IT IS perhaps inevitable that ahead of the fight that will define his career Errol Spence has little desire to hide the fact that money is driving him to put his reputation on the line.
The fight to determine the finest welterweight of their era is finally, after six years of posturing, bringing Spence and Terence Crawford together, and for all of the talk of legacies, rivalries and history – of unifying titles and of becoming an undisputed champion, as though doing so has a fraction of the value of victory for one fighter over the other – Spence has prosperity on his mind.
If Errol Spence-Terence Crawford is recognised as the biggest fight since Floyd Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015, then just like Mayweather-Pacquiao it is taking place when suggestions persist that both fighters are past their peaks. Unlike Mayweather-Pacquiao, however, neither has captured the imagination of the casual sports fan in the way required to generate anything like the income of the two most popular fighters of the modern era, contributing to the unusual circumstances under which they agreed to fight.
It was Spence, 33, who revealed in May that he and Crawford, frustrated by the inability of those around them to agree terms for them to fight at any point during the previous six years, had been speaking over the phone to negotiate Saturday’s fight at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. It is also Spence, regardless of the fact that he is two years younger than his opponent, who is least blessed with time.
In the same way that Crawford, who in 2014 first became a champion at lightweight, has matured into a convincing welterweight, Spence, a colossus at 147lbs, will know that not only does making weight risk ageing him, but that his body has already miraculously endured considerable wear and tear.
When approaching 3am one morning in October 2019 he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt while driving his Ferrari at a high speed when it flipped multiple times and ejected him Spence was fortunate to escape with his life. He emerged without a solitary broken bone, and after six days in intensive care was instead diagnosed with only broken teeth and lacerations to his once youthful face.
Scheduled for a potentially life-changing fight with Pacquiao in August 2021, he was then forced to withdraw when a retinal detachment in his left eye – potentially triggered when he was previously thrown from behind the wheel of his car – left him urgently requiring surgery and put his promising career at risk.
If it is tempting to conclude that Spence would have been less likely to have been involved in a car accident of that nature if he had been stimulated by the belief that a fight with Crawford was on the horizon, it is almost certain, not least given Pacquiao instead lost to Yordenis Ugas, that the fears for his eyesight deprived him of the opportunity to retire an all-time great and become the poster boy his typically high-profile and often-glamorous weight division has otherwise been without.
As recently as December he was involved in another car crash that meant his SUV being written off after it was hit head-on by an underaged and unlicensed driver who had run a red light. Again he escaped relatively unscathed – he complained of a leg injury – but when he expressed his relief that his two daughters and his son weren’t with him he betrayed his recognition of how fortunate he had again been.
The sense of perspective provided by all three incidents, and further years in a business he has rarely – if ever – seemed to love and which at best only fleetingly loves even its leading figures back has transformed the fresh-faced fighter who established himself in 2017 when stopping Kell Brook into one with little desire to hide who he truly is.
By the time he had retired and Spence was attempting to succeed him Mayweather had made it more acceptable than ever for fighters to express that their chief motivation is money, and eight years after Mayweather earned his biggest purse against Pacquiao, Spence, unapologetically, is following him in more ways than one.
“I’m fed up of comparisons [between Mayweather-Pacquiao and Spence-Crawford],” he told Boxing News. “Floyd and Pacquiao made 10 times as much [in 2015] as they would have made if they’d fought back then [in 2009 instead].
“That’s what the naysayers and critics say [that Mayweather-Pacquiao was past its peak], but they made ten times [the amount] and it’s prizefighting. It’s not anything else.
“We do this for a living. We do this to make money. That’s two mega guys in the sport. If it was after its time, why are people tuning in to watch the fight? Floyd’s a boxer. Floyd’s going to box. Floyd, that’s what he’s going to do. Pacquiao tried to come in, but Floyd is a master boxer; master craftsman, so he just kept on the outside and done what he had to do without suffering any type of damage.
“[Crawford’s] a cool dude. But I don’t have to not like somebody to make a good fight. I sparred guys all the time and I try to kick their arse. It’s the same thing with me – he’s trying to take food out of my plate. I’m trying to take food out of his plate. So, we’re going to war.
“I mean, he probably think I’m cool, but that’s something I don’t even think about. I mean, that’s kind of gay to think who likes who and, ‘Do he like me?’ and ‘Do I like him?’ I mean, I really don’t care. At the end of the day I’m trying to feed my family.”
After pleading guilty in June 2022 to driving while intoxicated when he crashed his Ferrari, Spence received a three-day jail sentence and was ordered to pay court costs totalling $3,400. Three months after that first crash another driver drove into the back of him, further unsettling him at a time when he was still struggling with post-traumatic stress.
