It was early in the seventh round when I knew that the fight was over. Errol Spence landed a thunderous overhand left, the type of untraditional shot that could cause real damage, and yet it was he who hit the canvas immediately after throwing the punch. Before Spence's shot even landed, Terence Crawford had connected with a perfectly placed counter right uppercut. Spence's shot was eye-catching, but had no lasting impact; Crawford's was destructive and demoralizing. I thought to myself, well, that's a wrap.
If Spence could land his hardest punch, and one that had an element of surprise to it, and yet he suffered because of it, there was little else he could do. Crawford was still opening his bag of tricks as late as the seventh round and despite Spence's attempt at subterfuge, Crawford pounced on this opportunity with a master's eye and execution. He saw the opening and uncorked a wicked counter. He was too sharp, too prepared and hit too hard for Spence.
|Crawford (right) with Spence out of position|
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey
The theme of Spence-Crawford emerged as early as the second round. Spence would stalk Crawford with pressure, land good shots, but couldn't take what was coming back at him. Crawford exploited holes in Spence's defense. Spence would lunge to get his shots home, he didn't return his hands to a defensively responsible position fast enough, and his feet were often tangled. At the end of the second round Spence landed a lead shot, but Crawford countered with a straight left and then a ramrod right jab to send Spence to the canvas for the first time in his career. This pattern of Spence's good lead work negated and bettered by Crawford's sharper counters manifested throughout the fight.
It was Crawford's counter jab more than any other punch that was the clear separator in the fight. Spence couldn't get out of the way of the jab and it consistently shook him up. Crawford spoke after the fight how he and his team practiced a hard counter jab specifically for Spence and that preparation paid off emphatically in the ring. Spence couldn't handle the punch. The combination of its speed, power and accuracy was too much for him.
Crawford knocked down Spence three times and with a different punch for each one: right jab, right uppercut, and right hook. It always impresses me when a fighter can drop guys with multiple punches in a bout. This is a sign of a fighter firing on all cylinders, one who has varied weapons, can see openings, and is executing at a high level. Crawford's right hook has been his bread-and-butter throughout his career, but he didn't even score a knockdown with the shot until the fight was essentially over (the bout was officially stopped by the referee in the ninth round). Crawford was that sharp that he didn't even need to rely on his best punch to dominate an elite fighter.
Spence never stopped trying and again he landed good stuff in the fight, but his power failed to do enough damage. He got home with a number of left hands to the head and hard hooks with both hands to the body. However, Crawford proved to be the sharper puncher, the stronger man, and the one with far superior punch resistance.
Saturday was only Spence's second fight in over two-and-a-half years. His reflexes looked off. He didn't have the same sturdy base in his legs that had allowed him to take big shots in the past. These are not excuses for his performance; they in part contributed to it. Spence had several traumatic episodes out of the ring with car accidents and eye issues and although he had performed very well in his last fight against Yordenis Ugas, another long layoff didn't serve him well on Saturday. He looked as if he hadn't had a lot of reps. His hand positioning was a mess on defense. He was overshooting punches in a way that was uncustomary for him. His legs were brittle.
There are of course two people in the ring; Crawford was the one who exposed these issues. It was only because Crawford's counters were so hard and accurate that it became easy to see how Spence couldn't defend himself properly. It's because Crawford's offensive weapons were so sharp and numerous that Spence's scrambled footwork was exploited. Maybe Spence could have beaten other top welterweights on Saturday, but he wasn't anywhere close to Crawford's level. He was outgunned in every facet.
|Crawford celebrating after the victory|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
With the win, Crawford has now become an undisputed champion in his second weight class, a tremendous achievement and one that stamps him as a historically great fighter. But more than the wins, the manner of his performances speaks to his sublime skill level. He's now 35, in his third weight class, and has yet to lose a single scorecard. Whenever his fights have been competitive in the early rounds, he has ended them with knockouts. There are no coin-flip victories on his ledger or debatable decisions. He has left no doubts.
Spence-Crawford resolved the welterweight discussion of this era. There is no more debate. But more than that, it provided the opportunity for one great fighter to rise above another great one. And it gave fans a chance to witness excellence, something magnificent for their era (not their grandfathers'), something that will further bind them to the sport.
If Crawford is able to accomplish anything else noteworthy in his career, I would consider that gravy. I've already seen enough to comprehend his greatness. I know how special he is and the breadth of his accomplishments speak for themselves. His win on Saturday was one of the most impressive performances I have witnessed in my years following the sport, one that will stick with me. It was my privilege to watch him operate at that rarefied level on Saturday.
"Kids, if you want to see a masterpiece, pull up that Spence-Crawford fight from 2023. Watch greatness in action. That's who Terence Crawford was. And that's why we still talk about him today."