Mike Coppinger and Ben Baby break down a historic night of boxing as two fighters leave Las Vegas with new belts around their waists.
LAS VEGAS — For years, Terence Crawford told anyone within earshot just how damn good he was. The problem? Crawford couldn’t lure the necessary opponents into the ring to prove it.
So he shouted from the mountaintop that he was the best in the world and called out every fighter under the sun.
As is often the case in boxing, politics stood in the way. For much of his welterweight reign, Crawford was signed with Top Rank while Errol Spence Jr. was with PBC, rival companies rarely doing business with each other. When Crawford (40-0, 31 KOs) became a free agent after his TKO victory over Shawn Porter in November 2021, the “side of the street” argument echoed by many fighters no longer applied.
And when they finally met in the ring on Saturday, Crawford proved to be no rival to Spence (28-1, 22 KOs) at all. He picked him apart round after round with his laser-like southpaw jab and slicing right hooks. The 35-year-old punched between Spence’s attacks, carving up the bigger man like Crawford had done so many times before. Crawford dropped Spence in Round 2 and twice more in Round 7 before he stopped him on his feet in the ninth of a one-sided beatdown.
Crawford proved to be not just the best welterweight in the world, but an all-time great and entered himself into a virtual deadlock with Naoya Inoue for pound-for-pound supremacy.
“They tried to blackball me. They kept me out,” said Crawford, who fights out of Omaha, Nebraska. “They talked bad about me. They said I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t beat these top welterweights, and I just kept my head to the sky, and I kept praying to God that I would get the opportunity to show the world who Terence Crawford is.
“And tonight, I believe I showed how great I am.”
Indeed Crawford did, and now he could look toward another fight with Spence, even if the bout wasn’t remotely competitive.
The deal contained a bidirectional rematch clause, and Spence will have 30 days to exercise his right to an immediate rematch slated to occur before the year ends. The caveat: The winner selects if the rematch takes place at 147 pounds, as Saturday’s fight did, or Spence’s preferred 154.
“Hell yeah, we got to do it again,” said Spence, ESPN’s No. 2 welterweight and No. 4 pound-for-pound boxer. “I’m going to be a lot better, it’s going to be a lot closer.”
“He was the better man tonight,” he added. “He was using his jab, and my timing was a little bit off. He was catching me in between shots. … I make no excuses.”
Spence, 33, would be hard-pressed to perform worse, and it’s not a rematch fans are immediately calling for after Saturday’s action. Given what was on display, the result of a second bout between Crawford and Spence could be a mere formality.
Stephen A.: Terence Crawford is the best in the world right now
Stephen A. Smith tabs Terence Crawford as the best pound-for-pound fighter after his win over Errol Spence Jr.
Crawford proved to be levels above Spence, and there might not be anyone around Crawford’s weight who can test him. “Bud” is a peerless fighter who will probably have to move up in weight to meet a genuine challenge.
He only increased his power as he climbed from 135 to 140 and now 147, scoring eight wins inside the distance in eight fights. And against his best opponent — by far — Crawford found another level, raising his game to match his foe.
If Crawford remains at 147 pounds, the most attractive fight is easily a matchup with Jaron “Boots” Ennis, who’s impressed against solid yet unspectacular opposition. At 154 pounds, Crawford could fight Tim Tszyu, the punishing pressure fighter who is a star in Australia and the son of Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu. And there’s also the possibility of a bout with Jermell Charlo, the undisputed 154-pound champion who will meet Canelo Alvarez for all four 168-pound belts on Sept. 30.
But first up is probably Spence, who owns the right to a rematch if he wants it. They will both rake in career-high paydays when it’s all said and done, and they elevated each other — and the sport — by delivering the long-awaited fight.
While it took the two of them to get together and make the fight happen, only Crawford can now continue to tell everyone just how great he is and more. And this time, he has the signature win to back it up. — Coppinger
Santiago denies Donaire, but legacy is set regardless
Nonito Donaire had a chance to win another belt and add another note to a legendary career on Saturday night, but the 40-year-old couldn’t handle the speed and punch variety from Alexandro Santiago. Thirteen months after Naoya Inoue steamrolled him, Donaire couldn’t hold off Santiago, who grew in confidence as the fight went deeper and took control.
Santiago earned the WBC bantamweight belt with the unanimous decision, sending Donaire’s storied career to a very unfamiliar place.
Now the big question: Is this the end of the road for Donaire’s career? The future Hall of Famer has now lost his past two bouts. In his postfight interview, Donaire (42-8, 28 KOs) didn’t directly say that he was calling it quits, but it sure sounded like Donaire was saying goodbye, especially when he thanked his longtime manager, Richard Schaefer.
Donaire said his wife and trainer, Rachel, would assess his career after the loss to Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs). Given how Donaire has looked of late — especially how he faded toward the end of Saturday’s bout — it might be time for Donaire to end his 22-year run as a pro and look forward to his induction in Canastota. — Baby
Showcase fight for Cruz doesn’t deliver as expected
Even though Isaac Cruz delivered as a massive favorite and cruised against Giovanni Cabrera — at least in my opinion — there are still serious questions about Cruz’s ceiling.
In his win over Yuriokis Gamboa in April, Gamboa outboxed Cruz but ultimately was well over the hill and couldn’t withstand Cruz’s pressure. Cruz’s game as a pressure fighter is very straightforward. In other weight classes, that might be a recipe for success, but at lightweight, where there are so many skilled technical fighters, simply walking down and throwing punches isn’t a recipe for winning a belt.
Those clamoring for a rematch between Gervonta “Tank” Davis and “Pitbull” Cruz should take a closer look at both men. Davis is known for his power but is an excellent overall boxer. Cruz has some power but not enough to compensate for his other deficiencies. If Cruz wants to be a champion at 135 pounds, he needs to add more dimensions to his game.
The fact Cruz didn’t get a unanimous decision only underscores the notion that he still has plenty of work to do if he wants to be considered one of the world’s top lightweights. — Baby