Boxing

Inside the phone calls that made Spence vs Crawford – a generational fight

Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford tell Alex Pattle how they picked up the phone and hashed out a deal for a historic fight

Wednesday 09 August 2023 12:42 BST
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<p>Terence Crawford, left, and Errol Spence Jr share words of respect after their super-fight </p>

Terence Crawford, left, and Errol Spence Jr share words of respect after their super-fight

Errol Spence Jr knew this time would be different. For the best part of five years, fans had debated what a fight between the two best welterweights of their generation would look like. Promoters had spoken in public and in private about whether fans would get a look at that fight at all. On more than one occasion, the contest seemed to be within grasp before drifting out of reach. But when Terence Crawford texted him, Spence Jr knew this time would be different.

“I think it really took us just getting on the phone, and talking to each other,” Spence told The Independent over Zoom, a week out from their fight at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on 29 July. “It took us relaying different messages to each other about the negotiations, and basically me just giving him stuff that he wanted to make the fight happen. I didn’t really want much. The big obstacles were the [purse] split and the ring walk.”

Such obstacles could not have been overcome without Spence and his fellow American sharing a mutual respect, both fighters told The Independent, with Crawford saying on a call with other reporters: “You’ve got a lot of people that put on a little circus act and start going about things the wrong way – being disrespectful, taking it to another level that it doesn’t need to be taken to. Sometimes, you can’t come back from that.”

There was no such problem when Crawford and Spence picked up the phone, initially bypassing promoters, agents and handlers to try to hash out a deal for a historic fight – one between two unbeaten title holders, to crown an undisputed welterweight champion.

“There’s definitely a respect between us, I respect him a lot,” Spence acknowledged, while Crawford said: “It was never nothing [antagonistic], it was all business and respect [on the phone].

“I hit him up on 1 January,” Crawford added. “I sent him a text, just telling him that we need to actually fight, to make history. He was in agreement about us fighting. And at that particular time, I reached out to [promoter] Al Haymon and started back up the conversation. Errol got back on a phone call and started talking about the structure of the fight, the deal. That’s how the fight was made.”

Spence Jr, left, and Crawford were both unbeaten ahead of their long-awaited title fight

“The conversations were just us talking about what was going on with the negotiations, and seeing if we could get to the middle of it – the meat of it,” Spence explained. “Basically there was some stuff that he wanted, which me and my team didn’t agree to [at first].” Eventually, however, agreements were reached.

It had been a year of mixed results in terms of talks over marquee fights. Tyson Fury’s prospective clash with Oleksandr Usyk collapsed, despite the latter agreeing to a 70-30 purse split in the Briton’s favour. The Ukrainian made that concession in spite of holding three of the four major heavyweight belts, compared to Fury’s one, and holding an unbeaten record like his potential opponent. A long-awaited bout between Fury and compatriot Anthony Joshua also crashed and burned before it got off the ground, and not for the first time. However, a highly-anticipated showdown between Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Ryan Garcia did materialise, as did huge title fights between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Devin Haney and Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez.

So, should more fighters take the approach that Spence and Crawford did?

“If they’re mature enough, they definitely need to get on the phone with each other and talk,” Spence said. “But I don’t know if they’re as level-headed as me and Terence are, talking and having disagreements but trying to make the fight happen. You’ve got to have a level head to talk to another fighter and just come up with the same scenario. [It was me] talking to my people, and then at some points we had my team and his team, himself and myself. We were always on a call with each other, trying to figure out how to make the fight happen.”

Crawford lands a brutal left hand to Spence’s temple

Crawford then told The Independent: “If you have two grown men that are willing to set aside their pride and put the hype to the side and come together and both want the same thing, then yes,” before telling another reporter: “I can’t speak on other people’s situations, because I’m not the one trying to make the fight happen with them, but boxers are the ones in charge.

“Once a fighter realises that, the advisers, promoters and managers go to work. They’ve got to give the fighter what he wants. You’ve had two cases recently: ‘Tank’ and Garcia wanted to fight each other, and they made sure that deal got done, just like you have Terence Crawford and Errol Spence wanting to fight each other. We both went to our people and got the fight done, so it all comes down to the fighters at the end of the day.

“Yeah, our handlers want to look out for our best interests and make sure we make the best business decision at the right time, but it’s up to us as fighters to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There’s a lot of fighters that can say, ‘No, I don’t wanna fight this guy; I want him, give me him,’ and if the opposing fighter is saying the same thing, there’s nothing anyone can do but to make the fight happen.”

And so, one of the most-anticipated fights of a generation did happen, as Spence carried the WBC, WBA and IBF welterweight titles into the T-Mobile Arena, while Crawford brought the WBO belt. On a shocking evening, it was not the ‘50-50’ fight that most expected it would be. Crawford produced a masterclass to dismantle Spence, dropping him once in the second round and twice in the seventh, before overwhelming his rival to force a TKO in Round 9. The victory made “Bud” the first man in boxing history to become undisputed champion in two divisions.

Spence was knocked down three times en route to a ninth-round loss

And while Spence will have been devastated by the result and the manner in which it came about, he deserves immense credit for ensuring that this fight, which so many fans craved for so many years, came together. He deserves credit for taking the risk.

“I definitely think it’s something that would’ve been hanging over our heads for our whole careers, if we didn’t make this fight happen,” Spence admitted to The Independent, ahead of the fight. “It’d have been tied to us all the time. ‘Man, Spence, I wish he would’ve fought Terence.’ Or, ‘Man, I wish Terence would’ve fought Spence.’ It would’ve been that super-fight that didn’t happen.”

Meanwhile, Crawford said before the bout: “It means a lot, but at the same time, there are a lot of other fights in the history of boxing that didn’t happen. So, if the fight with Errol didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be the first and I wouldn’t be the last to have people talking about them like that. It’d just be another fight on the list.”

Thankfully, the fight did not belong on such a list. Rather, it belongs on a list of all-time great performances in boxing super-fights.

TNT Sports Box Office will show Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford exclusively live on Saturday 29 July. Learn more at https://www.tntsports.co.uk/boxoffice

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