Terence Crawford-Errol Spence: The welterweight classic we may never see

You want the best fighting the best…

I want the best fighting the best…

But not everyone does. It’s not always in the best interests of all the people involved, right? And even when it makes sense to us fight fans, behind the scenes there are impediments that maybe we aren’t privy to. Let alone, out-front impediments which could serve to derail a fight we are craving before it reaches a station of fruition.

I’m thinking right now of a bout that I’m craving as much as any out there: who wouldn’t like to see a playoff between Terence “Bud” Crawford and Errol Spence.

Crawford is 34-0, and, at 31, right at or near his physical prime. His visibility is still climbing as evidenced by the solid rating his last effort, a 12th-round stoppage of Jose Benavidez.

The 28-year-old Spence is 24-0 and also at or near his physical prime. He too isn’t a known commodity outside of the hardcore boxing fan sphere.

So there are elements above which make it less than likely that we see a Crawford vs. Spence collision anytime soon. The fact that both are still working to pad out their resume, get on more radar screens and become known qualities to the casual sports fan is a hindrance. Generally, when superfights get made, the two participants both resonate as attractions to people beyond our narrow sphere.

Sadly, let me trot out some more reasons why we may not see Crawford and Top Rank and Spence and Al Haymon get on the same page.

Top Rank. Al Haymon. Two behemoths. And behemoths generally like their own space to work. Arum and company did marvelously to land a home for their content on ESPN. The money specifics really haven’t been well reported, an impressive feat in the age of easy leaking.

Haymon has rebutted pretty conclusively those that predicted his PBC would flame out by the end of 2017. You know he’s signed deals with Fox and Showtime which keep money flowing in for years. But those giants of industry are beholden to ESPN on one side, and then Fox and Showtime on the other…So, if and when Crawford meets Spence, on what platform does the bout run? Would and should Fox be keen to let ESPN run the show, after making a hefty investment? OK, we know, deals have been hashed out to deal with such issues before. HBO and Showtime got on the same page well enough to make a Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao face-off.

“The telecast will be a joint venture of the networks, with a slight edge in influence by Showtime. Mayweather, who fights for Showtime, is getting 60 percent of the fight’s revenue,” Richard Sandomir wrote in the NY Times, before the dud of a bout occurred. “The fight will be produced from a Showtime truck, with David Dinkins Jr., the executive producer of Showtime Sports (and the son of a former New York City mayor), and Bob Dunphy, the director, in charge. Two of HBO’s boxing announcers, Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr., will call the fight, along with Al Bernstein of Showtime, who was the analyst for Mayweather’s debut as a professional for ESPN.”

It aired on PPV, which is essentially an island unto itself, one rented for the evening, and free from some tethers. The money from those purchasing the event flows in, and gets chopped up, going to cable providers, and the money backers and the fighters. So, couldn’t we do the same thing for Crawford vs Spence? In theory, sure; but here’s a gum in the machine. Crawford vs Spence is still a fight fans superfight; it isn’t something that will draw mainstream curiosity. It’s easier to get business competitors to come together and find common ground as HBO and Showtime did when the pie is over-sized. People will swallow bile for a sweet and fat piece. The Crawford-Spence pie just isn’t close to being fat or juicy enough to get rivals to play nice, I don’t think.

Crawford finishes Benavidez. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Then, also, let’s talk money. As in, how much would a Spence and a Crawford want. Crawford did more than well in fighting Benavidez: $3.6 plus million. How much would he want to take the risk of fighting Spence, a Texas sharpshooter. Three, four, five times as much? Spence is still building to that level; for fighting massive underdog Carlos Ocampo he made $1.2 guaranteed, though Haymon is known for sweetening pots with bonuses and such. We think Spence could be wanting an even split with Crawford or maybe he settles for a 60-40 split, because Bud has a history of earning more to this point. So, do your math… Can promoters summon the $25 million or whatever to guarantee fat paydays to each man for taking the risk? Yes, it’s the paydays that these guys crave which can be an impediment to making the fights we want to see.

Arum recently said to Marcos Villegas, “There’s no reason to do any fights for Terence or for Spence unless they fight each other. But again, it takes two to tango. I really mean that, I’m not playing games. You know, they wanna make that fight they can make it. It’ll take probably three hours to do a Crawford-Spence fight.”

OK, maybe like four hours, lol….

I think it is sinking in with many media that this new world order in boxing could both bolster and burden the sport.

I asked some A side media to weigh in, help illuminate this issue…

Mega award-winner Ron Borges, a Boston sports fixture, offered this: “The largest impediment is that each guy is the No. 1 guy in their promoter’s stable. Both fear the loser will be devalued when he goes back to his network and neither guy can generate enough PPV sales to justify the risk. Back in the day of Leonard-Hearns they make the fight. But these guys, though very talented, have not been promoted in a way that creates a big buzz. Purse demands would also be an issue but the most important, as it always is, is neither fighter is demanding his promoter make the fight. In the end that is what truly makes these kinds of fights happen today. It’s what GGG did in first fight and Oscar did to satisfy Canelo in the second. They didn’t demand terms that were guaranteed to kill the fight. Spence and Crawford tell Al and Arum “we’re not fighting anyone else” and the fight would be made assuming the fighters were reasonable in their own demands. Holyfield took $4M less than Duvas wanted for first Tyson fight…Made it back 10X over in second fight. Bet on himself. Will these two? I think not.”

