Shortly after 8:30 p.m. in Las Vegas, the last stragglers crossed the ropes. The lights went out, the noise escalated a few more notches, and the eyes of the world focused on two men and a ring. Inside, the eyes of Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford were locked on each other. Well, long.
They had waited six years for this – everyone else too. Now, nothing could separate the top two welterweights of that era. Nothing could separate them either. Or so we were told. Bud Crawford decided otherwise.
In the fight of his career, the 35-year-old put on a performance for the ages. It was brutal, it was brilliant. It was historic.
In nine rounds at T-Mobile Arena, Crawford gave the welterweight leader of the past half-decade an absolute beating. In the face of such controlled savagery, a bloodied Spence kicked the deck three times before being stopped on his feet.
He gave up his unbeaten record. He relinquished his WBA, WBC and IBF titles. With each passing turn, he also seemed to give away another part of his soul. The victory crowns Crawford as the undisputed welterweight champion. He is the first male fighter in history to clean two divisions, having already won it all at 140 pounds. But more than that, he might have established himself as the greatest fighter in the world.
Terence Crawford defeated Errol Spence in a one-sided fight in Las Vegas
Crawford celebrates with his belts after becoming undisputed welterweight champion
Crawford poses with his belts after a sensational performance the night in Vegas
A win like this, a performance like this could prove the spark that catapults Crawford to superstardom. Nobody in boxing needed to convince themselves that he was a special fighter. Now everyone might start noticing it. Maybe, just maybe, skills are enough to sell.
For Spence, meanwhile, tonight’s autopsy will be horrible. There will be questions about whether it was one fight too many at 147 pounds. About how much inactivity and injuries took from this great fighter. About the rematch – which he says he wants – is a good idea, even at 154 pounds. But these can wait for now.
Tonight is about Terence Crawford, who came to the ring flanked by Eminem, wrapped in a net, then delivered on his promise to skin boxing’s so-called “big fish.”
It was on New Year’s Day that Crawford sent Spence a simple message: It’s time to make history. The clocks had been ticking for half a decade by then. They have wound up another seven months since. But finally, after years of bluster and stalemates, this text proved to be the end of the beginning in their pursuit of each other – and immortality.
They freed themselves from dog handlers and hangers. They pick up the phone and set a date. It turned out that Spence and Crawford didn’t need anyone else. Only each other.
That sense of shared fate persisted throughout fight week in Las Vegas. Until Saturday night, when Crawford proved he was on his own.
At the opening bell, there was really only one checkbox: would the fight itself be effective? After all the delays. After all the postures and the mess. We didn’t have to worry.
Spence looked devastated by the outcome but really, he can’t complain about the outcome
It was a dominating display from Crawford and fellow American Spence was punished
Spence pictured crashing to the canvas at the mercy of Crawford during Round 7
Since 1986, not all welterweight belts had been up for grabs overnight. It was a mark of the size and importance of this fight. But also a dark illustration of mess boxing and its alphabetical bodies since that glorious decade of the four kings.
Luckily, we didn’t need any straps or penalty charges to know Spence and Crawford were No. 1 and No. 2 at 147 pounds. All we needed to find out? In which order. Few made their choice with much conviction; no one wanted to miss it.
Ringside was brimming with royalty – from boxing and beyond. Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Tommy Hearns, Deontay Wilder, Floyd Mayweather, Draymond Green, Chris Brown… they all came to see for themselves.
The answers came as electricity surged around this 20,000-seat arena. Until now, none of these fighters had ever come close to tasting defeat. Neither had faced anyone so good.
Crawford is used to getting his way in fights, so it’s no surprise that Spence – a fighter with great fundamentals and a terrific work rate – took center ring from the start.
The Texan fighter edged out the first by activity alone and he continued to push the pace early in the second round – knocking Crawford off and slashing his head and body.
Crawford was savoring crumbs of success on the counter and then, in a flash, he changed everything. Late in the second, Spence rushed forward with a shot to the body. Crawford responded with a left hand that grazed his target and followed it up with a right that landed flush.
Spence fell for the first time near the end of the second round of the fight
Spence hit the deck, Crawford supporters rose. The bell gave Spence a break and the Texan started the third round with a renewed goal. He tried to regain control. His only problem? Every time Crawford landed, Spence felt it. Everything was so calculated, so precise… vicious.
Towards the end of the fourth round, Spence was faltering once again. It doesn’t matter that he sometimes outshines Crawford. He just couldn’t make a dent on the 35-year-old. Meanwhile, each returning assault seemed to leave a mark and take away another fragment of Spence’s confidence.
Halfway through, it was so one-sided. By the end of the seventh lap, it was almost over. Spence again hit the deck twice – first from a beautiful counter right uppercut. And then, shortly before the bell, thanks to a vicious right hook.
At this point, he was surviving solely on pride and courage. It was never going to be enough in the face of such brilliance. On lap nine, another vicious barrage sent Spence faltering once again. He was only saved by the referee. Crawford jumped the ropes and propelled himself to the pinnacle of the sport.