“Yeah,” he responded when asked if that first crash could have taken everything from him. “I mean I don’t reflect on it. It’s something that happened, so I take it for what it is. It’s a lot of gratitude that I’m here and I’m blessed to be here, and I don’t take it for granted.
“The car crash saved my life in a sense and put me back on the right track and just focused [me] on what’s important. That’s family; boxing; and making sure that my kids are good.
“It wasn’t an easy road [to recovery] at all. I feel like I had to listen to a lot of motivational people, like Eric Thomas, and Les Brown I went into recovery by myself. I didn’t have a physical therapist or a mental therapist or anything. It was just me walking or running or being around my family and getting a comfort from them, and the focus and energy from my kids, and basically just being blessed.
“‘Cause I couldn’t do it without someone looking over me and blessing me. I got thrown from a car – [surviving] that had nothing to do with me. Just, I guess, good genetics and just being blessed.
“Yeah [I feared my career would be taken away from me] for a little bit, but I was just like, ‘This is really the only way I can get a lot of money fast’ [laughs]. ‘No, shit. I’ma keep boxing.’ At least try to keep boxing. You know, it’s taken a bit of time, and the pain started going away, so I started getting back a little bit normal to what I was.
“The eye injury wasn’t that bad. I just had to sit out for three, four months. I sat out for like four months. I feel like the eye injury, it was a grade two because I couldn’t do nothing, because I didn’t know everything about your eyes. It really allowed me to sit down and rest for four months. No activity; no anything. Just let my body rejuvenate, and I think it helped me more than anything.”
The honesty and instincts that mean that Spence so seamlessly returned to contemplating his prospects of earning may even have influenced Anthony Joshua – sufficiently impressed by Spence’s development under Derrick James to recruit James to rebuild his considerably richer career – when in the build-up to his date with Jermaine Franklin he insisted that his desire to increase his wealth is why he fights on.
Spence is not spreading the Big Fight message Showtime and Premier Boxing Champions no doubt want when he does so, but in the absence of any sense of romance or even the responsibility a showman might feel there is an admirable willingness to own that that he is expressing instead.
It is there that, beyond being such evenly matched professional fighters, he and Crawford may even have the most common ground. Crawford, similarly, has little desire to create a character for the cameras. Crawford, equally and however unimaginatively, is also open about the extent to which he too is guided by a civilised streak that means he mostly fights to secure his six children’s futures, and about how in 2008 when he was shot in the head after a gambling dispute he also had his own brush with death. Their dispassionate dispositions and an appreciation of the territory the other is occupying – the egomaniac Mayweather’s lack of empathy contributed to an electric storm being required for he and Pacquiao to meet first in public and then in the ring – may even have helped when their atypical negotiations began.
“He was the same, basically, [on our press tour] as when I’ve talked to him on the phone or seen him around,” Spence says. “Same person.
“On paper [he’s the best I’ve faced]. He’s a great fighter. Very good. Skills. Talent. He has ability; mindset. He’s a great fighter.
“[While negotiating] we was just talking about personal life, and kids; family. Investments and different stuff like that. Just feeling each other out; talking to each other; getting a feel for each other. It was just regular talk.”
Spence, regardless, sounds wearier than the opponent he described on Showtime’s All Access as his “dance partner”, and in comparison with Crawford like he is the one carrying considerably more around. He also told the All Access cameras of how in victory over Ugas in April 2022 he feared the loss of the teeth first damaged in his first car accident, and can be seen getting a new mouthguard fitted – potentially in recognition that his body has started to creak.
They will generate little like the $600m total of Mayweather-Pacquiao, even if, as is increasingly expected, they fight twice, but after Crawford’s growing frustration at the previous breakdown in negotiations led to him so clinically accepting $10m to stop the unremarkable David Avanesyan in six rounds – Crawford previously said of his rival, “This is just a sport; we’re all fighting for that number one spot, so it ain’t personal; it’s just business” – Spence-Crawford has become a prizefight for 2023.
Saudi Arabia may be investing heavily in high-profile fights and fighters but Spence-Crawford is the fight that means that at the centre of the boxing universe remains Vegas and the US. The Adonis-like Joshua and boy next-door Ryan Garcia may be the figures with mainstream appeal in James’ gym but Spence – already speaking openly of moving up in weight, and more recently accused, on account of how he spoke when promoting his date with Crawford, of showing the first signs of CTE – is number one in the trainer’s mind.
“Everybody been hearing me talk since the amateurs and since I turned professional,” Spence told BN. “You know how I talk – I guess I got a slow Texas accent so some people say that I’m punchy.
“It is what it is, man. You can’t please everybody.”
Would he even try?