There was a touch of boxing genius in the work of Terence Crawford in the ring at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Crawford dominated and stopped Errol Spence in round nine to unify all four of the recognised belts at welterweight, but the trinkets are just cheap toys in his boxing world.
It was meant to be a 50-50 fight, two unbeaten men, both champions, rivals for five years and equals in so many ways; in the end, and from the very start, Crawford took control, dropping Spence three times before the mercy intervention.
There were no excuses in defeat for Spence, no gloating in victory for Crawford; the fight’s weird contractual structure gives Spence the right to ask for a rematch. Spence wants the fight again, the next time at light-middleweight, an increase of seven pounds; Crawford will inevitably go with the request and pocket another massive payday. They were each guaranteed $10m on Saturday – they made and deserved more.
On Saturday night, in front of 19,990 paying fans, Crawford took a minute or two to find his range and feet, and then he slowly and painfully took control. Spence was sent down hurt, late in the second and then dropped twice more in round seven.
It was, make no mistake, a masterclass and that means it was not a classic. It was quality, a pleasure to watch, but Spence was always in danger, always a shot behind. Crawford never wasted a punch or a movement or a moment. He seized any gaps, countered with venom and hurt Spence dozens and dozens of times. Spence’s face started to swell from the punches early in the fight. There is an argument, in another boxing universe, for the fight to have been stopped a round or so earlier, but this end of the brutal game is harsh and unforgiving. When men are paid so much, they are expected to give even more. It is a savage business, make no mistake.
There was no time for tears or reflection at the end from Spence, he was calling for a rematch before he left the ring. There are other fights for Crawford, men chasing his belts, but the cash-sensible fight is a rematch. And Crawford is a cash-sensible type of guy.
Spence, in defeat, offered not one excuse. He has been inactive, he has talked for years about letting his body grow, he has suffered eye injuries and serious damage in a sickening car crash. He could have mentioned any of the facts, but he refused. “The best man won, no excuses,” he said. “Now, let’s do it again.”
Spence entered the ring unbeaten in 28 fights, having won his first world title back in 2017; he was the slightest betting underdog. He was also thought to be the bigger man and the bigger puncher. This fight was not meant to be a calculated massacre.
Crawford accepts victory like a fighter from another era. He is humble, always humble. It was Crawford’s 40th win, his eighth consecutive stoppage in eight welterweight world title fights. He has been a professional boxer since 2008 and won his first world title back in 2014. He is an old-school fighter, this win just elevated his status, and he will now face comparisons with the men from the ring’s glorious history, the long-lost champions at welterweight. He compares favourably with any of them, trust me. He also has that edge that fighters who started out on the wrong side of the boxing tracks carry with them like some kind of perverse badge of honour. I love that about Crawford.
It is rare, at this level, for one man to dominate another man like Crawford did. There are, Spence is right, no excuses; Crawford just produced a masterclass and made a hard night look so simple and that is something that only the very best can do.
A move up in weight will add to his legacy and fights with the younger generation could make him one of the greats. However, there is also a solid argument that he has nothing left to prove – in the modern business of boxing, too many boxers who have achieved less than Crawford are routinely referred to as ‘great’. It is often a false declaration. Crawford, however, is special and might just be a great of the ring.