SPENCE-CRAWFORD SHOWDOWN IS BEST WELTERWEIGHT MATCHUP IN 40 YEARS, SAYS TERENCE CRAWFORD. HE MIGHT BE RIGHT
The significance of last week’s signing of the best matchup in boxing wasn’t lost on its participants.
“I feel like it’s the best fight, welterweight fight, in the last probably 40 years,” said IBF/WBA/WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. on ESPN’s “First Take” segment, regarding his July 29 battle against WBO titlist Terence Crawford.
In a sport that is laden with hyperbole, Spence’s words weren’t hyperbolic. This could indeed be the best welterweight matchup in 40 years.
REVISITING “THE SHOWDOWN”
It was almost 42 years ago that Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns battled for the same undisputed welterweight championship that Spence and Crawford will vie for in about nine weeks.
Like Leonard and Hearns, Spence and Crawford are considered two of the best – if not the two best – fighters on the planet.
Like Leonard and Hearns, “The Truth” and “Bud” have cleaned out the division so thoroughly that the only two fighters that matter are each other.
That’s why “The Showdown” is the battle to which Spence-Crawford is most often compared, even if Crawford and Spence are in their 30s and a decade older than Leonard and Hearns were when they met for the first time on September 16, 1981.
Leonard-Hearns I – which Leonard won by thrilling 14th-round TKO after a role reversal of incredible proportions – is the gold standard in terms of modern-day 147-pound matchups.
Going in, WBC champ Sugar Ray, 30-1 (21 KO’s), was considered the charismatic, calculating stylist, while the “Hitman,” 32-0 (30 KO’s), the WBA champ, was the ominous, thunderous slugger.
It was the ultimate boxer-puncher matchup.
But, after hurting Hearns in the sixth, Leonard turned hunter and Hearns turned matador.
Down on the scorecards and sporting an eye that resembled a golf ball, Leonard engineered a stunning come-from-behind victory in the era’s most skillfully exhilarating battle.
There have been dozens of great 147-pound matchups since that summer night in the parking lot of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
How does Spence-Crawford – which most consider an A+ matchup – compare?
Is it indeed the best welterweight fight in 40 years, in terms of significance, matchup and peak quotient?
“THE FIGHT”: WHITAKER VS. CHAVEZ
Pernell Whitaker, 32-1 (WBC champ) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, 87-0, Sept. 10, 1993, Alamodome, San Antonio: Though Chavez began his career at 130 pounds and Whitaker at 135, these two little giants hovered around the other’s orbit for years.
Chavez had won world titles in the 130, 135 and 140-pound divisions, while Whitaker had won titles at 135, 140 and 147.
They were considered one-two in the pound-for-pound ratings and “The Fight” was considered the best boxing had to offer – even if neither were truly welterweights (this was technically a catchweight contracted for 145 pounds, though Whitaker’s WBC title was on the line).
Chavez especially was unaccustomed to the weight, entering at 142 pounds after having never competed at welterweight before in a championship fight.
As a result, Whitaker boxed circles around “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” before a stunned pro-Chavez throng in San Antonio – punishing him with big left hands, crafty uppercuts and whistling body shots.
The draw that was rendered by the judges is considered one of the worst in boxing history. It was clear Whitaker deserved this.
Peak quotient: B
Analysis: This is a fight that compares with Spence-Crawford in terms of the fighter’s ages (Chavez was 31, Whitaker 29).
But the unnatural weight for Whitaker and Chavez makes Spence-Crawford bigger and better, plus their styles will likely mesh much better than “Sweet Pea” and “J.C. Superstar.”
“THE FIGHT OF THE MILLENNIUM”: DE LA HOYA VS. TRINIDAD
Oscar De La Hoya (WBC champ), 31-0, vs. Felix Trinidad (IBF champ), 35-0, Sept. 18, 1999, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas: Like all superfights, these were fighters who had been circling each other’s stratospheres for years.
Trinidad won his first world title the year De La Hoya turned pro, and ”Tito”dominated the welterweight division as the “Golden Boy” won world titles at 130, 135 and 140.
De La Hoya finally entered the 147-pound ranks in 1997 with a decision over Pernell Whitaker.
Trinidad, from Puerto Rico, was a tall, lanky puncher in the mold of Thomas Hearns, appreciated by the purists for his commitment to the knockout and domination of the division.
East Los Angeles’ De La Hoya, with his boyish good looks and concussive left hook, was the popular sensation who had taken over the sport.
Both were undefeated, both were multi-talented and both were unbeatable by mere mortals.
