LAS VEGAS — This, without hyperbole, was one of the greatest weeks for the frequently maligned sport of boxing in the last 50 years, if not longer.
And Terence Crawford’s ninth-round TKO victory Saturday over Errol Spence Jr. for the undisputed welterweight title before 19,980 fortunate fans at T-Mobile Arena ranks among the greatest performances in a huge fight ever.
Yes, that’s considering anything that Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns ever did, particularly considering the quality of the opponent, the stakes and the sheer ferocity that Crawford showed in taking Spence apart.
Yes, that includes anything that Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest boxer who ever drew a breath, ever did.
And it includes whatever big fight or famous fighter you want to name.
Yes, it was on par with Mike Tyson’s 91-second destruction of Michael Spinks for the undisputed heavyweight title in 1988. Yes, it ranks there with Mayweather’s domination of Diego Corrales in their super featherweight bout in 2001, when Mayweather dropped Corrales five times and stopped him in the 10th.
“I swear, I swear, I have said this before, but I’ve always dreamed of being a world champion,” said Crawford, who improved to 40-0 and became the first male boxer in the four-belt era to be undisputed in two weight classes. “I’m an overachiever. Nobody believed in me when I was coming up.”
There were those who didn’t believe in him going into the fight with Spence. The narrative from those was old and tired, that Spence was too big, too strong and had too much of a jab for a guy who used to be a lightweight to handle.
Crawford, though, performed like the all-time great he proved himself to be. He raised his game to a level that Spence couldn’t come close to matching. Crawford dropped Spence three times, once in the second and twice in the seventh.
Spence’s face was a mass of welts and bruises, and was barely recognizable when the fight ended.
It was a result of a master class from the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world — Sorry, Naoya Inoue — who put together the best performance of his life.
In the ring afterward, Spence was sanguine about the result because he’d been beaten so convincingly, so thoroughly and so comprehensively. How could one be upset losing to one of the greatest fighters ever?
“He was the better man tonight,” Spence said. “ … I couldn’t take his jab. My timing was a little bit off and he was catching me in between shots. He was the better man tonight. I make no excuses.”
The week began with Inoue, the former undisputed bantamweight champion, moving up to face unbeaten unified super bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton. Much like Crawford did on Saturday, Inoue was frighteningly good Tuesday, a terrifying combination of speed and power and he stopped Fulton in the eighth round.
Crawford saw that and saw that many were saying Inoue was the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world regardless of what happened in the fight with Spence. Crawford answered in the best way possible, by dominating Spence in every phase and punching his Hall of Fame ticket with a victory that was one for the ages.
Whenever they talk about spectacular performances in big situations, Crawford’s name will always come up.
All three judges gave Spence the first round Saturday as Crawford, a slow starter on his best day, moved around, poked and prodded in an information-gathering three-minutes in order to see what he was up against.
Crawford took over in the second and never removed his foot from the gas. It was a jaw-dropping performance by a proud man who has long sought recognition for what we can now say are his other-worldly skills.
He dropped Spence with a left hand and then a short, hard, precisely placed right in what was a sign of what was to come for Spence, the amiable Texan.
“That first knockdown was more of a flash knockdown,” Crawford said. “I caught him with a left and he didn’t think I was coming back with the right.”
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Crawford tore Spence apart in Rounds 3 through 6 and Spence somehow managed to keep his feet. He had no such luck in the seventh.
In the corner in the seventh, Crawford caught Spence with a blistering uppercut and then landed a right to the ear. Spence collapsed in big trouble, and only someone with the huge championship heart and competitiveness he possesses would drag himself off the canvas.
He did only to be dropped again, and if truth be told, it should have been stopped at that point. Crawford landed two rights to the ear and it was obvious Spence was finished. He had no chance to win, and allowing the fight to continue only subjected him to more punishment.
“I’m a great finisher,” Crawford said in one of the night’s biggest understatements.
Crawford landed 50.1 percent of his punches — 185 of 369 — and most of them were perfectly placed and thrown with bad intentions.
Spence only landed 96 punches out of the 480 he threw. Instead of showing his potent left hand, most of what Spence threw were weak jabs from range that never threatened Crawford.
Spence said he felt fine and was able to see despite the lumps and bumps covering his face.
“I felt good and I felt I could do enough to win the fight,” said Spence, who said he’d want to rematch at 154 pounds. “I’m not here to make excuses. I’m a grown man. I agreed to the weight and I did what I could.”
Crawford put himself into the history books, the record books and whatever kind of books they write about brilliant performances in the most important situations.
He’s the best fighter in the world and he performed like it Saturday against a guy who is brilliant himself. This wasn't a pummeling of a C-level opponent. It was taking apart a superstar and a future Hall of Famer.
Crawford repeatedly thanked God and said his emotions were getting the best of him.
“I’m so mixed with so many emotions, I could cry right now,” Crawford said.
Spence said he’s a lot better than he showed, and he is, but Crawford is way better than he’d ever shown previously.
That was a performance for the ages.