Boxing is the sport where anything can happen — and anything usually does and probably will happen. In more than four decades of writing about this often thrilling, frequently confounding and sometimes zany sport I’ve seen all sorts of things in the ring.
I’ve been there for the horrors of watching a fighter die from injuries sustained in combat. I was there when Mike Tyson not once but twice bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. I was ringside when a paraglider flew over the media section and landed in the ropes at The Mirage in Las Vegas while a heavyweight title bout between Holyfield and Riddick Bowe unfolded. I’ve seen one fighter punch his opponent and send his tooth flying through the air, where it landed, filled with spit and blood, onto my laptop.
I was ringside when Oliver McCall broke down mentally and began to cry in the ring during a fight with Lennox Lewis, and I witnessed it in person when legendary referee Mills Lane, trying to break up Robert Allen and Bernard Hopkins during a particularly rough clinch, inadvertently knocked Hopkins out of the ring. Hopkins, the then-middleweight champion, injured his ankle when he fell and couldn’t continue the fight. The next day, the craziness continued. In my account of the fight, I jokingly wrote something to the effect of, “When referee Mills Lane told Bernard Hopkins and Robert Allen to protect themselves at all times, little did Hopkins know he’d need to protect himself from the referee.”
Lane didn’t find it funny and let me know in a blistering phone call.
If there’s one thing you learn from being around boxing on a regular basis for a few years is to prepare for the unexpected.
And so, that brings us to the news broken yesterday by ESPN that superstar welterweights Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. have agreed to terms and will fight for the undisputed title on July 29 in Las Vegas.
It’s a fight that fans have been desperate to see for nearly five years. Both are undefeated, both have claims of not only being the best welterweight in the world but also the best boxer and their styles are such that the pairing could produce an epic result.
This fight has been talked about for years, not unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Talks in earnest for a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao began in late 2009 after Pacquiao stopped Miguel Cotto. They went back and forth for a while and by Christmas 2009 a framework of a deal was in place. A demand for drug testing by Mayweather scuttled the plans for a March 2010 bout. It wasn’t until both randomly showed up and conversed at a Miami Heat game in January 2015 that talks regained momentum and a fight was finally done.
It’s all good, then, that Crawford and Spence have agreed, but this is the sport where one needs to expect the unexpected.
And while the news was mostly good Tuesday, the key phrase in all of this is that neither fighter has signed yet. That should send shivers down the spines of all who care and are desperate to see this event.
If this fight happens — if both fighters sign and no obstacles come up and the fight occurs on July 29 in Las Vegas as planned — it could be one of the biggest weeks for boxing fans in history. Because, not only is Crawford-Spence on the verge of occurring, but another superfight — between unified super bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton and undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue — is slated for July 25 in Tokyo.
Yes, U.S. fans will have to awaken in the wee hours of the morning to see it, but still. Crawford and Inoue are Nos. 1 and 2 in the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound rankings. Fulton is 10th and Spence was fifth until he was removed last month for inactivity. He hasn’t fought in a year and at the time he was removed, didn’t have a fight scheduled, so he was out.
That means that four of the Top 10 fighters in the world will be competing in two bouts with great stakes that should deliver tremendous action.
But go ahead and take a swing at boxing again.
It’s hard to measure progress, sometimes, when it’s happening around you, but the big knock on modern boxing has been its inability to put the biggest fights together. That, though, seems to be trending in the right direction. Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia fought on April 22 in a bout which sold 1.2 million on pay-per-view according to Sports Business Journal and had a paid gate of $22.8 million. It’s not a fight that had to occur.
The boxers themselves demanded it and then wouldn’t let their representatives, their promoters, their broadcasters or anyone else prevent it.
Last week, undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney put his four belts up in the biggest, most significant fight of his life at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas against former unified champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Inoue and Fulton are already signed — that fight was supposed to be on May 7 until Inoue suffered an injury that pushed the fight to July — and now it appears Crawford and Spence have finally come to terms.
Is boxing heading to another golden age? Well, perhaps. There are a lot of talented fighters active now and plenty of potentially elite ones who are in the infancy of their careers. The talent in a sport, any sport, is cyclical but boxing is on an upswing in terms of talent right now.
There’s never been anything wrong with boxing that fair judging, good matchmaking and excellent promotion couldn’t fix.
Somebody has to lead and suddenly the fighters themselves have taken the reins. This is the best occurrence in boxing since the Marquess of Queensbury rules were introduced in 1867.
There is nothing in sports like the atmosphere just before a major championship fight. The hair stands on the back of your neck and goosebumps cover your arms. Every stand is in a full-throated roar.
It’s a scene that, thankfully, has been repeated frequently in 2023 and appears to be set to occur on a more frequent basis than it has in a long time. Anything can happen in boxing and it’s important to remember that neither Crawford nor Spence has put pen to paper and signed a contract. But all indications point to that being a formality, and the superfight will be on in a few months.
That’s the best news this sport has gotten in a long time.