The bigger picture, though – a clearer image of what this fight means and where it sits within Sin City’s slot machine of short attention spans – could be found a couple of miles north of T-Mobile Arena. At a blackjack table late on Thursday night.
There, to the dealer’s right, sat a middle-aged man. He had just flown in from England. He had bought a fight ticket for several thousand dollars. He was now trying – and failing – to recoup some of that investment. A few seats away? A young couple – both American, both unaware that Spence vs Crawford was even taking place. It all felt rather fitting.
Among boxing’s base, this is a fight of enormous value. One worth waiting for, even breaking the bank for. The two finest welterweights of this era – unbeaten over a combined 67 fights – meeting at long last. Best vs the best. Everything on the line. Nights like this don’t come around very often.
Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford meet in a huge fight at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday
Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson were among the boxing legends at Friday’s weigh-in
Hence why fighting royalty, including Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr, have descended on Las Vegas. They were among the thousands who piled in for Friday’s weigh-in. Fans had queued in 100-plus degree heat. Then, as Spence and Crawford stared each other down, the arena reached boiling point, too.
‘This is what us high-class fighters deserve,’ Bud said. He’s right. Outside, though, beyond boxing’s shrinking bubble? Barely a ripple.
Nothing, certainly, on fights of yesteryear such as Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. This is arguably the most anticipated match-up in the eight years since.
It caps a glorious week, which began with Naoya Inoue’s masterful destruction of Stephen Fulton in Japan. It represents another tie that binds boxing and Sin city. And yet, more and more, it seems the threads which once entwined this sport and the general public now run in parallel.
This is arguably the most anticipated match-up since Floyd Mayweather met Manny Pacquiao
All of which poses a couple of questions on the eve of a superfight: Does that matter? And should Spence and Crawford shoulder any of the blame? Perhaps this is not the weekend to worry about boxing’s past and future. Perhaps, for once, we should simply narrow our focus and savour two masters vying for immortality.
And yet, it is impossible to escape the sense that this clash deserves an ever grander stage. For both fighters’ sake – the talents of these two should never be confined to the converted. And for boxing at large. The sport brings enough shame and embarrassment on itself. Surely such a glorious exhibition of skill and grit cannot be allowed to slink into the shadows?
The sad reality, of course, is that these days, quality does not sell like scandal or sideshow. And this week has proven what we already knew: neither Spence nor Crawford has any appetite for nonsense.
It has been refreshing: the pre-fight pageantry has been respectful and raw. At least between the fighters. Thursday’s press conference was dominated by insults and cheap gags between trainers and family members. At Friday’s weigh-in, these two shared a handshake while backstage Caleb Plant and Jermall Charlo shared a scrap.
The final press conference was dominated by trash talk from the two fighters’ camps
The two world champions share a handshake as they come face to face at Friday’s weigh-in
Even Tuesday’s Grand Arrivals were marred by time. When Spence and Crawford eventually turned up, the crowds had dwindled and anticipation had begun to wane.
Not very helpful, especially here, where noise and colour and distraction are everywhere. But hardly surprising. Spence, 33, and Crawford, 35, spent half a decade making supporters wait a little bit longer. Eventually, frustrated by the posturing of those around them; they agreed this fight over the phone.
Should we also be surprised that neither fighter is fussed about stoking fires? Why bother with amateur dramatics and manufactured hype when you have such dazzling skills… and when you have already cheated death.
In 2019, Spence was hurled from his Ferrari during a sickening crash. ‘(That) focused me on what’s important,’ the 33-year-old admitted recently. A decade earlier, Crawford was shot in the head. On Saturday night, he can become the undisputed king of a second division.
Back in 2019, unified champion Spence was hurled from his Ferrari during a sickening crash
Spence was already a world champion before his crash – and the eye injury which robbed him of a fight against Pacquiao. But those health issues have limited the IBF, WBA and WBC champion to just three fights since March 2019. All of which adds yet more intrigue to an already fascinating clash.
Will inactivity catch up with Spence? Has he boiled down to welterweight one too many times? With two fighters so tantalisingly matched, the tiniest margins matter. And the issue? All that has come before tells us everything and nothing at the same time.
We know that both Spence and Crawford are special talents. But there isn’t one fighter on either of their records who you would pick to beat the other. That’s why they both needed this fight. It’s why both need to win.
Victory at T-Mobile Arena will cement someone atop the welterweight division and near the summit of boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings. Everything suggests there will be very little between them over 12 rounds. A close fight would leave the door open to Spence and Crawford meeting all over again. We can only hope there’ll be even more paying attention when they do.