It’s finally here. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr have been the giants of the welterweight division, and two of boxing’s biggest stars, for years now. Naturally, a clash between them has been demanded for years- but boxing’s promotional cold wars held it back. With Crawford a free agent now, though, they’ve finally been able to strike a deal – and unlike some delayed superfights, it’s not too late. Both fighters are still considered to be in their primes, and it will be the career-defining fight for both. Don’t get it twisted- this is as big as it gets in combat sport.
The Preview: How did Terence Crawford and Errol Spence get here?
Of the pair, Terence Crawford (39-0-0, 30 KOs) is the smaller man, having won a title at 135lbs and unifying all the belts at 140 before moving up to the 147 lb welterweight division. That run earned him acclaim and the top spot on many people’s pound-for-pound lists- but it’s fair to say that his run at welterweight has underwhelmed.
Since moving up in 2016, and while all his wins are fine — there haven’t been any egregious blowouts against world-level no-hopers, they’ve all also been against opponents either well past their best or without real world-level experience. Sure, the disappointment is partly down to the fact that he’s quite clearly so good that he’s making credible opponents look foolish — but he does need this fight to really put a stamp on his run at this weight.
Errol Spence (28-0-0, 22 KOs) has by contrast been a welterweight his entire pro career, and he’s big for the weight. He reached world level back in 2017, beating Kell Brook in an excellent contest. His run since then has been more testing than Crawford’s, with wins against Danny Garcia and most recently Yordenis Ugas as well as their common opponent Shawn Porter. That’s resulted in him holding three of the belts- the WBC, WBA and IBF, to Crawford’s WBO. He has, though, also been quite inactive in recent years. That’s especially true since his very lucky escape shortly after his win over Porter, when he drove drunk and was thrown from his rolling Ferrari.
He somehow walked away from that with only some scratches on his face, though the week in the hospital has had fans questioning whether the trauma might affect his endurance. That is still open to question to some extent, but he looked very sharp in his win over Ugas last year, so it’s probably not something that’s affecting his fight preparation now. In any case, after all that, he has solid wins but not that defining one- so he’s just as up for this as Crawford is.
It is, in short, as high-stakes as it gets- all the titles, and the question of legacy. Let’s take a look.
The Breakdown: How do Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford match up?
Of the two, Errol Spence’s gameplan is going to be the more predictable, because he’s all about one thing: getting and staying in his opponent’s face, and winning an attritional battle with gruelling physicality and thumping short (but constant) combinations. It would be very wrong to call him crude, but he isn’t subtle.
Terence Crawford, meanwhile, is the more complete all-round boxer. He can and does box in close when he feels the need (or just wants to), but he’s also excellent on the outside- and he’s equally good boxing backwards and forwards. He’s also, of all boxers of the last decade or so, probably the most renowned for finding his opponent’s weaknesses as a fight goes on, and exploiting them. He also has some of the best finishing instincts in the sport. In short, he’s both cerebral and brutal, and will be looking to use that to overcome the size disadvantage.
What that means is that, on a technical level, the advantage goes to Crawford in the sense that he’s going to be competitive whatever is happening in the fight. Even though Spence is bigger (though not actually longer- Crawford has the reach advantage), his outside game is really just about setting up how not to be outside. That means he’s not really trying to win on points there, and doesn’t do make too many adjustments with that in mind.
Against many opponents he’ll score points just because his jab is very good, but Crawford is longer and more technical than pretty much anyone Spence has been in against, and if he focuses on winning at distance, he has the advantages.
More specifically, Spence has a good jab but Crawford is excellent at messing with his opponent’s jab before delivering his own work, with handfighting and parries. Spence pressures extremely well, but he’s never faced anyone as well-versed as Crawford at anticipating approaches.
Similarly, while Spence is quite happy letting opponents come to him, he’s not that happy if he actually has to fight backwards. He’s very sharp at moving backwards, but only to get back to range, reset, and engage on the front foot again. If Crawford can get him into reverse mode and then keep up with him for a bit, he’ll have a good chance to score a few points without return. The reverse will not be true- even if Crawford spends much of his time on the back foot, he’ll be finding openings to land the entire time.
Spence has been taking steps to mitigate these issues throughout his career, though, and produced probably a career-best technical performance against Ugas. Not that he was any more comfortable being backed up, necessarily- and he was on a few occasions there- but he was better at moving laterally or spinning out to get to safety more easily. And doing that can make an opponent turn to follow, opening opportunities for him to crash back in while they’re off-balance. That won’t be easy against Crawford, but it does give him more options than he would have had three or four years ago.
Where might Spence have the advantages? Well – in close. Although the height isn’t that different and Crawford’s reach is longer, Spence is very clearly the bigger, bulkier man of the two. And while Crawford is a clean, capable technical boxer, he is used to using physicality of his own to get his way in close. So if and when Spence does get the fight into his area of expertise, Crawford will have to contend with the toughest physical challenge of his career.
It’s not just crude muscling, either- Crawford has dealt with muscle before, comfortably dealing with Jeff Horn and eventually stopping Shawn Porter. But both of those fighters are relatively basic with how they use their muscle. Spence will frame up, handfight, and use his feet to break an opponent’s posture before going to work, and if he can do that against Crawford it will be harder to bring his own strength to bear. Crawford is also good at this- but for him it’s a tool in the box, whereas it’s Spence’s main gameplan.
It should also be noted that although Crawford may have the tools to score points in more areas than Spence, the reality is he sometimes doesn’t. His ability and willingness to give up certain battles to condition his opponents is legendary- but has occasionally come with rounds given up on the scorecards. Some observers had Porter up in their fight- to the disbelief of Crawford just he went out and finished it, and he was officially down to Kell Brook before he ended that fight.
