Terence Crawford stands alone at the pinnacle of boxing

Terence Crawford emerged from the locker room at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas late Saturday night, walked the long hallway to the arena floor, then climbed the stairs to the ring once more.

He had the World Boxing Organization welterweight title belt, which he has held since 2018, draped over his left forearm along with the World Boxing Council green belt he had just won from Errol Spence Jr. The other two belts, from the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Association rested with members of Crawford’s entourage who accompanied him to ringside for the post-fight press conference.

Crawford greeted Spence, whom he had just defeated by technical knockout in the ninth round of the most important boxing match of the year. Spence, his face red and swollen, and Crawford, his face stained, hugged and talked to each other. Before Spence could leave, Crawford handed him the WBC belt, then gathered the other straps from his team members and handed them to him as well.

Belt exchanges like these are common but rarely seen in public. Boxing’s sanctioning bodies will make new belts for Crawford, who is now 40-0 with 31 knockouts after Saturday’s emphatic victory. Spence, 28-1 with 22 knockouts, will keep his as a memento.

The post-fight ritual hinged on the premise that sold the fight — that Crawford, 35, and Spence, 33, are both champions. But only Crawford is the undisputed champion. The victory on Saturday, in which he landed twice as many punches as Spence did, makes him the first welterweight to hold titles from all four major sanctioning bodies.

The belts that Crawford surrendered will always belong to Spence, but the welterweight division belongs to Crawford.

“The whole world is talking about it and we’re putting on a great show,” Crawford said.

On paper, the showdown, between previously undefeated champions, was evenly matched. Neither fighter had ever been knocked down, and both tended to win their fights by large margins. The oddsmakers gave Crawford a slight edge, and the boxers’ records and skill sets also suggested a close contest.

But people close to Crawford, who is from Omaha, noticed an increase in intensity during training camp.

“He added to everything he does — more swimming, more running, a lot more recovery,” said Keyshawn Davis, the lightweight who trained with Crawford in Colorado Springs. “I’ve never seen him put so much into a game.”

After Spence won the first round by advancing behind a stiff right jab, Crawford dropped him in round 2 with a short right hand during a quick exchange of punches.

“My timing was off and he took advantage of a couple of things,” said Spence, a native of Long Island, New York, who grew up near Dallas. “His timing was much better than mine tonight.”

As Spence impaled Crawford with a jab to the gut, Crawford countered with a hard left hand to the head. And when Spence tried in round 6, Crawford hit him with a jab. Then another. Then a hard left hand. Then another.

As Crawford won rounds, Spence’s trainer, Derrick James, called for a change in tactics.

“Do our best to take away what he did instead of standing in front of him,” James said.

It did not work.

Crawford finished a round 7 of punches with a body shot that made Spence stiffen. When Spence fired a looping left hand midway through the round, Crawford fired a short right hook that sent Spence to the canvas. Just before the bell, a double right hook knocked Spence off his feet. As the referee, Harvey Dock, spoke over Spence’s fallen body, Crawford turned his back to the stage and began standing in the stands for some friends at ringside.

Two rounds later there was another looping back from Spence and then another quick, concussive right hook from Crawford. Spence staggered backwards. Crawford followed up with heavy punches. Dock stepped between the fighters and stopped the fight with 28 seconds left in round 9.

For Crawford, the moment brought elation and also relief.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air I get to breathe,” Crawford said. “We finally did it.”

All three judges scored the fight, 79-70, in favor of Crawford, a level of unanimity rare in a subjectively scored sport. Even more uncommon: Crawford’s blend of power and accuracy.

The CompuBox scoring system credited Crawford with landing 185 of 369 punches, compared to 96 of 480 for Spence. Crawford also landed 98 of 163 power punches; the 60 percent success rate is unusually high for a top-tier match.

The statistical landslide appeared to eliminate the need for a rematch, but the contract allowed the losing fighter to trigger one. Spence said he intended to exercise it.

“We’re going to do it again,” he said in the ring after the fight. “I’m getting a lot better.”

Spence said he would prefer to move up in weight and face Crawford in the junior middleweight division at 154 pounds, but he may have lost his bargaining power along with his world titles on Saturday. Crawford would go into a rematch as the clear headliner and have the upper hand in dictating contract terms.

Crawford’s victory made him the first male boxer to hold all four major titles in two different weight classes, at 140 pounds and now at 147. Among women, only Claressa Shields has accomplished that feat.

In 2017, Crawford became the undisputed champion at 140 pounds, then vacated those titles to move up to welterweight. On Saturday night, he considered a similar move, saying that, like Spence, he had grown tired of shaving his weight down to 147 pounds.

But he also hinted that after producing a career-best performance at the age of 35 and securing his status as one of the greatest fighters in boxing history, he may not have many more titles to chase.

“In two months I will be 36 years old,” he said. “I have been boxing since I was 7 years old. I have to sit down with my team and think about the future.”

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