IN a town in which the Statue of Liberty is an imitation, the Eiffel Tower is an imitation, and the Elvis you see cruising the Strip on a mobility scooter will happily lie to your face, there is often a yearning for something authentic and truthful. And yet, in Las Vegas sometimes even “The Truth” is not the truth.
This became clear, abundantly so, during round two of tonight’s (July 29) welterweight title fight between Errol Spence, known to many as “The Truth”, and Terence Crawford, who brought new meaning to the word when stopping Spence at the 2:32 mark of round nine.
For in the end it was Crawford, from Omaha, Nebraska, who provided the transparency and honesty – of the brutal variety – we all associate with truth. It was also Crawford who, after finding his feet in round one, served this honesty to Spence in the most savage way possible, sparing him any heart-to-heart and instead going straight for it: both the truth and Spence’s heart. By the fight’s halfway mark, in fact, Spence’s heart had been broken, having discovered a truth greater than his own, and by the time round nine came along, its pieces were pretty much all the bloodied and battered Texan had left. By then, you see, his ambition was gone, his confidence was shattered and his soul had been stolen.
That’s the truth.
Indeed, although rarely are a fighter’s last words ever telling, in this case they were. Asked, the pair of them, on Friday at the weigh-in what they needed to do to remain unbeaten and defeat their closest rival, Spence and Crawford both provided the same answer, one as profound as it was simple. “By being myself,” Crawford said that day, shortly after which Spence, when asked the exact same question, said, “Be me.” It was almost as though either planned or the most obvious thing in the world. Regardless, no other words were said following those final ones and presumably, for them, nothing more needed to be said. Not in that moment. Nor ever again.
Until tonight, of course. Until tonight, being themselves had been one of the easiest tasks in the world for these two elite welterweights. It is, in fact, what separates them from so many other fighters eager to be anything but themselves in pursuit of either fame, fortune, or simply an escape from whoever they are at home. They are real, these two, as real as it gets, and in a town as mendacious as Las Vegas, never was this more apparent or, for that matter, refreshing.
Yet it is on fight night that it is different and more difficult, the idea of being yourself; that is, the best version. Whereas ordinarily in their personal lives and when speaking to people who want them to be everything but themselves for the purpose of making money, Spence and Crawford are entirely comfortable in their own skin, both would have also been aware that on fight night they would in this regard be tested like never before. For it is on fight night that doing the simple – in this case, never veering from what you do day to day – suddenly becomes a sizeable challenge all of its own. “Be myself,” in other words, is not a task as easy as it sounds. Instead, never more so than when dealing with two fighters as good as Spence and Crawford, it requires a level of perfection hard to attain in a boxing ring when someone else is across from you trying to achieve the very same thing. Moreover, here in Las Vegas they didn’t even deny the fact they were after the same thing. Starved at that point of any creativity, and never ones for pre-fight talk or elaborate answers at the best of times, when Spence and Crawford issued their final words at the pre-fight weigh-in, they sent the same message because they possess the same mentality and appreciate that “be myself” is maybe the hardest thing to achieve in boxing; for some outside the ring, and for others when the first bell sounds.
As it turned out, for one of them the truth was but a nickname. For the other, meanwhile, the truth was his to deliver, which is what Terence Crawford did, gleefully, through the course of the eight and a half rounds he shared with Errol Spence tonight in Las Vegas.
Conscious of its importance, perhaps, Crawford, on his way to the ring, carried the look of a man both focused and weighed down by the burden with which he had been lumbered as the night’s elected truth-teller. With no sign of a smile on his face, or even a hint of him having fun, Crawford sauntered to the ring wearing the expression of someone who had either just been told he would have to kill his brother or, if not that, someone who had already done the deed.
Either way, it was a stark contrast to the look on Spence’s face as he made his way to the ring. There was on his face a smile – he would call it a knowing one, whereas some may now call it indicative of nerves – and he appeared relaxed, too, as if just woken from an eight-hour sleep to then be hit with a burst of fresh air, the kind currently unavailable in the 45-degree Las Vegas heat. It carried into the first round as well, this insouciance, and Spence, starting on the front foot and eager to be the one to set the pace, will have been content with the manner in which the opening round played out. There wasn’t much in it, no, but he reduced Crawford to just jabs and a single left hand, thrown only in retaliation, and was able for the most part to dictate things and spring on Crawford, which he did twice, whenever he felt that way inclined.
Until later proven otherwise, it seemed a solid enough start from Spence and, furthermore, one he had instigated. It was only later, of course, that we would come to realise that the first round was dictated, like the rest, entirely by Crawford and what he did and did not want to do. Worse than that, it was only later we would come to realise that the first round was as good as it was ever going to get for Errol Spence this evening at the T-Mobile Arena.
For what transpired after that first round was nothing short of a masterclass, the like of which is unusual to see in any fight, much less one of this magnitude and with so much at stake. In fact, while it may sound a tad hyperbolic, and while it may be inspired entirely by recency bias, I would go so far as to say Crawford’s performance against Spence was the best I have seen a boxer produce live during the 20 years I have been covering fights. It was, from round one to its finish, everything you could ever hope to see in a performance: control, moments of sheer genius, and a desire to finish that was never at any stage reckless yet neither anything other than sinister and violent in its intent.
Genius, where Crawford is concerned, is absolutely the word. It was before this fight, back when he was winning in this sort of fashion as both a lightweight and super-lightweight, but now of course we have a far greater barometer as to the extent of this genius. After all, tonight in Las Vegas Crawford didn’t just produce another finish in a fight in which he was dominant, he did so against a man in Spence who was considered his equal. Not only that, so dominant was Crawford against Spence, he removed their rematch clause in an instant, making the very idea of a repeat performance an act of extreme cruelty nobody, not even those who might make money from it, would surely dare to suggest to Spence in the future. Not immediately. Not in a year’s time. Not ever.
