In 2018, Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford had a now infamous interaction in the hallways of the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City following the Maurice Hooker-Alex Saucedo bout. The genesis of the meeting varies depending on the narrator. In a practical sense, both had been friends with and training partners with Hooker at different times, so both wanted to be in attendance to support. Spence said that night that he knew Crawford would be at the fight and it compelled him to go as well. Crawford claimed he Facetimed Spence to let him know he’d be there, but Spence didn’t pick up.

“I don’t have your number,” Spence explained.

“Save it now,” Crawford insisted, laughing.

The meeting oscillated between lighthearted moments such as that one and deadly serious, index finger in the face proclamations from both fighters about what they would do to one another, what the other wasn’t able to, what kind of physical condition one another was in at that moment. It was as fascinating and genuine an interaction as one will ever see between two fighters, vastly different from the moments we often see that are prompted by a moderator in a formal setting. Cameras from pages like ESNews and FightHype were present, but they were merely flies on the wall, not delegators of prompts. Spence and Crawford were talking to one another like two supremely confident athletes who desperately wanted to prove their superiority would talk.

Until this past Saturday, it felt at times like that verbal battle would be the closest we’d come to a fight between Spence and Crawford. Stuck on opposite sides of a political divide within the sport, both plagued by out-of-the-ring misfortune, legal entanglements and more, barriers erected in the way of the fight happening were plentiful and they were large. As a result, when each fighter was asked about facing one another in recent years, they were often forced to couch their statements with a tad bit of reservation. Not reservation about fighting one another, but about promising something imminently that might not be possible. 

One of the aforementioned barriers was whether Spence, following a horrific car accident, would be the same fighter he was before the crash. Would he be able to make it to a fight with Crawford without being tripped up? If he got there, would the fight be as compelling as it was before?

After Spence battered Yordenis Ugas to unify three welterweight titles on Saturday, two things were readily apparent: 1. Spence is not just as good as he was before, he’s arguably even better, after turning in a career-best performance, and 2. He is fully committed to facing Crawford next.

“Everybody knows who I want next. I want Terence Crawford next," Spence told SHOWTIME’s Jim Gray during his post-fight interview. "That’s the fight I want, that’s the fight everybody else wants. I’ve got these straps, I’m gonna go take his s--t, too. Man down. It’s strap season, baby. Terence, I’m coming for that motherf-----g belt.”

It was the most affirmative, most conclusive Spence has ever been about when he will face Crawford. It was clearly his plan all along, as hours later an image appeared on Spence’s Instagram, an illustration he clearly had commissioned of a fish (he often refers to himself as The Big Fish in the welterweight division) dressed an executioner knocking on a door with the initials “T.C.” Moments after the broadcast ended, Crawford followed suit. 

"No more talk no more side of the street let's go,” Crawford tweeted. “Keep my belts warm I'll be coming to grab ‘em later this year."

With Crawford now a free agent, both fighters are free to openly discuss and demand the fight without pressures behind them to delay it. In addition, in case there were any lingering doubts about whether they were indeed the best 147-pounders, Spence and Crawford delivered emphatic endorsements of themselves by conclusively stopping exceptional fighters the way only truly great fighters can. 

After some early tactical adjustments, and a bizarre moment in the sixth round in which Spence lost his mouthpiece and was temporarily distracted as he took an unsuspecting right hand from Ugas, Spence simply beat Ugas up. Particularly after the unusual moment sans mouthpiece, throughout which Spence was visibly laughing at himself for his folly, he dared Ugas to withstand his power and pacing. Spence was aware that Ugas often depends on a rock solid shell defense, which he uses to catch shots and counter immediately. Spence dared him to do so, and challenged the structural integrity of that shell with hard hooks to the body and uppercuts, one of which broke his orbital bone in the seventh round. By the tenth round, the ringside doctor determined that it was medically irresponsible to allow Ugas to continue. 

In Crawford’s most recent fight, he too stopped a terrific fighter in Shawn Porter, one who had never been stopped before. Like Spence, he battled through early adversity and found a new gear when he was told by his corner he might have been down on the scorecards, going out and stopping Porter minutes later in the 10th round. 

The manner in which they defeated other Top 10, and maybe Top 5 welterweights at the respective times they fought them, made very clear what we have all suspected for several years. The only fighters in the division who can beat either of them at the moment are one another. 

Once they just had each other’s numbers. Now they have each other next. 

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman