LAS VEGAS — For several years, Errol Spence Jr. was largely quiet when the topic of a bout with Terence Crawford came up. Spence is a naturally reserved man, particularly in public, and he wasn’t eager to air his private business with Crawford for all the world to see.
Nearly everyone who has followed boxing in the last decade has hoped for Spence and Crawford to come to terms to fight for the undisputed welterweight title. The boxing community’s respect for their talent was such that not long after Crawford moved up after surrendering the undisputed super lightweight titles in 2018, the drumbeat began.
Spence fans blamed Crawford and his team, while Crawford fans blamed Spence and his squad, for why the fight wasn’t being made. It was, as the great Yogi Berra once said, “deja vu all over again.” The same thing began in 2009 when talk first began about Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao meeting. There was always plenty of grist for the mill over the five-plus years it took for that bout to be made.
Talks to make Pacquiao and Mayweather began in earnest in late 2009 after Pacquiao stopped Miguel Cotto. In the time before the fight was made, Pacquiao lost twice and was knocked cold once, a punch from Juan Manuel Marquez that most assumed ended the potential dream fight for good.
The difference in this fight is that neither man lost, and both are consensus top-five pound-for-pound fighters. When they embarked upon a two-city media tour to New York and Los Angeles in mid-June to promote the hype, promoter Tom Brown said, “We have the two best fighters in the world, unbeaten and in their primes. We haven’t seen fighters like this since Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns.”
Other than forgetting Mayweather and Pacquiao, whose skills weren’t bad, there was little hyperbolic about what Brown said. In a sport where fighters often can’t agree who makes the walk to the ring first and who is introduced first, few connected to the sport could vigorously dispute Brown’s words.
Highly regarded trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards said Crawford “is one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen.” Former welterweight champion Shawn Porter said Spence “is the most fundamentally sound boxer in the world.”
There has been remarkably little trash-talk leading into the fight. Spence is laconic on his best days, and while he, like Crawford, has vigorously promoted the fight, he hasn’t been ridiculous with over-the-top trash talk that surrounds so many big fights these days.
There are no commercials advising viewers that the boxers hate each other because, well, they don’t.
Spence respects Crawford, and vice versa, and so they’ve been mostly talking their own talents and accomplishments.
Spence showed up to a workout at a tiny gym in Las Vegas last week in the shadow of the famed Strip in scorching 117-degree temperatures. The heat radiated off the concrete in front of Fight Capital Gym and from the asphalt in the parking lot.
The gym was packed with reporters, publicists and those involved in putting together the broadcast, and it was stifling.
Spence, though, went through a vigorous workout with trainer Derrick James, barely slowing down, seemingly unbothered by the heat that appeared to be melting just about everyone else.
This is the moment he’s lived for, the one he’s worked his entire professional career to reach.
“I’m ready to show people that I’m one of the best welterweights of all time,” Spence said. “Don’t miss this fight because I’m going to show everyone why I’m breaking people. I’ve done everything that I said I was going to do. The last thing left to do is beat Terence Crawford. He’s a great fighter, but I’m going to break him and show everyone why I’m the best fighter in boxing, period.”
He nearly never got to this point. On Oct. 10, 2019, Spence lost control of his Ferrari Spider 488 and it went dangerously cartwheeling down a Dallas street. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and he was ejected from the vehicle. He suffered no broken bones, miraculously, but was charged with a misdemeanor DWI and given probation.
Prior to fighting Yordenis Ugas last year, Spence acknowledged on a podcast that he had shown a serious lapse in judgment by driving the way he had.
Forget the fact that he nearly ended what looked to be a legendary, Hall of Fame-bound boxing career. That’s just secondary stuff. Spence put his life at risk and nearly forever altered the lives of his two children by drinking and driving.
Spence, though, is a bright man who showed great perspective. He realized he couldn’t let that mistake, however bad, define him.
“Everybody gets led astray a little bit,” Spence said. “It got to the point where I was kind of wandering. When you get to a certain age and you’re making money and you’re ‘The Man,’ you think you know everything. … What a lot of people don’t realize is that you have to be disciplined, even when you’re not in training camp. I wasn’t in that type of shape. I was getting up to 180, 185, and I was fighting at 147 pounds.”
He defeated Ugas, adding the WBA belt he didn’t have that set up the showdown with Crawford.
And when there was trouble getting the bout made, Spence spoke to Crawford several times over FaceTime to make sure the legacy fight got made. Had it not, no matter what else they did in their careers, Spence’s legacy would have been that he did not fight Crawford and Crawford’s would have been that he did not fight Spence.
“The first time we FaceTimed, it was mostly feeling each other out,” Spence said on “The Pivot” podcast. “Just talking about family and life and different things. We only talked about the fight for like five or 10 minutes. The next time we were on FaceTime, he started telling me what he was concerned about and what he wanted. It made sense to me.
“ … I feel like I really got this fight made, because there were things he was asking for that my team thought I wouldn’t do. We’re talking about percentages and stuff like that. But I was like yeah, give him that. This is the fight I wanted. Period. I can’t leave this division without fighting him. This is one of the legendary fights.”
And so on Saturday, closing in on midnight Pacific Time, the bell will ring and Spence-Crawford will have a fight for the ages.
It will fulfill a long-time dream of Spence’s.
“I can remember him years ago, after the Olympics, and we were talking and he said he wanted to be in one of these big super fights and prove he’s the best in the world,” James told Yahoo Sports. “Throughout his career, he’s done everything he said he’d do and now here we are. Win this one and he’s the best and nobody can argue it.”
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