Shortly after 8.30pm in Las Vegas, the final stragglers stepped through the ropes. The lights dimmed, the noise wound up another few notches and the eyes of the world centered on two men and one ring. Inside, the eyes of Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford were trained on each other. At long, long last.
They had waited six years for this – so had everyone else. Now, nothing could separate the two finest welterweights of this era. Nothing could split them, either. Or so we were told. Bud Crawford decided otherwise.
In the biggest fight of his career, boxing’s most-anticipated fight for a long time, the 35-year-old put in a performance for the ages. It was brutal, it was brilliant. It was historic.
Over nine rounds at T-Mobile Arena, Crawford handed the leading welterweight of the past half-decade an absolute beating. In the face of such controlled savagery, a bloodied Spence hit the deck three times before being stopped on his feet.
He surrendered his unbeaten record. He gave up his WBA, WBC and IBF titles. With every passing round, he seemed to cede another part of his soul, too. This win crowns Crawford as the undisputed welterweight champion. He is the first male fighter in history to clean up two divisions, having already won it all at 140lbs. But more than that, he might just have cemented himself as the greatest fighter in the world.
Terence Crawford has beaten Errol Spence in a one-sided fight in Las Vegas
Crawford celebrates with his belts after becoming the undisputed welterweight champions
Crawford poses with his belts after a sensational performance on the night in Vegas
A win like this, a performance like this, could prove the spark that catapults Crawford to superstardom. No one in boxing needed persuading that he was a special fighter. Now everyone else might begin to take notice. Maybe, just maybe, skills are enough to sell.
For Spence, meanwhile, the post-mortem of this night will be horrible. There will be questions about whether this was one fight too far at 147lbs. About how much inactivity and injury have taken from this great fighter. About whether a rematch – which he says he wants – is a good idea, even at 154lbs. But those can wait for now.
Tonight is about Terence Crawford, who came to the ring flanked by Eminem, wrapped in netting and then followed through on his promise to skin boxing’s self-styled ‘big fish’.
It was back on New Years’ Day that Crawford sent Spence a simple message: Time to make history. The clocks had been ticking for half a decade by then. They have wound on another seven months since. But at long last, after years of bluster and dead ends, that text proved to be the end of the beginning in their pursuit of each other – and immortality.
They freed themselves from handlers and hangers on. They picked up the phone and set a date. It turned out Spence and Crawford didn’t need anyone else. Only each other.
That sense of shared destiny lingered all the way through fight week in Las Vegas. All the way until on Saturday night, when Crawford proved he is out on his own.
By the opening bell, there was really only one more box to tick: would the fight itself deliver? After all the delays. After all the posturing and brinksmanship. We needn’t have worried.
Spence looked devastated by the result but really, he can have no complaints at the outcome
It was a dominant display from Crawford and fellow American Spence took some punishment
Spence pictured crashing to the canvas at the mercy of Crawford during round seven
Not since 1986 had every welterweight belt been on the line on a single night. That was a mark of this fight’s size and significance. But also a grim illustration of the mess boxing and its alphabet bodies have made for themselves since that glorious decade of four kings.
Thankfully, we didn’t need any straps or sanctioning fees to know that Spence and Crawford were No 1 and No 2 at 147lbs. All we needed to discover? In which order. Few made their pick with much conviction; no one wanted to miss it.
Ringside brimmed with royalty – from boxing and beyond. Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Tommy Hearns, Deontay Wilder, Floyd Mayweather, Draymond Green, Chris Brown… they all came to see for themselves.
The answers arrived as electricity surged around this 20,000-seater arena. Until now, neither of these fighters had ever come close to tasting defeat. Neither had faced someone this good.
Crawford has a habit of feeling his way into fights so it was little surprise that Spence – a fighter blessed with excellent fundamentals and a terrific work-rate – took center ring from the off.
The Texas fighter edged the first by activity alone and he continued to the force the pace early in round two – pressing Crawford back and chopping away at his head and body.
Crawford was enjoying crumbs of success on the counter and then, in a flash, he changed everything. Late in the second, Spence lunged forward with a jab to the body. Crawford responded with a left hand that grazed its target and followed it with a right that landed flush.
Spence went down for the first time near the end of the second round of the fight
Spence hit the deck, Crawford’s supporters climbed to their feet. The bell afforded Spence respite and the Texan began round three with renewed purpose. He sought to wrest back control. His only problem? Every time Crawford landed, Spence felt it. Everything was so calculated, so precise… so vicious.
Towards the end of round four, Spence was wobbling once more. No matter that he was outworking Crawford at times. He just couldn’t make a dent on the 35-year-old. Every return assault, meanwhile, seemed to leave a mark and take away another fragment of Spence’s confidence.
By halfway, it was so one-sided. By the end of round seven, it was all-but over. Spence hit the deck twice again – first from a beautiful counter right uppercut. And then, shortly before the bell, courtesy of a vicious right hook.
At this point, he was surviving on pride and grit alone. That was never going to be enough in the face of such brilliance. In round nine, another vicious barrage had Spence teetering once more. He was saved only by referee Harvey Dock. A few meters away, Crawford leapt on to the ropes and flung himself to the very top of this sport.