When the chips are down, great fighters step up and do great things. In the biggest fight of his life, in front of an electrified crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Terence Crawford stepped up in a major way and produced a masterclass performance that will define his legacy. On paper, Spence vs Crawford appeared an evenly matched clash between two world champions, but in actual fact “Bud” proved to be a full level above, completely dominating his rival and winning by ninth-round stoppage to become the undisputed king of the welterweights.
In a tight opening round, the fight started as many had expected, with Spence the busier boxer as they traded jabs and found their range. It was a positive start for the Texan, with CompuBox stats showing 47 punches thrown to Crawford’s 18, as he mixed in a few body shots along with his more active jab. Significantly though, the most eye-catching single shot of the round came from Crawford, which was enough to sway one of the judges in his favour. The other two judges went with Spence, but he would not win a single round on any card for the remainder of the fight.
Leading with his southpaw jab and a higher work rate, Spence again began well in the second. Crawford was starting to open up just a little more as the round progressed, countering Spence’s jab with his faster and snappier lead right. Then, with twenty seconds remaining, Spence jabbed to the body and Crawford retuned fire with a counter left hand followed by an explosive right lead that dropped Spence backwards onto the seat of his pants. The T-Mobile Arena erupted as the undefeated IBF, WBC and WBA champion found himself taking a mandatory eight-count for the first time in his career. Surprised and shaken rather than seriously hurt, he rose easily enough and saw out Crawford’s follow-up attack, but the complexion of the contest had irrevocably shifted.
All of the sharper, harder punches were now coming from the WBO champ from Nebraska, and he began timing Spence more and more with his solid counter jabs. Typically, Crawford likes to spend a few rounds switching between stances as he feels his opponent out, but in this match, he fought in a southpaw stance from the beginning, in a clearly worked strategy that paid dividends. “Our main focus was the jab. You take away his best attribute, and then, the rest is history,” said Crawford, speaking to Jim Gray in his post-fight interview. “We practiced that [powerful jab]. Normally in camp, we do a flicking jab, but we knew that wasn’t gonna work with Errol Spence because he’s durable, he’s strong, so we had to practice on a strong, firm jab, to jab with him and stop him in his tracks.”
Opening up and letting go with a full range of uppercuts and hooks, Crawford took further command in an impressive fourth round. Whereas Spence’s punches had virtually no effect, Crawford’s were jolting, eye-catching shots. And although not seriously hurt at this point, Spence was shipping damage, and the doctor insisted on taking a good look at him before letting him go out for the fifth.
By the halfway mark, it was clear that Crawford was putting in a special performance; the timing and accuracy on display were simply superb. “Terence Crawford’s a really good counter puncher, [but] this is on another level tonight,” noted veteran Showtime commentator, Al Bernstein. To his great credit, Spence was game and continued digging punches to the body, even getting home a decent left hand at the end of the round, but he wasn’t throwing or connecting at anywhere near his typical success rate, landing just eleven of 53 punches per round compared to 21 of 69 in his previous nine fights, according to CompuBox.
Already beginning to look bloodied and beaten up in the seventh, Spence still pressed forward and threw hard shots with Crawford backed on the ropes, but he was dropped again by a sublime counter right-uppercut, right-hook combination. This time Spence was seriously hurt and in deep trouble. He beat the count and Crawford pursued, digging in spiteful shots to the body, before another beautiful double-right hook combination dropped Spence again at the end of the round.
Crawford is renowned for his killer finishing instinct, but his poise and patience was impressive here, as he refused to a chase a champion of Spence’s calibre with reckless abandon. By the eighth the Texan’s usual aggressive style was replaced by a tentative, defensive posture as Crawford fought exclusively on the front foot. With every jab having a notable effect, the writing on the wall was clear for all to see. With half a minute remaining in the ninth, a blistering counter right hook rocked Spence again, and with his legs gone and Crawford unloading heavy hooks, referee Harvey Dock made a sensible decision to rescue Spence from further punishment.
The final punch stats told the story of Crawford’s magnificent performance as he landed 50.1 percent of his total punches while limiting Spence to a twenty percent success rate. Even more devastating, Crawford got through with a massive sixty percent of his power shots. Spence’s previous nine opponents had landed just twenty-eight percent.
Asked in the ring afterwards what this career-defining victory means to him, Crawford replied humbly, “I only dreamed of being a world champion. I’m an overachiever.” Alluding to the promotional conflicts which kept him frozen out of big unification fights at welterweight for so long, he continued: “This means everything because of who I took the belts from. They tried to blackball me. They kept me out… and I kept praying to God that I’d get the opportunity to show the world how great Terence Crawford is. And tonight, I believe I showed how great I am.”
Spence admitted graciously that the better man won, saying that his timing was off and praising Crawford’s work. “He would catch me between shots. He was throwing a harder jab and his timing was down on point.” Regarding whether he would trigger the contracted rematch clause, he spoke defiantly, “Hell yeah we gotta do it again.”
Whether any rematch is needed, and whether it would be feasible at 147 pounds, remains in doubt. Spence refused to make any excuses for the loss, but clearly expressed his desire for any rematch to take place at 154. After squeezing himself down to welterweight for so many years, a move up would certainly benefit Spence. But based on the gulf in class and the punishment he took in this fight, his team would be wise to advise him not to seek the immediate rematch. He would be better off re-grouping and chasing a return further down the road, perhaps when one or both men have taken a belt at light-middleweight.
For his part, Crawford also expressed interest in a rematch at the higher weight, saying that it wasn’t easy for him to make 147 any more either. For now though, he can bask in the glory of his victory and recognition as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters of his generation. Asked at the post-fight press presser where he ranks himself alongside the all-time greats, Crawford replied, “I’m up there. I just want to pay homage to the fighters that came before me.” It is a rarity to see an evenly matched superfight be so one-sided and, without hyperbole, Crawford’s performance will go down with some of the best virtuoso displays in recent memory. He was that good. — Matt O’Brien