When boxing matches are referred to as “50/50 fights,” quite often it’s at the very least a slight exaggeration. The cruel reality of the sport of boxing is that most fights that take place are as far from a 50/50 proposition as will be allowed by a local commission. As for the ones we see on television, by and large the bout was made by a promoter who both hopes and thinks with sound reasoning that one particular fighter will win. In these cases, “50/50 fight” is thrown around to convey that it is theoretically possible that the B-side will win, a fudging of the reality that the odds for the bout are rightfully in favor of the A-side and very few people are straining to decide who they think will win. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
For this reason, and many others, Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford felt special. Observers might have had their leans, as did the oddsmakers, but it’s doubtful that anyone who made a prediction on the bout did so with confidence, let alone true certainty.
But there was one person who seemed very certain of what the outcome would be, one who wouldn’t have to retroactively plead their assuredness: Terence Crawford. Of course, every fighter in the history of boxing has outwardly predicted themselves as the winner of their upcoming bout, but Crawford’s demeanor and body language screamed something very different than his opponent Spence’s all week long. This isn’t to say that Spence wasn’t confident, surely he was, so much so that he took personal steps to ensure the bout would happen. But Crawford was stoic, chilling in his behavior, wearing the look of a single-minded assassin. While Spence seemed to be understandably both enjoying and trying to live up to the moment, smiling, laughing, dressed in neatly curated outfits, Crawford wore a blank stare, hoodies and slides. His mind seemingly refused to wander from the mission itself, no time for jovial exchanges with reporters or coordinating with a stylist.
Crawford’s attitude was made all the more frightening in retrospect, as it never wavered either during the fight or even afterwards. Much has been made over the years about Crawford’s pathological competitiveness. There have been anecdotal tales about his determination to win during everything from leisurely games of chess to his patented vertical mile hikes in Colorado Springs with his campmates. This has always been linked, psychologically, to his finishing ability in fights, a ravenous hunger to pick apart a wounded opponent upon first glance of their weakness. Given a glimpse of an opportunity to seize victory, the thing he covets above all else, Crawford is relentless.
The one issue for Crawford is that it’s been about seven years, since his HBO pay-per-view bout against Viktor Postol, since he’s had a chance to nab his prey of choice. Or perhaps more appropriately, since the big fish he desired swam in the waters in which he was angling. As good as Crawford appeared to be, those he was reeling in for the better part of a decade were never considered capable of evading the vast net of skill and ferocity he casts.
On Saturday night, Crawford strode to the ring with a haggard fishing net draped over his shoulder, signifying his intentions of catching Spence, known as The Big Fish. This symbolism and his intensely focused gaze, paired with a few sound issues, were enough to overshadow the fact that Eminem had made a shocking appearance to rap him to the ring.
Nothing could overshadow Crawford’s performance in the ring, perhaps not even his pound-for-pound rival Naoya Inoue’s destruction of Stephen Fulton days prior. As ruthless and sudden as Inoue’s knockout was, the bell-to-bell thorough domination Crawford displayed over one of world’s best fighters, and the relative ease with which he did it, understandably astonished everyone who watched it. Some who declared earlier in the week that Inoue was undoubtedly the planet’s pound-for-pound best regardless of the outcome of Spence-Crawford were forced to rethink, as what unfolded on Saturday was something so far beyond expectation.
Quite simply, Crawford beat Spence in every way imaginable. He outboxed Spence from the outside, as many expected he could in the moments the fight was contested at long range. He out-muscled Spence on the inside, and seemingly relished doing so, tapping into his wrestling background to adeptly maneuver a larger man however he pleased. He hurt Spence with left hands, with uppercuts, with hooks.
The ultimate cruelty of Crawford’s performance is that his most damaging weapon was the most fundamental one at any fighter’s disposal. His jab, often thrown as a hybrid jab hook, a ramrod short-distance shot, bludgeoned Spence again and again. It was the first punch to ever drop Spence in a professional prize ring in the second round, the one that nearly closed his surgically repaired eye, the one that snapped his head back over and over to the gasps of a crowd that at times grew silent as it watched the one-sided thrashing. In keeping with the fishing analogy that colored the fight promotion, it was the equivalent of simply using a worm as a lure and catching a lake monster.
After referee Harvey Dock took mercy on Spence and waved the fight off in the ninth, Crawford stood on the second rope and shouted into the crowd, yelling either at or about those whom he felt had discounted him or held him back over the years. As Crawford embraced Spence in his corner and told him he was a “hell of a fighter,” Spence replied by complimenting Crawford in a way one wouldn’t expect from a fighter in defeat. “You made it (look) easy,” Spence said.
Crawford’s struggle to score fights against other top welterweights has made him openly distrustful of boxing’s mechanisms and those who wield power within the sport. Whoever’s fault that has been, or how the blame is to be divided, is mostly irrelevant now. The case of who the best welterweight in the world is has been decided, and Crawford can now claim that the fights didn’t materialize because prospective foes and their handlers were fearful of the result Spence endured. Whether that’s the case or not is a similarly fruitless discussion now, as we can be fairly certain that the outcome would have indeed been the same or worse.
“They tried to blackball me, they kept me out, they talked bad about me, they said I wasn’t good enough, they said I couldn’t beat these top welterweights,” Crawford told Showtime’s Jim Gray during his post-fight interview. He kept his answers concise, his emotions even keeled, saving his true joy for his dance party with friends and family and celebration with his quasi-understudy Shakur Stevenson, the ones he felt always believed in him. “I just kept my head to the sky and praying I’d get the opportunity to show the world how great Terence Crawford is. Tonight, I believe I showed everyone.”
Indeed he did. Somehow, he turned out to be better than anyone could have imagined.