Errol Spence, Terence Crawford join cast of thousands contributing to boxing’s fall from grace

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 05: (L-R)  Errol Spence Jr. after a unanimous decision against Danny Garcia during their WBC & IBF World Welterweight Championship fight at AT&T Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Errol Spence Jr. celebrates after a unanimous decision win against Danny Garcia on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After Terence Crawford knocked out Kell Brook in Las Vegas on Nov. 14, he was asked if he’d call out Errol Spence Jr. He replied by saying it was the media’s job to call for the fight.

On Saturday, after Spence soothed any fears that his Oct. 10, 2019, auto accident may have stolen his greatness by routing Danny Garcia to successfully defend his WBC and IBF welterweight titles, he declined to mention Crawford’s name in his post-fight interview and wasn’t pressed on it.

My mind drifted to Nov. 9, 1982, when boxing still mattered in this country, and ABC broadcast an event from Baltimore in which the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard was going to call out the fearsome middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Ever the showman, Leonard played the moment for all its worth. With Hagler in the ring expecting to hear he’d get the fight, Leonard said, “A fight with this great man, with this great champion, would be one of the greatest fights in history.”

It seemed that the hopes of millions of fans were about to be realized. But after a dramatic pause, Leonard added, “Unfortunately, it’ll never happen.”

Now, a little more than 38 years later, boxing finds itself in exactly the same spot. Except that it is vastly different than it was in 1982. Major boxing was a staple on network television then; it is hardly that now.

Star fighters like Leonard, Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Ray Mancini and scores of others were household names, well known among mainstream sports fans.

That doesn’t exist any more. WBA welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao may well be the only mainstream crossover star in the sport.

At its best, boxing is a spine-tingling sport that attracts the world’s attention. In 1982 in Leonard’s heyday, major fights happened once or twice a month. Now, they happen once or twice every five years.

You have to really love the sport to try to follow it. For as great as he was, Floyd Mayweather really hurt boxing by holding out on the fight with Pacquiao so long. The fight was massive when it occurred, but in the six years from the time it was first mentioned to the night they finally stepped in the ring, an entire generation of fans left the sport.

Spence came back in a good fight against Garcia that, truth be told, should have been broadcast live on Fox. It was outrageously priced at $74.95 and gave you precious little on the undercard.

If you want to build the sport, you have to take a long-term view. And the way to do that is to consistently surprise the public.

Imagine if this were 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980, when boxers didn’t use social media to manipulate the public and they actually wanted to fight the best fights as soon as possible. The moment the bell rang to end Spence-Garcia on Saturday, Crawford would have been in the ring hyping a fight with Spence that was to come next.

But the Premier Boxing Champions barely mentioned Crawford, who is promoted by Top Rank, on the broadcast. Shortly before Garcia made the walk to the ring, a narrator said that Spence versus Garcia “is simply the best versus the best.”

Crawford is No. 2 pound-for-pound on the Yahoo Sports list. Spence is No. 4. Crawford is No. 1, according to ESPN and Spence is No. 4. And according to The Ring, Crawford is No. 3 and Spence is No. 5. None of the three ranked Garcia in the Top 10.

But the PBC had the temerity to call Spence-Garcia the best versus the best and all but act like Crawford didn’t exist.

Crawford hurts his own cause by having this bizarre idea that it’s not his job to call out opponents. If you want to fight the best, if you want to make the most money, then that is exactly what you do. You take every opportunity when you have the bully pulpit to scream to the heavens what you want.

Spence is the same way. He doesn’t want to come back until the summer, and he refused to mention either Crawford or Manny Pacquiao as potential opponents. That might have flown 40 or 50 years ago when a large portion of the public knew who the fighters were, but those days are long, long, long gone.

Spence looked brilliant Saturday, using his jab and a dogged body attack to wear down Garcia. He won by scores of 116-112 twice and 117-111.

Crawford was no less brilliant against Brook last month.

Despite the progress that has been made with the PBC and Top Rank working with each other, they still operate largely in parallel. Anyone who knows the sport sadly understands that there is almost no chance that Spence-Crawford gets made soon.

Crawford is in a dispute with Top Rank’s Bob Arum, and if he breaks free of the contract, that could change things.

But the bottom line is, no one ever looks to do what is right for the sport.

The fighters, the managers, the promoters and the television announcers all have to buy in on this.

The fighters need to speak up and seek out the best challengers.

The managers can’t be so worried about protecting their investment in a boxer that they accept zero risk and only want gimme fights.

The promoters need to work with each other at all times, and not only when it’s convenient. And they need to commit to putting fights on the biggest platforms and abolishing PPV for all but the most massive of fights.

The TV announcers need to quit being such massive homers and speak truth to power. Sadly, it now seems though that the way the announcers will describe you — and I’m mainly talking about the play-by-play guys here — depends on whether a boxer fights for the network they work for.

The public needs to demand more. It’s largely rejecting these bloated, overpriced pay-per-view shows. What is going to happen with this one is that the PPV will sell around 200,000, maybe 225,000, and someone will leak to a reporter that it was 300,000 or 325,000.

They think that will create an illusion of health in an industry that is dying on the vine.

There are many great fighters in boxing, Spence and Crawford chief among them. But they’re bit players on the major stage now. We celebrated when the lightweight unification fight in October between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez peaked at 3 million on ESPN; we forget that in 1978, Muhammad Ali’s rematch with Leon Spinks on ABC drew 93 million.

I think if you added up the viewership of, say, Spence, all of his fights combined wouldn’t hit 93 million. Ali did it in one night.

It’s evidence of how far boxing has fallen.

Something drastic needs to happen, and soon, or it’s going to be irreversibly damaged, if it hasn’t been already.

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