By: Sean Crose
No one needs to be reminded that we live in a fragmented age. Turning on cable news will give us all the evidence we need of how divided we are. Yet this state of affairs goes well beyond politics and is also a long time in coming. I recall back around 1990 reading that cable television was fragmenting audiences which had up until that point been loyal viewers of what was then “the big three” cable networks. Fast forwarding a decade or so, I learned while in Hollywood that my screenplays were too varied in their subject matter and that specialization was key. A few years after that I was told getting a doctorate in literature would require me focusing on a particular matter so specific (say, online translations of Shakespeare) that it wasn’t worth my time. Reflecting on those memories now, it makes perfect sense to me that Errol Spence Junior isn’t interested in fighting Terence Crawford. His particular specialization doesn’t require him to.
That specialization, to be succinct, is to use his incredible talent and dedication to earn money. Nothing more. Oh, things like legacy would be nice, but they are second or third down the list on things Spence wants to accomplish. A boxer of Spence’s incredible skill used to be required to face those who were arguably his equals. Those days are over. Were Sugar Ray Leonard active today, there would be no need for him to ever have had to face Thomas Hearns other than a financial one. Had an easier fight been out there that might have made Leonard as much, or even more, money than a Hearns throwdown, he could have taken it without losing a wink of sleep. Because he would have had just enough of today’s fragmented fan base to support him.
And that, really, is the main reason why the best aren’t fighting the best that much anymore – because boxing’s “new breed” of fan isn’t interested in seeing top fighters face off. They’re interested in fighters making the best business decisions. As far as they’re concerned Spence has bested Crawford easily by showing little interest in facing him without a contract that was 100% to his liking. The fight is over in their minds, and for we know it was as thrilling to them as the first round of Hagler-Hearns. Superiority isn’t a matter of ring skill to these fans, but a matter of who the A-side is. Those that can peacock their superior earning power over opponents or potential opponents are their favorites.
While I’ve no doubt Spence is neither afraid of Crawford, nor eager to impress the new breeds, new breed support is enough for him to keep from fighting Crawford without the sting of fan backlash. For there are enough new breeds to cushion any potential condemnation. No other sport allows them to exert their weird influence. No NFL team for instance, is going to refuse playing in the Super Bowl because the other team won’t bring in optimal ratings and revenue. And Dana White, whatever else you can say about him, certainly isn’t going to allow that nonsense to take hold in the UFC. New breed fans aren’t necessarily boxing fans. Boxing is simply an outlet for them to engage in their passion – that passion being the earning power of others. They’re like Kardashian adherents, only they prefer the world of boxing finance to the world of Kim.
Yet even though we fight fans rightly find the behavior of new breeds off-putting, we’d be wrong to condemn Spence the fighter. For Spence is a marvel in the ring. He’s bested some serious competition and now appears eager to face none other than Canelo Alvarez next. That, my friends, is not the inclination of a coward, especially when one considers Canleo’s natural size advantage. We also have to be able to look at things objectively ourselves. A Spence-Crawford battle would simply not be a big money earner. It would bring in fight fans, and – at most – a few casuals. That’s it. It makes sense, then, that Spence would rather run the risk of getting hurt by Canelo in a potential superfight than run the risk of getting hurt by Crawford in a fight few would see.
Ultimately, however, there’s no denying that the whole thing is a painful reminder that the desire of most fans often counts for nothing in boxing. Fortunately, there’s fighters like Teofimo Lopez and Vasyl Lomachenko who will take the dangerous fights out of a spirit of competition rather than a focus solely on the wallet. Lomachneko could have easily brushed Lopes aside, after all, and we were told that Lopez “wasn’t ready yet” for the likes of Loma. Say what you will about either fighter, but each one put the sport first. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself how much bigger their battle might have been if they had put it off for a year or two.