If we say it too loudly we might just jinx it, but we have to give credit where it’s due: Al Haymon’s PBC at long last figured out what to do with its talented stable of welterweights. While the rumor mill churns out reports that a unification bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter will take place in Brooklyn in early August, we also learned that legend Manny Pacquiao will meet titlist Keith Thurman in Las Vegas on July 20. In a welterweight division long bereft of meaningful matches, these are tasty offerings indeed, and the fact they will take place within days of each other suggests the narrative that will predominate the promotions will be that of the victors facing off later in the year. Summer can’t get here soon enough.
While this is great news in a year that hasn’t offered much in terms of significant fights (with a few blessed exceptions) it’s still impossible to ignore that a big name is absent from this unofficial welterweight round robin. Spence vs Porter and Thurman vs Pacquiao will feature four of the best welterweights in the world, but they will inevitably leave out Omaha’s Terence Crawford, regarded by many as the best at 147 pounds, because of promotional and network allegiances.
However, that doesn’t mean the two recently announced PBC fights are not worthy additions to the boxing calendar. In fact, the matchmaking maximizes appeal and favours the chances we’ll get a couple of riveting fights. The way in which the four Haymonites have been paired promises to answer questions that haven’t been asked yet of each of the participants, always a sign of good matchmaking.
Of the two bouts, Thurman vs Pacquiao is the one that will go the PPV route, and it seems like a justified move. This is a highly intriguing fight that promises a healthy dose of violence, and one where it’s hard to pick a clear favorite. Incidentally, it’s also a case study in how unpredictable the fight game can be: Thurman vs Pacquiao would’ve held very little appeal two or even three years ago when Keith was edging top welterweights Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia and a bloodied Pacman was getting served the Brisbane special by previously unknown Jeff Horn.
Fast forward to 2019 and Thurman vs Pacquiao is one of the highlights on fight fans’ calendar, never mind that the Filipino gives away fully ten years to “One Time.” But the truth is that Thurman’s long layoff from the sport due to injury, followed by a surprisingly close victory against gatekeeper Josesito Lopez in January, altered our perception of where he stands in the rankings. A strong enough showing against the Pacman would give his career a much needed boost. Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao looked like a million bucks against Adrien Broner one week prior to Thurman’s fight with Lopez, as he showed flashes of the brilliance that characterized his peak against a most accommodating target. It goes without saying a victory over Thurman would round up Pacquiao’s already outstanding legacy, as he’d become one of the oldest welterweight titleholders of all time.
On the other hand, Spence vs Porter (although not yet fully confirmed) is also an excellent match, though for different reasons. On paper Errol Spence Jr.—widely considered the only worthy rival to Terence Crawford—is the clear favorite. However, every one of us along with our grandmas know that a Spence vs Crawford fight won’t be happening anytime soon. Thus, the best Spence can do while he waits and hopes for boxing politics to get out of the way is to continue testing himself against the best possible opposition.
That by and large didn’t happen last March, when the Dallas native beat up for twelve rounds on a blown up Mikey Garcia in front of over 47,000 fans at AT&T Stadium. What that event did do is raise Spence’s profile and earning potential—how many active boxers can boast of having performed in front of such a massive crowd? It will be interesting to see if the buzz from that event translates to Spence vs Porter.
But the more interesting question is how Spence will respond to “Showtime” Shawn’s stylistic challenge. After all, the Texan hasn’t yet faced a top talent who seeks to cripple opposition via relentless pressure and volume punching. And while no one will take Porter for the second coming of Roberto Duran, his challenge of Spence at least represents a novel kind of puzzle, one the Texan hasn’t solved yet. Spence is expected to edge Porter, but his performance against the hard-willed Ohioan will help clarify just how much separates him from the rest of his PBC cohorts.
While these tantalising matches unravel, the man watching from the outside, Terence Crawford, will have to content himself with waiting for whatever opponent Bob Arum coughs up for his next fight. After the blow to the balls that was his encounter with Amir Khan—an ill-conceived matchup that absolutely no one had asked to see—who knows what dreadful opponent Top Rank will manage to get in the ring with Omaha’s prodigal son. Rumours are a badly devalued Kell Brook is at the top of the list, and that tells you all you need to know about Crawford’s prospects for the rest of 2019.
And it has to be said that at this point the onus is on Bud to keep us interested in his career, especially in light these bold moves from PBC. Yes, it’s unfair that circumstances keep Crawford away from quality opponents, but he got caught on the wrong side of the street when Bob Arum signed an exclusive contract with The Worldwide Leader in Sports last year. To land that contract, the Bobfather paraded Crawford’s name in front of ESPN’s top brass as one of the two most prized jewels in the Top Rank crown—the other being Vasyl Lomachenko.
So now is the time for Crawford to storm the oak-paneled offices at ESPN and give the suits a piece of his mind. There’s no reason why Crawford shouldn’t leverage his talent and appeal to demand the fights his pedigree deserves. And he wouldn’t be out of line confronting Arum himself, the boxing media’s favorite crazy, old grandpa, whose never-ending stream of bullshit reporters excuse for charm on a daily basis. Let’s be perfectly clear: Arum is not boxing’s inappropriately funny, slightly senile paterfamilias; he’s the greedy, condescending asshole who calls for boycotts of fighters aligned with rival promoters mere moments after having shoved one of the most embarrassing PPV cards of recent times down our throats. Incidentally, did any of boxing’s top tier journalists challenge Arum on his asinine request? Of course not, but I digress.
That’s why the time has come for Crawford to step up, make some noise, and get what’s his. Especially when the alternative is to keep watching from the sidelines while the Haymonites get all the attention and he fights mediocre opposition that does nothing for his legacy. Because if the road to undisputed status at 147 necessarily goes through Terence “Bud” Crawford, that doesn’t mean fight fans won’t enjoy watching the rest of the welterweight field battle it out without him. And if Spence, Porter, Thurman and Pacquiao deliver a modicum of the action and drama we expect from them, they might just make us forget about Crawford, even if only for a little while. Bottom line, fair or not, it’s your move, Bud. Here’s hoping it’s a bold one. –Robert Portis