spence, hasn’t been as active as Spence – especially at the highest level – and has had more trouble in fights than Spence has. Egis Kavaliauskas troubled him; Shawn Porter had the edge before being stopped. If they have diminished, I’d argue they have diminished equally, meaning theirs remains a very good match-up.
Before the first of Spence’s car accidents was when this fight would have been at its highest level – back then, in 2019, Spence would also have been the considerable favourite. He was the natural welterweight, and Crawford hadn’t yet fully grown into the 147lbs division.
They’re fighting this summer because if they didn’t fight this summer, they never would. We’re also in an era when fighters are attempting to take charge and make fights themselves. Both fighters – Crawford probably more so, given unlike Spence he’s not working with a legacy promotion – took it upon themselves to try to make this fight.
Both have always wanted this fight – they’re both warriors. Anyone accusing them of ducking each other doesn’t recognise that fighters make the most money when they fight the biggest, baddest opponents. At the highest level there are very, very few occasions when fighters duck fights – the fighters there are looking for legacy fights and life-changing money. Both of these have always wanted this fight – but there’s been a lot of outside influences.
Already this year we’ve had Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney-Vasyl Lomachenko (below), and have Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue and Crawford-Spence still to come. Though Davis is a fantastic, established fighter, Garcia is so unproven at the highest level – he didn’t belong in that fight, and it showed, despite how commercially successful and dramatic it was.
Haney-Lomachenko was a really, really enjoyable fight, because of how competitive it was, and how technically gifted they both are. They were also, unlike Davis and Garcia, at the very top of the lightweight division.
Crawford-Spence, in the context of the welterweight division, has similar significance. They’re universally ranked in the top five, pound-for-pound. Fulton and Inoue is close to a fight between fighters in different weight classes, but it’s still a mega fight, and still has pound-for-pound implications. Davis-Garcia, though it attracted a lot of attention, is the only one of the four that didn’t, but Crawford-Spence is the biggest and most competitive of them all.
Spence’s long-term trainer Derrick James has also since been recruited by Garcia, not long after working with Anthony Joshua for the first time – but his busy schedule needn’t be a concern for Spence. He’s been with Spence for such a long time – he’s his leading fighter, and this is a legacy fight for both of their careers. He’s very aware of the magnitude of this fight, how dangerous Crawford is, and therefore that Spence needs to be in great condition.
Until recently I continued to consider Spence the favourite, but in June 2023, when Crawford’s a convincing welterweight – he has a 100 per cent knockout record at 147lbs for a reason – it’s a true 50-50 fight. Spence is a huge welterweight – physically, the strongest I’ve been in the ring with – and that might still prove important. If the best versions of both fighters showed up, Spence would have the edge, but after injuries like those he’s had that version isn’t going to be seen again.
The second of those two car accidents also continues to trouble me. It was treated like it wasn’t a big deal, and yet he pulled out of a fight date because of non-specific reasons related to that accident, which makes it difficult not to wonder about that accident’s significance as well.