Gabe Oppenheim, author of The Bittersweet Science and Boxing in Philadelphia, has thoughts on the subject: “America doesn’t wanna see two skilled black guys anymore — and not for racist reasons. It’s just that people don’t get up for craft-on-craft. And when we finally did, by the way, for Loma-Rigo, we partly did because we recognized how rare such high-level meetings are (and we could only fill the Garden’s small room, let alone an arena or stadium). And maybe Al Haymon’s welters could’ve reversed this trend if they actually fought more than once a year. At this point, it feels like Thurman-Porter never even happened. So first, boxing has become such a niche sport that people don’t appreciate technique as much as they used to. And then there are simple demographics. All ethnicities like rooting for their own. A Hispanic opponent brings in a whole other crowd. Or an Eastern European. So when you have two guys with a similar level of craft and athleticism (Bud is arguably more skilled and Spence more powerful, but the distinction is irrelevant to me) and a similar starting spot (black America), it’s gonna be a tough fight to make economically, even if everyone is promoted by the same dude (and they’re not). And let me be clear: George Benton is my trainer hero — I’d watch Pernell Whitaker fight a clone of himself if that were a possible thing. The second issue to me is the PBC and Haymon. I’ve long ago lost any disdain I had for their attempt to conquer the boxing world. Now my disdain is for the inactivity and specifically here the failure to push Spence into the consciousness of mainstream America. He is one of the country’s finest athletes and he is anonymous and that’s Al’s fault, pure and simple. Spence turned down a million promotional offers recently. I don’t know why or what he has been promised, but it better have been good because he has squandered a couple years, literally. Can you imagine if we had lost two years of Sugar Shane Mosley or Sugar Ray Leonard? Or Hearns? Those aren’t crazy comparisons — they only sound crazy because Spence hasn’t gotten famous. I can openly say this now that HBO is out of the game. I pushed various members of the HBO team to try and set up a Canelo-Spence PPV for 2019. I wanted to see it as a fan, it would’ve made good, if not incredible money. But most importantly, to me, it would’ve vaulted Spence to the level of recognition he deserves and should have already attained. If I’m not mistaken, I even asked Spence about fighting Canelo once. I just saw it as a quick fix for all his time out of the spotlight. I am not sure how he suddenly overcomes that. It’s gonna take more than a win against Mikey Garcia. Even though Mikey is beloved in the Hispanic community, he’s just not big enough yet himself. Two skilled black fighters is a tough matchup to make for economic reasons and it would be easier if Spence hadn’t been kept in a closet, locked away, for the last two years, since he fought Bundu right after the Olympics ended on NBC.”

Spence demolishes Ocampo. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime

And boxing writer Sean Nam has his take as well…

“Honestly, I don’t think the fight will ever happen; if it does, it’ll be when Crawford is past his prime. Aside from the fact that neither fighter is a “PPV” star in the mold of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., or Manny Pacquiao, meaning that there is not enough money “in the pot” to make it worthwhile for both promoters and networks to come to terms, the fight probably won’t happen because the media climate today encourages fragmentation and personal agendas. Top Rank has a duty to add subscribers to the fledgling ESPN+ app. Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN head, recently told a roomful of industry players that not a day goes by that he is not working on the app in some fashion. He pointed out how Top Rank’s Todd Duboef knew exactly what they wanted and that is to add subscribers to the app. That kind of corporate pressure on Top Rank to deliver both on the digital and linear side precludes any chance of cross collaboration. Can the fight happen? Yes, if Al Haymon allows Errol Spence to fight on ESPN. But it won’t, since Haymon is obligated to share his talent base with Fox and Showtime.”

“I don’t think it’s a big enough PPV fight yet, and the TV situation we have now in boxing is maybe going to make things worse than they’ve ever been as far as getting different major promoters to work together,” said Scott Christ, editor of Bad Left Hook. “You’ve got X amount of dates to fill on whichever network, sending one of your top guys over to another network leaves you a man short on filling a key date. I think if everyone were confident this fight could sell even 500K on PPV it might have a chance. Maybe when we see what the buys are for Wilder-Fury we’ll have a better idea if that’s even remotely possible.”

West Coast dual-sport fight writer Kevin Iole sees it this way. “I don’t think there is sufficient incentive at this point for them to make the fight. Top Rank, for instance, just re-signed Crawford. How could they explain to ESPN that the clear top draw is going to Fox? If they do pay-per-view, it’s not going to be a huge number and thus it won’t be a big score. It’s a great time in many ways to be a boxing fan, but it’s a terrible time in others. There are many mouth-watering potential matches, with Crawford-Spence at the top of the list, that the stratification of the sport into three or four leagues will do a lot to prevent.”

All sorts of theories and everything seems plausible as to reasons why we shouldn’t get our hopes up for a sooner rather than later Spence vs Crawford fight. But who knows —maybe those two guys exchange numbers, text each other, and say hey, let’s make it happen. Let’s find common ground, and meet in the middle…of a ring…and may the best man win.

 

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