After years of talk and anticipation, Terence Crawford battered, blooded and bruised Errol Spence Jr. on Saturday to become the first undisputed welterweight champion of the four-belt era. Anticipated as arguably the biggest and most important fights of the era, Crawford dominated almost every second of the fight before scoring a ninth-round TKO to become the first man to ever achieve undisputed status in two weight divisions in the modern era.
Crawford’s performance was an incredible show of dominance, dropping Spence three times in the fight before the referee was forced to jump in and stop Spence from any further damage. Despite being viewed as basically an even fight between pound-for-pound elites, Crawford’s performance separated him entirely from the pack at 147 pounds and established him as the clear winner in a longstanding rivalry.
There were many important storylines coming out of Saturday’s event from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Let’s go through and break down the five biggest from the event.
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Crawford reopened the pound-for-pound debate
Mere days ago, it seemed thatfor the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet when he moved to super bantamweight to dominate and stop unified champion Stephen Fulton. In the wake of another incredible Inoue showing, it seemed Spence and Crawford had no shot at overtaking him at the top of the pound-for-pound list.
As good as Fulton is — and he is very good — Spence is better. And as impressive as Inoue was — and he was very impressive — it’s hard to argue that Crawford was not more impressive in his complete dismantling of another elite pound-for-pound talent in Spence.
Crawford is the first male fighter to ever achieve undisputed champion status in two weight classes in the four-belt era and he has seemingly gotten better every time he has stepped in the ring. Inoue was a clear favorite over Fulton while Crawford vs. Spence was close to a 50/50 fight in the eyes of nearly everyone. As impressive as Inoue was in neutralizing Fulton and winning a title in yet another weight division, Crawford’s performance ranks among the absolute best of this — and possibly any — era.
If you’re not at least considering Crawford as the best boxer in the world, you did not watch what he did to Spence on Saturday night.
No need for Spence to pursue a rematch
For a fighter as talented as Spence, it’s understandable to want to activate the bilateral rematch clause and get right back in the ring with Crawford. The reality, however, is much more complicated. The winner gets to decide the weight for the rematch if the clause is activated, and it’s unlikely Crawford would do Spence the favor of holding the rematch at junior middleweight. Spence had previously said Saturday night would be his final fight in the welterweight division. He is a huge welterweight and making the cut is hard at this point in his career. Crawford, who won his first title at lightweight, does not face such a struggle and would likely prefer to instead defend his undisputed status in the rematch.
The fight also made it clear that as talented as Spence is, Crawford is simply the better fighter. There’s no shame in Spence owning up to being the second-best welterweight of the era, coming up short against a generational talent. There is plenty for Spence to try to accomplish at 154 pounds.
It seems certain that another one-sided fight with Crawford would only serve to diminish Spence’s place in the sport. Crawford is the better fighter, Spence needs to now pursue the next stage of his legacy, accepting that Crawford is the better man in their rivalry.
A tricky win for Pitbull sets up an interesting next fight
Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz has had his sights firmly set on a rematch with Gervonta “Tank” Davis since Davis won a competitive fight in their December 2021 bout. To stay in the hunt for that fight, Cruz first had to take care of Giovanni Cabrera on Saturday night. Cruz was able to get his hand raised in the end, taking a split decision over Cabrera. Cruz clearly deserved the win, but Cabrera used his length and a clinch-based defense to make it ugly and somehow convince one of the ringside judges he’d done enough to earn the victory.
The real story is what could be next for Cruz. Yes, a fight with Davis is in play if Davis decides that’s the right fight for “the face of boxing.” But the fight with Cabrera was also a WBC title eliminator at lightweight. The lightweight title picture is murky, with undisputed championto challenge Regis Prograis for the WBC title at junior welterweight in his next fight but asking to be allowed to hold onto his 135-pound titles while he does so. It’s unclear if the WBC will grant Haney’s request, though history suggests they will. If the WBC does declare the belt vacant, Cruz is immediately in the mix to battle for a world title.
One wildcard possibility is a fight with Ryan Garcia. Garcia, who is coming off a loss to Davis, is still a big name and a young star. He called for a fight with Cruz on Friday and reiterated his desire for the bout on social media on Saturday night. Cruz has some very interesting possibilities for what comes next just by surviving a tricky challenge from Cabrera.
The possible end of the road for a legend
Whether or not Nonito Donaire retires after, his status as a Hall of Famer and one of the best fighters of his era is already secured. Donaire looked almost every bit of his 40 years of age in the fight, getting beaten to the punch by a younger, faster fighter round after round. Donaire looked as though he was struggling to pull the trigger throughout the fight.
Donaire has held world titles in four weight classes in his career, always bringing the fight and never shying away from a challenge. But it’s possible the beating he took at the hands of Naoya Inoue in June 2022 in a rematch of their tremendous 2019 Fight of the Year effort was the moment time truly caught up to the Filipino legend. Not to take anything away from Santiago, who was tremendous on Saturday night, but Donaire simply did not “have it.”
Donaire was noncommittal on his future after the fight, saying he would speak to his wife and they would make a decision together on whether he continued on in the ring. If this was it for Donaire’s time in the ring, boxing fans all owe him thanks for years and years of action from someone who brought the best qualities of an athlete both in and out of the ring.
Tellez takes a risk, gets the reward
Yoenis Tellez (6-0, 5 KO) took a chance not many young, promising fighters would dare when he agreed to step in against Sergio Garcia on just three-weeks’ notice. Prior to the Garcia fight, the best opponent Tellez had faced in his career was Cameron Krael, who entered their bout with a 19-26-3 record and having lost 12 of his 13 most recent fights. Garcia entered with a record of 34-2 and with a fair bit of experience against higher-level opposition. The 10-round fight was also Tellez’s first time being scheduled for more than six rounds.
Tellez didn’t even need three full rounds to score the biggest win of his career. After showcasing a solid, productive jab, Tellez began to mix in solid body shots with both hands. All of this, plus Garcia showing an unusual level of aggression, led to an opening for Tellez’s right hand to first stun, then drop Garcia. While Garcia beat the count, Tellez swarmed to force the referee to step in for the third-round TKO.
Tellez bet on himself by taking a risky fight early in his career and doing so on a big stage on late notice. That bet paid off in a big way as Tellez made a name for himself for the masses tuning in for the big main event. Tellez is now an emerging player at junior middleweight.