It's finally here after years in the making – the fight for the whole enchilada at welterweight between Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) and Terence Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs). The two undefeated champions will fight for undisputed status and the best of the era at 147 lbs. on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The background politics as to why the fight didn't happen sooner has been spelled out over countless, "breathless" articles, but there are a few things in the delay that are worth noting. One, Spence has had to overcome two car crashes and a detached retina. Additionally, both fighters are now removed from their physical primes, with Spence at 33 and Crawford at 35. Although both are still elite talents, it's safe to assume that neither is at his athletic best – more on this later.
Spence enters Saturday's fight coming off a 17-month layoff. And although he looked excellent in his last outing against Yordenis Ugas, such a long time out of the ring is rarely beneficial.
|Spence (left) and Crawford at their introductory presser|
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime
Below will be my keys to the fight. I'll have a prediction at the end of the article.
1. The punch volume gap
Spence is a more active fighter than Crawford in the ring. It's typical for Spence to throw 50+ or even 60+ punches a round while Crawford is more often in the 30s. If Spence can maintain this edge throughout the fight, it would be a huge advantage for him in piling up points on the scorecards.
At welterweight Crawford has been a knockout artist, stopping everyone he has fought. He often gives up early rounds while he takes a look at his opponents. And this has happened whether it was against Shawn Porter, Mean Machine Kavaliauskas, Jose Benavidez or Kell Brook.
If Spence fights to his strengths and Crawford takes his customary time in studying an opponent, it's likely that Spence will be ahead going into the middle of the fight, which could help Spence significantly down the stretch. With an early lead, he can afford to take fewer risks, because much of his work has already been accomplished.
It would certainly behoove Crawford not to fall behind too far early in the fight. Yes, he has stopped everyone so far at 147, but what if he doesn't? He certainly went the distance several times earlier in his career. Spence is not the fighter to play catchup against in an attempt to win on the scorecards.
2. Both have better offense than defense
There was a time, a number of years ago, when Crawford in the southpaw stance had terrific defense. It used to be that when he was orthodox, he was more offensively oriented and when he was southpaw, he was more defensively responsible. But even that distinction has evaporated. In the last few years his defensive reflexes have declined. Crawford now gets hit quite a bit and it doesn't seem to matter the type of opponent. He got hit hard from Mean Machine from distance whereas Porter had lots of early success against him at mid-range and closer. Although Crawford's chin has been solid over his career, he's been wobbled against Gamboa and Mean Machine. He can be vulnerable to a big shot.
Spence also can be hit, especially from range. Porter, with his unpredictable punching patterns, landed plenty on him. Danny Garcia detonated a number of big right hands on him from distance. Ugas temporarily stunned Spence with a right hand.
Ultimately, this fight may come down to chins more than any other factor, because both will get hit with quality shots. Spence will work Crawford up and down with volume and Crawford will try to be at his sharpshooting best. Who can take the other guy's best will be vital in determining the winner.
3. Hot vs. Cold
The demeanor of each fighter in the ring I believe will play a pivotal role. I think that Spence has a more relaxed style in the ring, fighting within himself and not trying to force things (the Porter fight was a glaring exception though). Spence knows when to take his foot on and off the gas and paces fights very well.
Crawford to me is more hot-tempered. When he gets hit hard, he immediately wants to get it back. When he senses an opponent may be hurt, he will go all out for the stoppage. Crawford will swing for the fences when he senses blood in the water, but he does leave himself open for a guy who can remain calm under pressure. There is a degree of recklessness when Crawford closes a fight. It makes for tremendous theater. To this point Crawford has been in the lion's den without too much suffering, but Yuriorkis Gamboa had Crawford in bad shape and staggered under this very circumstance. Now that was a long time ago, but I still think that Crawford can be vulnerable when he believes that he has the upper hand.
|Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime|
4. Crawford the closer
Crawford's fights often turn on a dime. Whether it was the Porter fight or the Brook bout, an opponent is doing well against Crawford...until he isn't. And then suddenly it's over. Crawford in my opinion is the best closer in the sport. His ability to throw multiple knockout weapons from either stance is unmatched. In particular, his right hook out of the southpaw stance is one of the best punches in boxing. For whatever reason, very few opponents have been able to avoid that punch on a consistent basis. Part of the reason is he can throw it in different ways. He can use it as a check right hook, he can arc it with a higher trajectory, he can take it downstairs, he can widen it. However he throws it, he has a preternatural ability to land it.
With the exception of the Ugas fight, where it was clear that Spence got stung by a right hand, Errol usually has a great poker face after getting hit with a big shot. However, Crawford has a sixth sense when an opponent is ready to go. Spence won't have the ability to back away or reset on the outside after taking a big punch because Crawford will be on him.
Hopefully Spence understands the importance of tying up and buying time. If he's hurt and decides to trade with Crawford, I wouldn't like his chances on a consistent basis. Yes, there are opportunities to hit Crawford when he rushes in, and if Spence has a clear head he should take them, but making it to the next round will be even more important.
5. The body
Each guy can reduce the effectiveness of the other by going downstairs to the body with big shots. By going to the body early, Crawford could sap Spence's willingness to take the fight on the inside, where he would like to use his close-range fighting skills to wear Crawford down. For Spence, one way to reduce Crawford's effectiveness in the later rounds is to deplete him early with body shots. Thus, when Crawford inevitably lands something hard, he might not have the same agility level to follow up at maximum capacity.
Going to the body for both will be a risky gambit because each can counter effectively. Crawford can skirt out of the way and counter with a hard hook. Spence will meet a lunging opponent with a mean left uppercut or a straight left to the body. But both fighters must take their chances going downstairs. It will help thwart the other's game plan.
In my mind this fight has two overriding factors in determining who wins:1. Spence has a structural advantage in winning rounds.
2. Can Spence stay on his feet?
Crawford has played a dangerous game at welterweight of losing rounds early only to make it up in the second half of the fight with a knockout. But not everyone gets knocked out. And if Spence can't be put down for good, can Crawford do enough to win seven rounds on the scorecards? If he's down three or four rounds, can he make it back on the cards? I have my doubts.
But, and this is a big but, Spence will have to stay on his feet to win, a feat that no welterweight has accomplished against Crawford. And again, it's not as if Spence is some kind of defensive marvel. To win the fight, Spence will need to build a lead and respect Crawford's power. So, if he's hurt, he should do whatever it takes to stay in the fight, not necessarily win that particular round. Spence's trainer, Derrick James, will be vital in the corner in providing Spence with the right instructions during moments of duress.
I have no doubt that Crawford is going to land some vicious shots in the second half of the fight. Spence will need to show his survival skills and be able to recuperate. If he understands what he's up against, he could hold his way out of some scary moments, but if he does get caught up in a battle of machismo, he will get knocked out.
Since I am forcing myself to make a prediction, I like Spence to win the fight based on his ability to win rounds and that he has a great trainer to help settle him when things get rough. But Derrick James will only matter if Spence can get back to the corner. Spence is going to have to survive for 30- or 45-second intervals of intense duress. If he can do that, I think that he will have put enough rounds in the bank to win by a decision.
Let's call it eight rounds to four for Spence in a fight where he might have to get off the canvas, or even survive a 10-8 round where he doesn't go down. Ultimately, I think that Crawford's inability to match Spence's output early in the fight will be his undoing on the cards. Crawford will remain dangerous to the final bell and he will always be a threat to score a knockout, but I think on Saturday it will finally catch up to him that he gave up too many early rounds. We shall see.