There have been others throughout his career. It’s true that, on those occasions, it never really felt like he wouldn’t get the job done in the end- but Spence is a different beast to any of those, and if Crawford finds himself giving up too much momentum, he may find it hard to make back the difference.
Still, though, that comes with a flipside. Momentum is key to Spence’s game- but it’s also key to Crawford’s. That is, his opponents’ momentum. He is as good as anyone in the world at drawing his opponents on, persuading them to do certain things in certain ways, and then punishing those tendencies. Spence absolutely has to roll forward and try to impose himself- he can’t win if he doesn’t.
But, for all the talk of potentially boxing outside or circling or pushing Spence back, trying to build his own momentum is exactly what Crawford wants Spence to do. And, if he does find those openings, that’s when Spence’s relative lack of variety can bite him. Crawford can arrest his own momentum on a dime, do something different if need be. Spence may not be able to.
And there’s one more thing: Errol Spence is an attritional fighter. He seeks to break down his opponents by doing more damage than they can throw back- but he doesn’t do an awful lot to stop them throwing, or indeed landing fairly often. He is by no means an incompetent defender, but he’ll take two to land three, quite happily. Against most opponents- fine. Against Crawford, even if he can limit it two ‘take two’, he may find those two are much sharper punches than anything he can deliver.
Whereas Crawford, while no stranger to shipping shots himself if he thinks it’ll gain him something, is attempting to manage his opponent’s offence. He simply has more strategies to avoid damage, and that gives him an advantage even if Spence can overmatch his volume.
That’s the broad strokes, in a battle of advantages for both but probably favouring Crawford overall. Let’s take a look at some further details that may affect the fight:
Crawford is a renowned stance-switcher. He isn’t, however, someone who switches constantly to befuddle his opponents, the way a Tyson Fury or many MMA fighters might try. Instead, he tends to pick one stance and hold it for a while, see how it works for him. If he finds the matchup uncomfortable, he’ll switch to see what he can get there.
He does mostly box from southpaw these days, it seems- but he is perfectly capable of going orthodox if he thinks he can find better angles and openings that way. He’ll also often open in orthodox, let his opponent get a feel for him there, then switch- something he did against both Porter and Avanesyan. Spence is a southpaw himself, so that may affect his choices there. But don’t expect him to be constantly switching up, that’s just not his game.
Errol Spence closes distance very fast, but with a great deal of control. If there’s one thing that could surprise Crawford on the night, it’s that. Porter is a fast range-closer, yes, as was Yuriorkis Gamboa who gave Crawford trouble earlier in his career- but neither, especially Porter, as controlled about it. That does mean Crawford will have less space and time to make his famous reads. That may come into play.
On the other hand though, while Spence is controlled, he does make one error relatively consistently- he’ll duck forward over his front foot in the final phase of his approach. Expect Crawford uppercuts. Actually, look for other punches first- overhands or high jabs to persuade Spence to commit to the leaning-in approach as he slips them. Then expect uppercuts.
Watch for a very high-level battle of very small angles. Spence got the upper hand against Ugas, in his last fight, simply by shifting his shoulders a lot. His feet would barely move, but he’d lengthen or flatten the set of his shoulders, thus altering the arc of his punches and making the angle of approach just slightly different. Ugas found this very hard to deal with. Crawford, meanwhile, makes a whole style of this- constantly changing angles with feet, torso and head. So he may have the advantage overall – but the speed with which Spence covers ground may mean Crawford is caught off-balance adjusting more than usual.
There’s been some talk of this going off like Hagler-Hearns, but as entertaining as that would be, it’s not all that likely. Neither fighter is a slow starter in the sense of being unwilling to engage early- but Crawford is very much going to be scouting the territory. pence will roll in from the start, but he’s also someone who tries to build momentum rather than come out full-throttle, so expect a bubble-up of momentum rather than an instant screeching collision.
The Prediction: who wins Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence?
Well, it seems clear from all the above who I favor: Terence Crawford has more routes to victory. Now, that doesn’t mean this is a one-sided fight. Errol Spence does the things he does very well, and the nature of his style is that should he get on top, he might be the one walking away with a wide victory. Whereas Crawford is more likely to win narrow even if he seems in control the whole time, and a badly-timed dip in momentum could give Spence a fight Crawford felt in control of.
All that said, though, Crawford’s wider array of options and his capability of using a charging opponent’s strengths against them should give him a victory. I’ll go for Terence Crawford by unanimous decision, but frankly I would not be shocked by a late KO.
What’s on the undercard?
No fat here, with only four fights scheduled for the entire card- so it’s all on the PPV show, no prelims. The legendary Nonito Donaire fights for a title once more at age 40, taking on Alexandro Santiago for the WBC bantamweight belt. Isaac Cruz, who caught the eye in 2021 with a credible losing performance against Gervonta Davis, squares off against the much bigger, and unbeaten though unproven, Giovanni Cabrera.
That’s an eliminator for both the WBA and WBC titles at lightweight, so the winner will have a good claim to challenge Devin Haney for all the belts. And slick Spaniard Sergio Garcia was supposed to be fighting Jesus Ramos in what would have been a tough test for both men- but with Ramos out, instead he’ll be facing completely unknown Cuban Yoenis Tellez. Given that this will be Tellez’ first fight against someone with a winning record, it’s an enormous step up, so Garcia should be winning handily- but sometimes this kind of thing does throw up a surprise.
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