What Spence-Crawford Lacks in Trash Talk, It Makes Up in Talent

What Spence-Crawford Lacks in Trash Talk, It Makes Up in Talent

If the tension that accompanies the highest-stakes prizefight of the year was affecting Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, who planned to fight for the undisputed welterweight championship on Saturday night, neither boxer let it show until their final meeting with reporters.

Spence, a Long Island native who grew up in Dallas, sat calmly at the head table of a news conference on Thursday, his three title belts spread before him, his brow shaded by a black baseball cap. He spoke when called upon, and otherwise waited his turn. Saturday’s world title fight will be his eighth.

Crawford, who is from Omaha, Neb., sat behind his own championship belt, staring out at the crowd when he was not speaking. The Spence bout is his 18th consecutive world title fight.

But those closest to the boxers were not as calm.

Spence’s trainer, Derrick James, traded insults with Crawford’s head coach, Brian McIntyre. James argued with the Crawford supporters who had gathered at T-Mobile Arena for the news conference. McIntyre bickered with Spence’s backers. Crawford began the event pleading for calm between the two camps, and ended it exchanging R-rated barbs with the loudest member of Spence’s entourage.

“You gotta meet force with force sometimes,” Crawford said later.

Spence and Crawford are the two top welterweights in the world, and since last summer their pairing, a throwback to the division’s early 1980s glory days, has been teased, planned, put off and planned again. Both men are undefeated. Each is convinced he will win and establish himself as the world’s top boxer regardless of weight class.

Though both champions seemed content to settle their claims in the ring, their loyal, vocal, excited supporters hinted at the match’s stakes.

“Everybody’s hyped for this,” said Spence, who is 28-0 with 22 knockouts. “Everybody’s super emotional because we’re only two days away from the biggest event in boxing in the past 20 years.”

Boasts aside, expectations are high that Crawford-Spence can be one of the best fights in nearly a decade.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s matches against Manny Pacquiao in 2015 and Conor McGregor in 2017 were objectively larger events. They drew a combined 8.9 million pay-per-view buys, dwarfing the audiences for most title fights by an exponential sum.

But from a competitive standpoint, Spence-Crawford is a more significant contest because, unlike those mega-dollar Mayweather bouts, it involves two undefeated champions who many boxing experts think are still in their primes.

Spence, 33, holds world titles from the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation. Crawford, who is 35, won a title at lightweight, was the undisputed champion at junior welterweight, and is currently the World Boxing Organization welterweight champion.

Where Spence is a southpaw, Crawford is an ambidextrous fighter who prefers the southpaw stance. Both men are brilliant tactical boxers who also enjoy a close-quarters rumble. Spence is a punishing body puncher who often wins by attrition. Crawford succeeds with clever counters and pure power. He has recorded knockouts in 30 of his 39 wins.

“Everything about Terence Crawford is better than Errol Spence Jr.,” Crawford said. “I’ll be proving the doubters wrong once again.”

Avid boxing fans have clamored for this matchup since 2018, when Crawford first moved up to welterweight.

But marketing Spence and Crawford to casual fans is a different challenge.

The springtime bout between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia showed that high level boxing matches can still penetrate the mainstream: It generated 1.2 million pay-per-view buys, an impressive figure in the post-Mayweather era.

Davis and Garcia both have large built-in audiences on social media, and their very public feud helped fuel interest and, eventually, ticket and pay-per-view buys.

In contrast, Crawford and Spence share a healthy mutual respect. They are not friends, and they are not enemies. They are peers, rivals who prefer action over trash talk. The boxers had lobbed only sporadic verbal jabs at each other and the absence of pre-fight grandstanding presented a promotional dilemma.

Because Spence calls himself the welterweight division’s Big Fish, Crawford has labeled Saturday’s bout a “Fish Fry.” And because Crawford’s nickname is “Bud,” Spence has promised to smoke him. At Thursday’s news conference, he wore a black T-shirt featuring a drawing of a shark with a marijuana joint in its mouth, and the words “Smoking On Bud.”

Neither catchphrase caught on as a marketing hook, but the fight’s organizers do not think it will matter, given the stakes. Saturday’s winner will become the first welterweight to hold titles from all four major sanctioning bodies.

“This is one that sort of starts with the boxing hardcores and radiates out,” said Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, which is producing the event. “What we rely on is the excitement and the enthusiasm of the boxing fan to carry over.”

Spence and Crawford had originally targeted November of 2022 for their bout, and had nearly reached an agreement before Crawford pivoted, opting instead to defend his title against David Avanesyan last December. Negotiations resumed earlier this year, and the deal was finalized in May.

The delay does not appear to have harmed sales. Anticipating a sellout crowd at T-Mobile Arena, where the bout will take place, fight organizers will simulcast the bout on closed-circuit television at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, located just across the Las Vegas Strip.

Pay-per-view sales, the other reliable metric of a fight’s success, were tough to project. Mark Boccardi, the senior vice president of programming and marketing for In Demand and PPV.com, which distributes boxing and other events, said that most buys — sometimes up to 90 percent of them — happen on fight day. But he said pre-orders and social media engagement reliably project total buys.

“Even if we do three quarters of what Davis-Garcia did, that’s a monster event,” Boccardi said. “Trends are headed in that direction.”

Though both boxers have perfect records, and neither has lost many rounds, opponents have had their moments.

Yordenis Ugás staggered Spence in the sixth round of their bout in April of 2022. Spence quickly regrouped and resumed pounding on Ugás, winning by 10th-round technical knockout.

Crawford got buzzed by Egidijus Kavaliauskas in 2019. He responded by knocking out Kavaliauskas.

The prospect of a knockout on Saturday prompted a rare, spirited, verbal exchange between the two boxers.

“I don’t go in there looking for the knockout. I go looking for the win,” Crawford said. “But if he get out of line, he’s gonna be the next one down.”

“I’ve been getting out of line my whole life,” Spence countered. “You’re gonna have to do what you’re gonna have to do.”

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