Spence vs. Crawford: An all-time great fight in the making

LAS VEGAS — Every year, the month of May is a treat for racing fans around the world. The Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coca-Cola 600 are held on the same day. A near equivalent of that is taking place this week in boxing. Four of the best boxers in the world — Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford, Naoya Inoue, and Stephen Fulton —, all undefeated, will be in the ring this week.

Typically, this sort of talk would be accompanied by disappointment. For instance, the best fighters in the world are fighting this week but not against each other. Boo hoo. Boxing, however, has made an incredible resurgence in 2023, and this week is very much like a Monaco Grand Prix or an Indy 500 for boxing fans.

On Tuesday, Inoue will attempt to become a four-division world champion when he challenges Fulton in Tokyo for his unified 122-pound world titles. The week will conclude with the sport’s most anticipated, long-awaited undisputed welterweight championship showdown between Spence and Crawford, two unbeaten, world-class fighters going for all of the marbles here on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

These are four of the top-pound-for-pound fighters in the world going up against each other in a rare, incredible opportunity to bring boxing back into the spotlight. There have been a few big fights over the last two decades. However, many failed to provide the boost that boxing has desperately needed. Instead, some were dull, tactical affairs ending in controversial outcomes. It happened in the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad, the first bout between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, and the first fight pinning Canelo Alvarez against Gennadiy Golovkin.

While Floyd Mayweather’s win over Oscar De La Hoya in May 2007 was the sport’s most lucrative bout until 2015, when Mayweather-Pacquiao surpassed the all-time mark, the fight lacked excitement. It was a financial blockbuster, generating approximately $136 million in revenue from an estimated 2.45 million buys and over $19 million in ticket sales. However, fans left wanting more.

The chances of Inoue-Fulton and Spence-Crawford unraveling into boring fights are slim to none. Inoue is one of the finest technicians in the sport, combining timing and speed with power and a ferocious body attack. Fulton, on the other hand, is an underrated fighter. While he doesn’t have the power of Inoue, he has demonstrated great boxing abilities and is a solid counter puncher.

Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) vs. Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) is about 50-50 a matchup as you can ask for. Fans have been clamoring for the fight for about six years. The traditional powers were unable to get the job done, so Crawford called Spence. After another prolonged negotiation, both fighters finally agreed because they badly wanted to prove to one another who is truly the better fighter.

On paper, Spence-Crawford ranks among the most significant welterweight bouts in boxing history. The 147-pound division has a long and storied history, but we haven’t seen a prime vs. prime welterweight title clash in close to 30 years.

This fight won’t save boxing, and it won’t destroy it. But given we have two elite talents in their primes with supreme power and that the eyes of the sports world are focused on boxing yet again this year, it would seem this clash could only end in a net gain, unless it ends in a nightmare scenario, a dreadful controversial decision.

Fans have all become accustomed to terrible endings, and it’s a shame. They want to see drama that will resonate and be talked about for years to come, like Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler or, perhaps more representatively, Leonard against Thomas Hearns.

Chances are we’ll have a clear and conclusive winner on July 29.

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