There was also a nationalistic angle, as De La Hoya was of Mexican descent, fueling another chapter of boxing’s unparalleled Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry.
The “Fight of the Millennium” was seen as a Leonard-Hearns for the end of the 20th century – with Trinidad being the surly puncher (Hearns) and De La Hoya the pretty stylist (Leonard).
Unfortunately, the cake didn’t rise in this one, as De La Hoya boxed carefully – probably too carefully – building a lead before Trinidad picked up steam late.
Tito won, though most agreed that De La Hoya did enough to pull it out. Everyone also agreed that it was an exceedingly disappointing fight. Hoping Spence/Crawford doesn’t disappoint.
Peak quotient: A+
Final analysis: With the undefeated records and the skill of the combatants, this holds up with the fistic comparisons going in.
But De La Hoya was on another level in terms of popularity and international appeal.
So it will be tough for Spence-Crawford to hit that level of mainstream appeal.
That said, Spence-Crawford is sure to be a better fight. Both can box, but both are aggressive killers at heart.
“DESTINY”: DE LA HOYA VS. MOSLEY
Oscar De La Hoya (WBC champ), 32-1, vs. Shane Mosley, 34-0, June 17, 2000, Staples Center, Los Angeles: Though Mosley wasn’t yet a big name outside of the boxing world, the ever-powerful appeal of De La Hoya made this a big fight and a big event.
Fought at the Staples Center, the fight was a California natural, with De La Hoya being from East L.A. and Mosley from Pomona.
Again, both fighters had known each other for years and had been on each other’s radar since their amateur days.
Give credit to Oscar for making this one happen, as he was just one fight removed from the bitter, controversial loss to Trinidad nine months earlier.
Mosley had reigned as lightweight champ for the previous three years and established himself as one of the best fighting machines in the sport.
People were compelled to see whether a talent like “Sugar” Shane could move up two divisions and take the welterweight crown from one of boxing’s biggest stars.
As it turned out, he did just that, outbrawling De La Hoya to earn a split decision in what was a tremendously competitive, entertaining and skillful fight.
Peak quotient: A
Final analysis: Again, this is a fight that is comparable to Spence-Crawford because of the skill of the fighters, though you can make the argument that De La Hoya and Mosley were closer to their primes.
De La Hoya’s popularity is negated by Mosley’s anonymity to the general public.
The fight itself was outstanding, and one that Spence vs. Crawford may resemble in terms of skill level and tenacity.
In the end, Spence-Crawford ranks slightly higher because both are full-fledged welterweights (though Crawford began at lightweight, he has been at 147 since 2018), whereas Mosley had only had one previous welterweight fight and was seen as the smaller fighter.
MAYWEATHER VS. PACQUIAO
Floyd Mayweather (WBA/WBC champ), 47-0, vs. Manny Pacquiao (WBO champ), 57-5-2, May 2, 2015, MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
In a fight that very closely resembles Spence and Crawford in terms of length of time it took to make it, Mayweather and Pacquiao squared off about five years later than the world had hoped.
While Mayweather had continued with his dominant ways during that time, Pacquiao had been knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez three years prior, and hadn’t scored a knockout in five years.
Even with all that, Mayweather-Pacquiao remains the richest fight in boxing history – which tells you something not only about the skill and dominance of its participants, but also their popularity and the size of their respective followings.
Ironically, while Mayweather-Pacquiao would have likely been a better fight had it happened earlier, it may not have been a bigger event.
Mayweather was brilliant in allowing the fight to “marinate.” In the modern-day boxing era, where the general public is clueless as to the identify of most fighters, this is a fight that even casual sports fans were aware and interested.
Unfortunately, the fight itself was a dud on par with Trinidad-De La Hoya, as Mayweather boxed and Pacquiao pursued to no avail. Mayweather took a unanimous decision.
Peak quotient: A
Analysis: It’s hard to get past the dullness of this fight but, in retrospect, the matchup was solid.
Pacquiao came back to beat both Timothy Bradley in 2016 and Keith Thurman in 2019 – proving he still had a lot left in the tank.
This matchup and event is hard to match. But the fight itself was lacking in any drama whatsoever.
With Spence-Crawford drawing an A+ for matchup and “A’s” for significance and peak quotient – on paper, at least – it is indeed the best matchup in 40 years.
But like Trinidad-De La Hoya and Mayweather-Pacquiao prove, you just never quite know what you’re going to get once you’re there.
We’ll know for sure on July 29.