Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. carves out a classic welterweight battle

IBF-WBA-WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence and WBO champion Terence Crawford pose with their belts before their fight Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.  (Ryan Hafey/first boxing champions)

IBF-WBA-WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. and WBO champion Terence Crawford pose with their belts before their fight Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Ryan Hafey/first boxing champions)

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 faced each other in four separate bouts.

That’s not the case this week, fortunately for boxing fans who have too long been overlooked, taken for granted and spoon-fed. 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 culminate in what could be an epic match between Crawford and Spence, two unbeaten contenders for the welterweight crown, meeting for the undisputed belt here on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

These are four elite boxers, in their primes, who face off in the same week in important fights that also turn out to be incredible matches.

For a while, the Crawford-Spence fight looked set to become the modern day version of Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. From late 2009 to early 2015, the number 1 question most boxing writers asked themselves was simple: do you think Mayweather and Pacquiao will ever fight?

They finally did on May 2, 2015, in an extraordinary event that set a pay-per-view sales record by generating over $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 November 20, 2021, after defeating Shawn Porter, as he felt Top Rank were unable to reach a deal with the Premier Boxing Champions for him to fight Spence.

Even after Crawford was released from Top Rank, the fight did not go quickly. Spence fought Yordenis Ugas, not Crawford, on April 16, 2022. Crawford fought David Avanesyan, not Spence, on December 10, 2022.

Traditional powers could not lead the fight. 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 pass and not have this fight [occur]”, Crawford told Yahoo Sports. “It meant too much to both of us.”

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

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

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

Over the past 50 years there have been welterweight fights, such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, Leonard versus Thomas Hearns, Leonard versus Wilfred Benitez, Mayweather versus Pacquiao, Pernell Whitaker versus Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Whitaker versus Oscar De La Hoya, De La Hoya versus Shane Mosley, Mayweather versus Miguel Cotto, and Cotto versus Pacquiao.

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

One of the things that makes the fight attractive is that, as good as Crawford and Spence are, the likelihood of them stepping up their game is high.

“There’s no doubt that these two guys are going to take their game to a whole new level,” Spence’s coach Derrick James told Yahoo Sports. “They will be different fighters, I believe, facing each other. To win you can’t be like before because these guys are facing a whole different type of opponent. It’s true for Errol and it’s also true for Crawford. And so I think it’s going to be a spectacular fight because of that.

Coming so close on the heels of the super bantamweight title fight between Inoue, Yahoo Sports’ second pound-for-pound fighter, and Fulton, who is 10th, gives fans of the sport one more reason to feel like the tide is turning.

So many unification fights and high profile matches that didn’t happen in the past have been made in 2023.

With big new talent entering the sport regularly and fighters, promoters, managers and broadcasters working together to consistently make the best fights, the outlook for the sport is definitely on the rise.

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

“I felt the buzz for this fight,” Spence said. “Everywhere I go they ask me about this fight. I knew I had to get there. That’s 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.

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