By Jake Donovan
The last time the top two welterweights in boxing happened to meet up in the same basketball arena and talk shop, it eventually resulted in the most lucrative event in the sport’s history.
Then again, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao weren’t just the best two welterweights in the world but also the best pound-for-pound and were circling each other for more than five years by the time they happened to run into each other at a Jan. ’15 Miami Heat game.
A budding rivalry has only just begun between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, both of whom are current unbeaten welterweight titlists. They’ve exchanged pleasantries (read: insults) through social media, and for real this past Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, home to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
It made for fun immediate reaction and a slew of clickbait headlines. Just don’t expect to lead to a head-on collision anytime soon—if ever at all.
The pair of elite boxers were on hand to take in Top Rank’s ESPN-televised show. Crawford is a regular ringside observer for his promoter’s events while not headlining his own shows.
Spence—who is advised by Al Haymon and fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner on Showtime and now Fox prime—was in the house in support of fellow Dallas boxer Maurice Hooker, who defended his 140-pound title with a spectacular 7th round stoppage of Oklahoma City’s own Alex Saucedo.
While the aforementioned title fight was the main reason for the boxing world tuning in on Friday, it gave way to a much bigger sidebar, not unlike how Mayweather and Pacquiao meeting during halftime in South Beach is far more fondly recalled than the Heat eventually losing that night to the Milwaukee Bucks.
A major development worth noting from that Jan. ’15 entry was the fact that Mayweather and Pacquiao huddled up behind closed doors after the game, talking for more than an hour about the need for their long-awaited clash to finally become reality. In stark contrast, Friday’s run-in between Spence and Crawford ended with more of the same between the two— a lot of talk, but the realization that their careers will run in separate directions.
Spence practically admitted as such, not even bothering to bite his tongue in rattling off a potential 2019 campaign that won’t—or, frankly, doesn’t need to—include Crawford. The 2012 U.S. Olympian and reigning top welterweight is currently on course to face unbeaten four-division titlist Mikey Garcia next March at AT&T Stadium, home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
With a win, the rest of Spence’s 2019 campaign—as he suggested—would put him in the ring with two more of the top welterweights on the PBC side of the street.
PBC and Fox recently rolled out their 1st quarter schedule on the free-to-air network and its regional cable affiliate FS1. Just about every welterweight of note under Haymon’s advisory banner is scheduled to appear in the first four months of 2019. Aside from Spence—who along with Garcia will headline a Pay-Per-View event for the first time in their respective careers—comes four more welterweight bouts of significance.
Keith Thurman will fight for the first time since March ’17, as he faces Josesito Lopez in late January live on Fox in primetime. A similar setting will be provided for recently crowned two-time welterweight titlist Shawn Porter, who defends versus mandatory challenger Yordenis Ugas on March 9, as does an April meet between Danny Garcia—whose lone two career losses have come versus Thurman and Porter—and Adrian Granados, while Lamont Peterson and Sergey Lipinets collide in late February on FS1 with an interim title at stake.
Outside of that deal will come a January 19 superfight between Pacquiao—who earlier this fall joined the PBC family after more than a decade with Top Rank—and Adrien Broner live on Showtime PPV from Las Vegas.
The bouts being presented in such a cluster are undoubtedly designed to mix and match the winners—and possibly even several of the losing fighters—later in the year, perhaps as early as the beginning of the summer season. Spence suggested that should he and Porter win their next fights, a unification clash would immediately follow.
From there would come a pairing that would help advance Spence from rising superstar to industry leader, as he is already being groomed for a late 2019 run-in with Pacquiao, assuming the two can win out.
While the sport is available more than ever in U,S. markets thanks to lucrative deals with Showtime, Fox, ESPN and sports streaming service DAZN, the downside is that we’re getting a lot of fights but not necessarily THE biggest fights we’d like to see. The lone exception in the past couple of years came in the form of two sensational middleweight championship fights between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, yet even that pairing coming after nearly two years of talk.
Given that take, boxing fans are already clamoring for Spence and Crawford to meet sooner rather than later in lieu of history repeating itself. The sport doesn’t need another long-term Mayweather-Pacquiao soap opera, yet already has one at the heavyweight level with unbeaten titlists Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder continuing to come up with endless ways to say “No” rather than just one way to say “Yes.”
The ugly truth, however, is that Spence can afford to disappoint boxing fans by not fighting Crawford as long as Haymon can keep his word of matching his stud welterweight against the rest of PBC’s top players in the division, particularly a Pacquiao superfight.
Top Rank can’t make the same promises to its superstar. It could produce a negative public perception of Crawford despite his clearly wanting the fight far more than his counterpart.
Another reason for Crawford sitting ringside on Friday was to scout his next likely opponent. On the undercard, fellow unbeaten Top Rank-promoted welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas stopped Roberto Arriaza in three rounds to solidify his place as Crawford’s opponent. It’s a solid matchup on paper, but not one that even remotely moves the needle.
The same sad state applies for any other in-house welterweight Top Rank can summon for its top client, who just re-inked with the Las Vegas based promotional outfit earlier this fall. Crawford and his team agreeing to stick with Top Rank while fully aware that all of his top completion fights under the PBC banner is a fact that boxing fans won’t forget as long as he’s stuck settling for the Jeff Horns and Jose Benavidez’s of the world.
No matter how often he calls out Spence or any other top PBC welterweight, no matter how many in-person or social media run-ins take place, anything short of such a fight materializing will ultimately hurt the fighter who clearly wants it more.
This much wasn’t at all lost on Spence when he and Crawford decided to engage in banter that immediately made the rounds. He doesn’t care if he’s portrayed as the bad guy in any of this, when the truth is that a year from how he’ll boast the far healthier welterweight résumé no matter how he’s mixed and matched in house—and even without facing his biggest threat.
Mayweather made a very similar blueprint work in his favor, while Pacquiao would suffer two losses and eventually run out of available challenges worth arousing public interest. It’s possible that Crawford can run the tables for years, but testing the public’s—and his own—patience is not a long-term plan anyone is willing to once again embrace.