The virtuoso performance was almost unmatched in sports.
In professional sports, the significance of the moment is frequently determined by the stakes involved, therefore Terence Crawford’s ninth-round TKO victory over fellow unbeaten Errol Spence Jr. on Saturday in the first four-belt undisputed welterweight title battle would already qualify as a historic event.
The fact that 35-year-old Crawford (40-0, 31 KOs) also joined women’s pound-for-pound champion Claressa Shields as the first male boxer to win the undisputed championship in two weight divisions since the four-belt era began in 1988 only serves to emphasise how significant this egregiously one-sided performance was.
Even still, even high praises fall short of accurately capturing how virtuosic and astounding Crawford’s performance was.
During the same week that four-division champion Naoya Inoue attempted to solidify his stranglehold atop the sport’s pound-for-pound rankings, Crawford found a way to win what was a real 50/50 matchup on paper between two of the best and most accomplished boxers of the modern age.
On the pivotal night of their respective careers, Crawford wasn’t just superior than Spence (28-1, 22 KOs), he also made a fellow all-time great appear as like he didn’t belong in the same ring. Crawford provided the response on a night intended to establish the undisputed face of the post-Floyd Mayweather welterweight era, which started with the five-division champion’s retirement in 2015, by raising a completely new set of issues.
How would this version of Crawford do against Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight primes? Or would he have presented a challenge for the “Four Kings” who weighed between 147 and 160 pounds in the 1980s? Speaking of weight gain, if Crawford can draw Jermell Charlo at 154 pounds, is he now a threat to become a three-division unchallenged champion? Or how about squaring off against Canelo Alvarez, the best boxer of this decade, at a catchweight someday?
Words like brilliance, phenomenon, or magician don’t begin to describe Crawford’s performance against Spence. Crawford did not defeat his opponents with a single flawless punch or, like Mayweather, by making them chase him for so long that their faults were made obvious.
This was the boxing equivalent of seeing James Brown perform at the Apollo Theatre or seeing Elvis Presley on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Miles Davis bent one long note so tenaciously, expertly, and passionately that Crawford and the spectators who witnessed this level of transcendence took part in an artistic exchange.
How lucky are we to have witnessed Terence Crawford’s performance.#MorningKombat’s #SpenceCrawford Post Fight Show w/ @lthomasnews is available here: https://t.co/UCoeyrVoqD pic.twitter.com/OocVTiw22G
— Morning Kombat (@morningkombat) July 30, 2023
As he started the fight in the southpaw position, Crawford was a hybrid of a jazz soloist and an orchestra director. He never once let the hard-charging Spence move past first gear. Spence’s jab was easily removed from him by Crawford, who also watched Spence’s every move.
Why would Crawford, who is considered to be the more technical of the two boxers coming in, have to rely on outfoxing his most challenging opponent when he could simply stand directly in front of him and regularly deliver quick and powerful counterpunches to score a trio of knockdowns while gradually exhausting his world-class opponent? Crawford’s performance set a brand-new bar for impressive in a battle this significant, surpassing even recent thrashings in high-profile fights like Mayweather destroying Diego Corrales in 2001 or Bernard Hopkins putting Felix Trinidad on display the same year.
Let’s take a deeper look at the CompuBox statistics if the eye test wasn’t convincing enough. In terms of total punches landed throughout nearly nine full rounds, Crawford nearly doubled Spence’s total (185 to 96), but it was his proportion of landed punches, including 50% of all shots and an insane 60% of power connects, that truly set his performance apart in terms of historical comparisons.
The only way Crawford’s performance in the biggest boxing superfight in nearly a decade could be appropriately compared to team sports is if a basketball player scored 75 points in the NBA Finals or a quarterback threw eight touchdown passes in the Super Bowl while destroying the league’s second-best team.
All of this raises the question, should we have anticipated this? The solution is less black and white and more grey.
Has Crawford, a three-division champion, demonstrated to us throughout this current 11-fight winning streak that a performance this good was even conceivable? Yes, given his first P4P ranking and the high regard that boxing experts have for his all-around abilities. In addition to being a tiny betting favourite against Spence, many felt that if either fighter could win this matchup decisively, it was more likely to be the Omaha, Nebraska, native.
But none of that necessarily explains how a performance this great against a foe this deadly was even feasible. The majority of that is determined by comparing their prior accomplishments, starting with Crawford’s full-time jump up to 147 pounds in 2018.
The moment @terencecrawford became UNDISPUTED CHAMPION OF THE WORLD 🏆🏆🏆🏆
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) July 30, 2023
In addition to not having access to top welterweights while being promoted by Top Rank, Crawford only competed four times in the previous four years. In addition, most of his victories came against fighters of lower calibre or former champions (Amir Khan, Kell Brook), who were far past their prime, with the exception of his victory over Shawn Porter in 2021, one of the two opponents he shared with Spence. Even in his stunning TKO victory with Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas in 2019, Crawford was knocked to the ground.
If you chose sides after the initial attempt to book this fight in 2022 fell through, Crawford wasn’t at fault for any of the current matchmaking; instead, Crawford accepted a lucrative one-off fight under the BLK Prime brand against the fairly unimpressive David Avanesyan. In contrast, Spence successfully defended his welterweight title six times during the same time span, winning fights against top competitors including Porter, Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, and Yordenis Ugas.
However, there is a proverb in boxing that is related to the notion that you are only as good as your last performance: excellence is frequently best understood through the lens of the calibre of the opposition you face. Therefore, it didn’t seem possible that Crawford would somehow step up his performance against an opponent who was this tough and knowledgeable among the top welterweights.
But battles aren’t decided on paper because of this. Due to matches like Inoue-Stephen Fulton Jr. and Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia, 2023 has been a particularly memorable year for the sweet science, which is why the finest competitors really competing against one other is the most important aspect of boxing’s prolonged health in the mainstream sports world.
A great boxer must face formidable competition in order to step up his performance to a level never before attained. And on Saturday, when it counted, Crawford was able to demonstrate that, despite being 35 and towards the end of his peak, he still had much more to offer as a player.
Crawford said he was this excellent; all we had to do was see it. Without a doubt, this is what true brilliance looks like.