Because if it was something conclusive we wanted from this pair, we undoubtedly got it. Thanks in the main to Crawford, we received in place of any judging controversy, often the bane of superfights, a performance both generational and universal; appreciated in equal measure by the purists, those who have for years shouted about Crawford’s ability, typically on his behalf, and those perhaps less discerning, who, although maybe not seeing the subtlety in Crawford’s work, will nevertheless be able to appreciate a good, old-fashioned beatdown.
Which, unfortunately for Errol Spence, is exactly what Crawford, 40-0 (31), delivered tonight. It was a beatdown in every sense of the word and a beatdown of the worst kind, too, meaning it took from Spence not only his physical strength but also whatever confidence he brought to the fight in the first place. For how, having witnessed the fight, could it not? By round two, Crawford’s jab, which had been his sole weapon in round one, had all of a sudden become a weapon more akin to a cross; a power punch, essentially. It stiffened Spence’s legs, this shot, when on one occasion thrown and then doubled up, and immediately the crowd, knowing what it meant, grew excited.
It was as simple as that, the turning point. It was one jab followed by a second. If in any doubt, consider then how it wasn’t long after that Crawford cracked Spence hard with an unconventional one-two; a southpaw cross followed by a stiff right jab. This caught Spence out, the very sharpness and unpredictability of it, and as a result he found himself on the canvas for the first time in the fight. Up quickly, of course, but soon to be hurt again on the bell, there was now a look of trepidation on Spence’s face as he made his way back to the corner. It was, at that stage, less the look of a man hurt and more the look of a man who had been figured out – and early – in a way he hadn’t anticipated.
True enough, Spence, in the presence of Crawford, now cut a rudimentary southpaw aggressor. He tried, valiantly but to no avail, to push the pace again in the third and fourth rounds but each time he did, no longer with the conviction of before, he would only get punished by a man far too clever and sharp for his one-note attacks. If it wasn’t the jab numbing him on the way in, it was a cute right hook Crawford would whip towards Spence’s chin whenever he dared open up, or, if not that, it would be a crunching left cross he brought down from a height. Whichever of those punches he fancied, Crawford didn’t just throw them as though he knew they would land, he also landed the majority of them, with a success rate frankly absurd in a fight taking place at this kind of level. (To prove this, by the time it was all over, he had landed 185 of 369 total punches at a connect rate of 50 per cent, whereas Spence managed only 96 of 480.)
The result was obvious, inevitable even. Now, less than 48 hours after stressing the importance of just being himself in order to claim victory, Spence was doubting himself; as great a crime as any fighter can commit, one would argue, and maybe the clearest sign that the writing is on the wall. He landed one more decent shot, a confidence-building left hand in the fifth round, but that was about it. That moment aside, Crawford was left to exhibit some of the most wonderful counterpunching you will see in a boxing ring this year, or any year, and with this counterpunching was able to control Spence in a way nobody would have predicted beforehand. He did so via his jab primarily, which was jolting and sickening and probably hard enough in itself to bust Spence up and stop him. However, not content with that, Crawford then got busy with various other shots, unwilling, as is his custom, to merely settle for dominating an opponent and winning a fight on points. Tonight, as always, he wanted to make a dent in Spence; mark him up, make him bleed, watch him cower.
This he did, too, and with no small amount of cruelty. So cruel was it all becoming, in fact, that after dropping Spence again in round seven not once but twice, there was a moment at the end of the round where, on the bell, Crawford offered to touch gloves with his unsteady opponent before both returned to their respective corners. It was, I thought at the time, perhaps a sign of humanity in an otherwise barbaric display. It was respect, certainly, but it was also, I felt, something more than that; something closer to mercy, albeit token, and albeit brief.
The other argument is that Crawford was becoming so comfortable and finding it so easy to hit his target, he had either started to feel sorry for Spence, a man towards whom he has no ill will, or had started to believe the punishment being dished out should soon lead to the bout ending. That was the sense going into the eighth anyway, by which point Spence, his face bloodied, had been dropped three times, won only one round, and appeared completely incapable now of either landing punches of his own or avoiding those of his buoyant opponent. Shut down, as well as made impotent despite once being a fighting machine, the beaten man’s last stand is invariably fuelled by desperation and Spence was no different in that respect. His led him to places he would rather not visit and in the end, in round nine, it led him towards a combination of punches from Crawford that would bring the fight to its conclusion.
Now, in terms of the truth, comes the real test for Errol Spence and those who profess to care for him. Because the truth is, he was, irrespective of the pre-fight buildup, woefully out of his depth in the company of a master tonight. The truth is, there is no basis on which a rematch should ever happen, nor, on tonight’s evidence, any chance the rematch would be in any way different. Even Las Vegas, the home of false heroes, landmarks, and bodies, cannot save Errol Spence, 28-1 (22), from the truth.
Whether that, for him, turns out to be the fight and its result, or Terence Crawford, or “The Truth” himself is neither here nor there. They were tonight one and the same. Which is to say, the ultimate truth is this: Errol Spence, as planned, was and performed as himself tonight, only in Terence Crawford he ran into a man who is not just of a similar mindset, as far as also being himself, but, crucially, deals in a brand of brutal honesty too much for near enough every boxer on the planet and too much for a town like Las Vegas. His truth, in other words, is not only revealing and humbling. It also hurts.