Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. sizes up to be a classic welterweight battle

LAS VEGAS — Four of the Top 10 boxers in the world — Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Naoya Inoue and Stephen Fulton — will be in action this week. In a normal week in the 21st century, that would mean the boxers were competing in four separate bouts.

That’s not the case this week, though, luckily for boxing fans who for far too long have been overlooked, taken for granted and spoon-fed scraps. The week begins Tuesday with Inoue and Fulton, undefeated fighters with a long history of success, meeting in Tokyo for Fulton’s unified super bantamweight belts. It will conclude with what sizes up to be an epic match between Crawford and Spence, both undefeated fighters with claims to the welterweight crown, meeting for the undisputed belt here on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

It’s four elite boxers, in their primes, squaring off in the same week in significant bouts that also figure to be incredible matches.

For a while, the Crawford-Spence fight appeared to be on the way to becoming the modern version of Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao. From late 2009 through early 2015, the No. 1 question most boxing writers got was a simple one: Do you think Mayweather and Pacquiao will ever fight?

They finally did on May 2, 2015, in an extraordinary event that set a record for pay-per-view sales by generating more than $600 million in revenue. In 2023 dollars, that would be $770 million.

Crawford and Spence have been eyeing each other for years, and Crawford left Top Rank when his contract expired on Nov. 20, 2021, after defeating Shawn Porter, because he felt Top Rank was unable to make a deal with the Premier Boxing Champions for him to fight Spence.

Even after Crawford was free of Top Rank, though, the fight didn’t quickly get made. Spence fought Yordenis Ugas, not Crawford, on April 16, 2022. Crawford fought David Avanesyan, not Spence, on Dec. 10, 2022.

The traditional powers-that-be couldn’t get the fight made. So Crawford picked up the phone and spoke directly to Spence. They came to an agreement because they each wanted to fight the other.

“We couldn’t go by and not have this fight [occur],” Crawford told Yahoo Sports. “It meant too much for the both of us.”

The result is a battle that, on paper, ranks among the greatest welterweight matches in the sport’s history. The welterweight division has long been one of the sport’s glamour divisions, along with heavyweight and middleweight, and produced some of the most memorable fights ever.

Saturday's welterweight title bout between unbeaten champions Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford has been often compared to the 1981 classic between Thomas Hearns (left) and Sugar Ray Leonard (right). (The Associated Press)
Saturday's welterweight title bout between unbeaten champions Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford has been often compared to the 1981 classic between Thomas Hearns (left) and Sugar Ray Leonard (right). (The Associated Press)

In the last 50 years, there were welterweight fights, such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, Leonard versus Thomas Hearns, Leonard against Wilfred Benitez, Mayweather versus Pacquiao, Pernell Whitaker against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Whitaker against Oscar De La Hoya, De La Hoya against Shane Mosley, Mayweather facing Miguel Cotto and Cotto taking on Pacquiao.

Crawford and Spence fits perfectly into that group. Crawford, the WBO champion, is 39-0 with 30 KOs and is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by Yahoo Sports. Spence, who had been No. 5 by Yahoo Sports but was removed due to inactivity in May, is 28-0 with 22 KOs. He holds the IBF, WBA and WBC belts.

One of the things that makes the fight enticing is that, as good as both Crawford and Spence are, the likelihood that they’ll raise their games is high.

“There’s no doubt that both of these guys are going to raise their games to a whole other level,” Derrick James, Spence’s trainer, told Yahoo Sports. “They’ll be different fighters, I believe, by facing each other. To win, you can’t be like you were before, because these guys are facing an entirely different type of opponent. That’s true for Errol and it’s true for Crawford, as well. And so I think it’s going to be a spectacular fight because of that.”

Coming so closely on the heels of the super bantamweight title fight between Inoue, Yahoo Sports’ second-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, and Fulton, who is 10th, gives the sport’s long-suffering fans yet another reason to feel as if the tide is turning.

So many of the unification fights and high-level matches that in the past didn’t get made have gotten done in 2023.

With great new talent coming into the sport on a regular basis and fighters, promoters, managers and broadcasters working together to regularly make the best fights, the outlook for the sport is most definitely arrowed up.

Fighters tend to be cut off from the public during camp, but Spence said at a media workout last week that he’s hearing from his fans regularly, a sign of the interest in the bout.

“I’ve been feeling the buzz for this fight,” Spence said. “Anywhere I go, they’ve been asking me about this fight. I knew I had to make it happen. This is what everyone wanted. We have to prove who the man is in the welterweight division and in boxing. The winner of this fight is the best fighter in boxing, period.”