Boxing is the sport where anything can happen — and anything usually does and is likely to happen. In more than four decades of writing about this often exciting, often confusing and sometimes entertaining sport I have seen all things in the ring.
I was there because of the horrors of seeing a warrior die from wounds sustained in battle. I was there when Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear not once but twice. I was at ringside when a paraglider flew over the media section and landed on the ropes at The Mirage in Las Vegas as a heavyweight title bout between Holyfield and Riddick Bowe unfolded. I saw a fighter punch his opponent and send his tooth flying through the air, where it landed, covered in spit and blood, on my laptop.
I was at ringside when Oliver McCall broke down and started crying in the ring during the Lennox Lewis fight, and I witnessed it in person when the legendary referee, Mills Lane, tried to break up Robert Allen. and Bernard Hopkins during a grueling clinch, accidentally knocking Hopkins out of the ring. Hopkins, the middleweight champion at the time, injured his ankle when he fell and was unable to continue the fight. The next day, the madness 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 defend themselves at all times, little did they know Hopkins that he had to protect himself from the referee.”
Lane didn’t find it funny and let me know with a phone call.
If there’s one thing you’ve learned from being on the boxing circuit regularly for a few years it’s to be prepared for the unexpected.
And so, that brings us to the news broke yesterday on ESPN that the superstar welterweight Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.
It’s a fight fans have been desperate to see for nearly five years. Both are undefeated, both have claims to not only be the best welterweight in the world but the best boxer and their styles are such that the matchup will produce an epic result.
This fight has been talked about for a long time, not unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Discussions 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 an agreement was in place. The need for Mayweather’s drug testing hindered plans for the March 2010 bout. It wasn’t until the two randomly showed up and talked at a Miami Heat game in January 2015 that the talks picked up and a fight was finally over.
It’s all well and good, then, that Crawford and Spence agree, but this is the game where one should expect the unexpected.
And while the news is mostly good on Tuesday, the key takeaway from it all is that the defender has yet to be signed. That sends shivers down the spines of everyone who cares and is desperate to see this happen.
If this fight happens – when the two fighters have signed and no obstacles will come and the fight will take place on July 29 in Las Vegas as planned – it will be one of the biggest weeks for boxing fans in history. Because, not only Crawford-Spence is about to happen, but another superfight — between unified super bantamweight champion Stephen Fulton and undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue — is scheduled for July 25 in Tokyo.
Yes, US fans will have to stay up in the wee hours of the morning to see it, but still. Crawford and Inoue are the Nos. 1 and 2 in the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound rankings. Fulton was 10th and Spence fifth until he was fired last month due to inactivity. He hadn’t fought in a year and at the time he was fired, he didn’t have a fight scheduled, so he was out.
This means that four of the Top 10 fighters in the world will compete in two high-stakes bouts that will bring big action.
But let’s go back to boxing.
It’s hard to measure progress, sometimes, when it’s happening all around you, but the big knock on modern boxing is its inability to put together the biggest fights. That, however, seems to be trending in the right direction. Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia fought on April 22 in a bout that sold 1.2 million pay-per-views according to Sports Business Journal and had a paid gate of $22.8 million. That’s not a fight THERE that will happen.
The boxers themselves asked for it and then their representatives, their promoters, their broadcasters or anyone else would not allow them to stop it.
Last week, undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney put his four belts on the line in the biggest, most important fight of his life at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas against former unified champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Inoue and Fulton have been signed — that fight was supposed to be on May 7 until Inoue’s injury pushed the fight to July — and now it appears that Crawford and Spence have agreed.
Is boxing headed for another golden age? Well, maybe. There are many talented fighters active today and many potential elites who are in the infancy of their careers. Talent in a sport, any sport, is cyclical but boxing is thriving in terms of talent right now.
There is nothing wrong with boxing that cannot be solved by fair judging, good matches and good promotion.
Someone had to lead and suddenly the warriors themselves took the reins. It was the best boxing event since the rules of the Marquess of Queensbury were introduced in 1867.
There is nothing in sports like the atmosphere before a major championship fight. The hair stands on the back of your neck and goosebumps cover your arms. Every stand was in full-throated roar.
It’s a scene that, thankfully, is repeating itself in 2023 and looks set to happen on a more frequent basis than it has in a long time. Anything can happen in boxing and it is important to remember that Crawford and Spence did not put pen to paper and sign a contract. But all signs point to this being a formality, and the superfight will continue for several months.
That’s the best news this game has gotten in a long time.