Terence Crawford, Naoya Inoue gave us precious gifts

A critical look at the past week in boxing

Terence Crawford

To understand the magnitude of what Crawford accomplished on Saturday in Las Vegas we must consider his opponent. Errol Spence was a former Olympian, unbeaten professional with an impressive resume, No. 4 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list (Crawford is No. 1) and a three-belt welterweight titleholder. The fight was 50-50 on paper. And Crawford made Spence look like a journeyman, outboxing him, putting him down three times and finally knocking him out in the ninth round to become the first undisputed welterweight champion in the four-belt era and the first man to be “undisputed” in a second division. It was near-perfect performance on a big stage, one that stamps Crawford as the best 147-pounder of his era and an all-time great when his previous accomplishments are also taken into account. And it came just in the nick of time. He had trouble for years luring his top welterweight rivals into the ring because of promotional rivalries, leading many to wonder whether he’d ever get a chance to prove what he could do at the highest level of the sport. He finally received that opportunity at 35, an age when most fighters have begun to decline. “I kept praying to God that I’d get the opportunity show the world how great Terence Crawford is,” he said after his victory. “And tonight I believe I showed how great I am.” Indeed he did. He was brilliant.

Naoya Inoue

We might never see a week like this past one again. On Saturday, Crawford gave us one of the best performances in recent memory. And, four days earlier, Naoya Inoue did the same thing. The Japanese star dominated and then stopped previously unbeaten 122-pounder Stephen Fulton Jr. in eight rounds in Tokyo, giving Inoue major titles in a fourth division and taking our collective breath away in the process. Inoue left no doubt that he’s one of the best ever. His combination of ability, speed and power might be unrivaled in the sport today, perhaps even by the gifted Crawford. Fulton is an excellent, proven all-around fighter and he was utterly lost against Inoue almost the entire fight, which was stunning to watch. And “The Monster” is only 30, meaning he has a lot more to give. That’s bad news for those in and around his weight. Who’s better, Crawford or Inoue? Arguments can and will be made for both men. The best way to look at it might be this: We’re fortunate to have two such great fighters on the scene at the same time. And the fact they both performed their magic only days apart last week was a true blessing.

Errol Spence Jr.

Errol Spence Jr. went down three times during a disastrous night for him  Al Bello / Getty Images

Spence told me about a week and a half before the fight that his showdown with Crawford wouldn’t define his career. He’s right. He was all but guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame going into the fight because of a six-year reign as a titleholder, pound-for-pound status and victories over the likes of Kell Brook, Mikey Garcia, Shawn Porter and other big-name opponents. At the same time, the legacy of a fighter doesn’t remain unscathed after the kind of beating Spence endured at T-Mobile Arena. Spence passed the aforementioned tests but this one, against Crawford, was by far his biggest one. And he failed it badly. He didn’t just lose; he was outclassed and ultimately pummeled, which was shocking to witness given his past success. The brutality of the beat down and the image of Spence’s bloodied, bruised face during and after the fight is now etched in our memories. Spence remains a formidable fighter, just not the best, which he aspired to be. He’ll always be seen as inferior to Crawford unless he gets the rematch he wants and somehow turns the tables on his conqueror. And most of us will agree: That’s highly unlikely. Spence would be wise to move on from Crawford and up to 154 pounds, where more success awaits him.

Nonito Donaire

So long Nonito Donaire? “The Filipino Flash” might’ve fought for the last time on the Crawford-Spence card, on which he lost a unanimous decision to Alexandro Santiago in a fight for a vacant 118-pound title. The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer was competitive but he showed his age, as his 27-year-old opponent was a step ahead of him from beginning to end. Donaire inadvertently hinted that he might be slipping, saying, “There were just some times there where I didn’t pull the trigger.” That’s a classic sign of decline. He didn’t sound like a fighter who is ready to hang up the gloves in his post-fight interview but he might be wise to consider that option. How much more can he accomplish? He has already won nine major titles in four divisions over a career that has spanned more than two decades. And, again, the Hall awaits him. I’ll never forget his epic knockout of Vic Darchinyan in 2007, which opened our eyes to the fact that Donaire was a special talent and one of the most exciting fighters in the world. He maintained that reputation for another 15 years of thrills, a testament to his ability, discipline and staying power. He’ll be missed whenever he walks away.



I think an immediate Crawford-Spence rematch is all wrong for Spence and everyone else involved. You can read my thoughts on that here. I’d like to see Crawford defend his 147-pound titles against a top contender (Jaron Ennis? Vergil Ortiz? Eimantas Stanionis? Keith Thurman?) and then target undisputed 154-pound champion Jermell Charlo after Charlo loses to Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 30. That fight could take place as soon as next spring. Spence should start the rebuilding process against a fringe contender in his next fight. … Lightweight contender Isaac Cruz (25-2-1, 17 KOs) defeated Giovanni Cabrera (21-1, 7 KOs) by a split decision in a 12-round bout on the Crawford-Spence card. Two judges had Cruz winning, 115-112 and 114-113. The third scored it for Cabrera, 114-113. The 115-112 score best reflected what happened in the ring. Cruz didn’t look spectacular but he maintained pressure on Cabrera and landed many more meaningful punches than him. According to CompuBox, Cruz had a 152-55 edge in power punches landed. I thought Cruz was in control most of the fight. That’s why I scored it 116-111 for Cruz, nine rounds to three. At least the right man won. …

Santiago’s victory over Donaire was a big step in his career. The Mexican, who turned pro at 16, outboxed a legend and took everything thrown at him to earn his first major title after failing in his first attempt, a draw with then 115-pound champ Jerwin Ancajas in 2018. The scoring on Saturday was spot on, 116-112, 116-112 and 115-113. I also had Santiago winning 116-112, eight rounds to four. Santiago could now give Donaire a rematch if the veteran wants one or target one of the two other 118-pound titleholders, Takuma Inoue and Jason Moloney. … Junior middleweight prospect Yoenis Tellez (6-0, 5 KOs) rewarded his handlers’ faith in him on the Crawford-Spence card. The 23-year-old Cuban native, now based in Houston, agreed to fight Sergio Garcia (34-3, 14 KOs) on short notice and made the most of the opportunity, stopping the Spanish veteran in only three rounds. Tellez has a lot going for him, ability, speed, power, poise. He’s one to watch. … Seniesa Estrada (25-0, 9 KOs) remained unbeaten Friday in Las Vegas, defeating Leonela Paola Yudica (19-2-3, 1 KO) by a unanimous decision in an entertaining fight. The 31-year-old strawweight titleholder from Los Angeles is one of the most consistent fighters in the world. …

News item: Former Puerto Rican star Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17 KOs) on Friday was convicted of kidnapping resulting in the death of his girlfriend and intentionally killing her unborn child in his native land. Verdejo reportedly injected her with some sort of liquid and then threw her off a bridge. He could receive a life sentence when he returns to court on Nov. 3. Tragic. … News item II: YouTubers-turned-boxers Jake Paul and KSI have announced that they will fight separate opponents on an Oct. 14 card in Manchester, England (DAZN).


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