The Green Light From Uncle Al

Last night’s thorough and convincing beat-down by Erroll Spence on a game-but-out of-his-league Yordenis Ugas was remarkable, less for what happened inside the ring fight-wise — as that essentially boils down to Ugas being taken into deep water and drowned by a remarkably healthy-looking and on-his-game Spence — as for what Erroll said for all to hear at the end of his post-fight interview to, in my book, the uncrowned king of the welterweight division, Terrence “Bud” Crawford: “That’s the fight that I want!” declared Spence. “I’m comin’ for that motherfuckin’ belt!”

Spence vs Ugas
Spence looked impressive as he stopped Ugas in round ten.

That statement is the most remarkable good news for boxing that I’ve heard in a long time, especially in this money-first era of the best fighters duckin’ and dodgin’ (or being made to duck and dodge by management), and having us die-hard fans wait and wait for what used to be just regular business when it came to the fight game: the best fighting the best.  That applies, particularly, to the machinations and manipulations of the guy who runs, with an iron fist, the Premier Boxing Champions stable, Mr. Al Haymon. And I say “remarkable,” because I suspect that Haymon, while he stays in the shadows, refusing to give interviews or be photographed, has more than a little control over the careers of his many champions. I could be wrong, but I find it hard to believe that Spence would be so brash, so unequivocal, if he didn’t know he had the green light from Uncle Al.

The elusive Mr. Haymon with Floyd Mayweather some years back.

Yes, I know, you never see Haymon in the ring or at the press conferences, as the public face of the company is one Sam Watson (a guy I’d love to interview; I understand he’s a graduate of my alma mater Cal State University LA), but make no mistake, Haymon is the man in charge and the fights that get made are the ones he wants to make. So I just cannot believe that Spence was speaking out of turn when he said what he said.

Needless to say, this is great news for fight fans, reminding us of the 1970’s and 80’s, when some really bad dudes, like the late, great Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, gave fans what they wanted. And it should be noted that their trainers and managers and promoters helped to make sure they did so, and as a result we got some truly great fights.

Duran and Leonard in 1980: boxing needs more “best vs best” fights.

But somewhere along the way the money thing became dominant over the competitive aspect in pugilism and everyone started playing it safe. Which has been not so great for the sport of boxing, and to the point where it’s really caused fans to wonder: what the hell is the point of professional prizefighting if we can’t see the best take on the best? Every year the best baseball teams play for the World Series, the best hockey players battle for The Stanley Cup, and the best tennis pros compete to hold up that shiny trophy at Wimbledon. The whole purpose of sports is to have the best compete against the best. Why did this become such a rare thing in boxing?

And last night, Spence certainly looked like the best, or, at least one of the best welterweight boxers on the planet, that’s for damn sure. Amazingly, given all he’s gone through, he was clearly in tip-top physical health, and thank God he’s fully recovered from that horrific car accident and that detached retina as well. By his own admission, Spence is incredibly lucky to have survived that scary night when he was driving way too fast coming back from the club and was thrown from his cart-wheeing Ferrari. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was left shaking his head when, during the pre-fight segment, Spence confessed that there are ten full days of his hospital stay that he cannot remember at all. Wow. Errol is lucky to be alive and we fight fans are lucky that one of the top men at 147 pounds has come all the way back, as Spence clearly proved last night.

Errol Spence
Spence is lucky to be alive.

Meanwhile, it feels like Terence Crawford had been shunted to the shadows thanks to some criminally bad management by Top Rank and company. The last few years have seen “Bud” wandering in the wilderness, having to settle for matches against a washed-up Amir Khan and unknowns like Egidijus Kavaliauskas, while publicly calling Bob Arum out to finally make the fights the people want to see. It’s been painful to watch, until Crawford left Top Rank and we finally got Crawford vs Shawn Porter this past November. That was some fight and I saw the strong-chinned, always coming, always swinging-to-the-rafters Porter giving Crawford one of the toughest battles of his career. Which, I’m thinking, might be a significant plot twist in this whole Spence vs Crawford soap opera.

Because after the Porter win, even I was wondering: has Bud lost some of his remarkable speed, power (with KO punches that defy physics), footwork and the like? I saw some things in Crawford’s performance against the former champ that bothered me. No disrespect to heart-of-a-lion Porter, but it took a long time for Terence to get to that passing gear in his game that I’ve seen before that makes for “lights out” time. That gear shift did finally come through late, and Crawford, once he was dialed in, could have hurt his friend Porter, real bad, but Shawn’s dad saw the same thing I did and threw in the towel. Smart move. Rest assured, if a Spence vs Crawford clash does get made, they’ll be carefully studying the film of that fight over in Dallas at Spence’s training complex.

Crawford vs Porter
Crawford punishes Porter: signs of decline?

Bottom line: I have little doubt that Mr. Haymon has carefully assessed Crawford’s current form and is almost certainly seeing some deterioration in terms of speed, agility, reflexes and skill and, as a result, is allowing, finally, a Spence vs Crawford superfight to happen. How else to explain Errol’s very loud challenge of his top rival? I’ll bet Crawford nearly fell out of his chair when Spence stated loud and clear: “Terence Crawford, I’m coming for that motherfucking belt!” Should it happen, fans will see a fight for the ages from two singular talents in this game of manipulation of the best fighters not fighting the best. So my hat is off (conditionally) for the prospect of a showdown that will truly harken back to the glory days of the welterweight class.

Of course, seeing is believing though. And boxing fans cannot truly rejoice until that contract gets signed. But the fight we all want to see has never felt closer! Make it happen, Uncle Al. Give it the green light. Long-suffering fight fans deserve it. But even more, so do “Bud” and “The Truth.”      — Ralph M. Semien