While boxing aficionados are pumped for clash to define the best fighter on the planet, it has failed to cut through without a viral moment
For a mega-contest deemed ‘Fight of the Year’ in boxing circles, pitching Terence Crawford against Errol Spence for all the world titles at 10st 7lbs with the winner arguably becoming the top fighter on the planet, Saturday night’s big event has had little crossover into the mainstream.
In Las Vegas, in something of a microcosm, and amongst boxing’s chattering classes, it is an unmissable event. But times have changed. It’s all about viral moments, the rise of the YouTubers, attention-grabbing, a press conference brawl.
Without it, events seem to simmer, rather than boil, yet fight aficionados have waited a few years for this pugilistic chess match between two masters of their craft, Crawford from Omaha, Nebraska, Spence from Long Island, New York.
Momentum for fight events – like so many facets of life today, perhaps – seems to grow and garner widespread coverage from a viral moment, rather than an appreciation of the aesthetics. We have not had ‘that moment’ for Crawford versus Spence, and it is not as if they do not have extraordinary tales to tell: they both have narrative arcs worthy of Hollywood blockbusters.
Truth is, though, neither man is capable of shouting from the rooftops. It is just not in them. But this is a monumental fight. Truly.
Indeed, on Tuesday, a similar thing happened in Tokyo. Naoya Inoue, known as “The Monster” for his aggressive nous, freakish power and knocking out of 22 of his 25 victims, climbed into a fourth weight division (from 108lbs to 122lbs) defeating not just a world champion, but the very best. He stopped undefeated American Stephen Fulton.
Widely known and loved in Japan, there is little rising sun for Inoue in the west. There was acclaim, but not on the level he merits. Arguably, Inoue is at the head of the pound-for-pound debate until a winner is decided on Saturday night.
Crawford and Spence pick up purses of millions of dollars for their contest, but in pay-per-view terms, it is unlikely to match the biggest fight of the year so far in the USA when Ryan Garcia and Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis fought, with plenty of beef between them and noise around it. The two lightweights inhabit a terrific division, which includes two other great Americans, Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson. The latter is on a journey to becoming the best boxer in the sport.
Khan, Brook and Burns could not touch Crawford
But back to Garcia versus Davis. It produced a body-stoppage victory for Davis over Garcia, and the biggest per-per-view buys of the year – believed to be 750,000 – and notably because of the pre-fight ‘in-yer-face’ trash talk, and Garcia having one of the largest social media profiles of an active boxer in the sport with 10.3 million followers on Instagram. Davis has 5.8 million followers himself.
Crawford versus Spence, though, once the first bell calls them to action, should thrill. Both undefeated, both in their prime, yet it is still one of those fights that “woulda shoulda coulda” happened as far back as 2019. Both fighters are known to the British audience.
Crawford has come up three weight divisions – lightweight, light-welterweight and now welterweight – showing his class at lightweight against Ricky Burns in Glasgow in 2014, and against Amir Khan and Kell Brook at welterweight. None of them touched him.
Now 35, Crawford has been a welterweight world champion since 2018 and has stopped all seven of his victims at the weight.
Spence, who is 33 and holds three of the world titles at 147lbs, defeated Brook at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 2017 and broke the Briton’s orbital socket. It is not as if British boxing fans are unaware of the pair. Those who know their boxing are sure to watch this, but it has not “crossed over” as we now say.
Vegas has hosted the pair, giving them a platform this week. There has been neither screaming nor shouting, nor threats. Just good ol’ fashioned boxing talk. And less of the gaudy salesmanship. It is arguably the biggest fight in America since Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez fought Gennady Golovkin, and harks back to momentous events like Oscar de la Hoya against Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Not on the same scale in gross revenue, but right up there in boxing terms.
They may fight again after this. There could even be a trilogy. I am going for a split draw, or a narrow victory for Crawford by dint of his versatility, adaptability and a fighting IQ that allows him to work out his opponents in the first few rounds of the dance. Yet Spence, the naturally bigger man, has shown no signs of weakness. And if this fight lives up to expectation – or there is controversy – it will be bigger the second time around. It was always thus.