TO watch Errol Spence and Terence Crawford this afternoon at the final press conference ahead of their fight on Saturday (July 29) was to watch two children endure the nonsense of drunken parents following their one night out of the year. Left hungry, starving in fact, they had both been up all night waiting for their parents to return and now had to listen to them, supposedly the ones in charge, prattle on and on about how great their night was and how they should do this again and more often.
Responsible for this scene, as usual in this situation, were those on the periphery; that is, the ones spared the task of first making weight and then later putting their lives on the line. In particular, the architects of chaos this afternoon in Las Vegas were the two trainers, Derrick James and Brian McIntyre, who were needlessly confrontational when it came time to take the mic and who were, perhaps without knowing it, whipping up the crowd (yes, a “press conference” had a “crowd”).
After that, of course, there was no need for any additional impetus. Suddenly, as the two boxers took turns to speak, they were interrupted time and time again by wisecracks and worse coming from the peanut gallery, not one of whom should in an ideal world have been anywhere near the stage. These things are called press conferences for a reason, after all, and while the line between press and fan has become harder and harder to make out in recent years, it surely won’t be long before a so-called press conference descends into something else on account of boxing’s irresponsible open-door policy.
Indeed, there seemed the threat of that inside the T-Mobile Arena today, particularly when Crawford became a target for Spence’s cousin sitting not far from the stage. In an instant, with this man berating Crawford, the mood of the place changed. In an instant, Crawford had taken his dialogue right back to the streets and could be heard dealing with certain insinuations with insinuations of his own. In an instant, too, his dead-eyed look became more of a death stare, fixated first on the member of Spence’s entourage who wouldn’t keep quiet and then, even more ominously, on a member of his own team, the implication of which was clear to anyone paying attention and not watching the drama through their phone.
There was, at that moment, an uneasiness in the room. For Crawford, it’s clear, is not a man to be tested and certainly not when 24 hours from making weight. In fact, to even put him in that position, and also Spence, seems almost cruel, especially given the fact many were licking their lips when things inevitably started to escalate, rather than, say, defuse the situation. (Thank God for metal detectors on the way into the venue, I found myself thinking at one point.)
“You’ve got to calm down, brother,” Crawford said, addressing Spence’s cousin. “Listen, man. Things can get sticky real quick and then everybody will be saying this is what we do every time we come out. Just like you’re talking, it can turn deadly real quick – on both sides. Why not support your fighter and let’s come together and make this event a success instead of everybody saying that when we come together this is what happens? That’s what I want. I’m probably older than you and been through way more than you. I’m more mature. But I wish Errol and his people the best.”
In better news, during brief moments when everybody else shut up and the trainers kept their egos in check, there was a chance for both fighters to express what was on their mind ahead of what is undoubtedly the best fight of 2023. It probably wasn’t the truth, of course. That was more likely to deal with emotions like frustration and embarrassment and perhaps even shame. But it was revealing nonetheless to hear them both speak.
“I’m going to win because I’m the better fighter, physically, mentally – it doesn’t matter,” said Spence. “I’m going to break him down and break his will.”
“Everything about Terence Crawford is better than Errol Spence Jnr,” argued Crawford. “When you look at everything I do in the ring, it’s better than Errol Spence Jnr. Come fight night, I’ll be proving each and every one of the doubters wrong once again and showing them Terence Crawford is the best fighter in the world. I’m not taking any credit away from Errol. He’s a great fighter. But compared to Terence Crawford there is no comparison. I’m just the better fighter.
“This is the Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford era. When you look at my body of work, and each weight class I’ve been in, you can’t deny that. This is my era. I’ve never had a close fight. I’ve never had a fight where people thought I lost. I’ve never had a fight where I didn’t look spectacular. And that’s against every fighter they put up against me. This is the Terence Crawford era ever since Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward retired.”
Following that opening gambit, both welterweights were asked about the unknown element going into the fight on Saturday. They were asked how they would cope with it and, in turn, how their opposite number would deal with them.
“He will find out that my skills are superior,” said Spence. “He’s talented, but when we talk about skillset and what my coach (Derrick James) teaches, my coach teaches fundamentals; he teaches sound basics. That’s what he’s going to find out: that I do have great defence, I do have great offence, and I do have great stamina. I don’t just have talent.”
“He will find out the same thing everybody else finds out,” Crawford countered. “He will come in there and say, ‘Damn, I kind of underestimated this guy. On TV he looked one way and in the ring I saw three of him.’
“It’s all good. He’s got the fundamentals, the durability, the stamina, the size… he’s strong. He’s the big, bad wolf. Come fight night we’ll find out. All that he says he is, he’ll have to show it.”
To finish, and before it veered towards even more unsavoury territory, Spence and Crawford were asked to make a prediction. Both, quite naturally, exuded confidence when doing so.
“I always tell everybody I don’t go in there looking for the knockout. I go in there looking for the win,” said Crawford. “But if he gets out of line…”
“I’ve been getting out of line my whole life,” Spence replied.
“Well, shit, I’m about to take my belt off then.”
“Do it. You’ll need more than a belt. I ain’t one of your kids.”
“I’ll treat you like one.”
“We’re definitely going to see.”
Had it ended there, they might have got away with it and we would be left talking only about the fight for which two men are set to get paid an inordinate amount of money on Saturday night. As it happened, though, the attention-seeking disease spread from the trainers to family members to gym rats and anyone else connected to this fight in even the loosest possible way. By then, the thing was quick to wrap up and it was left to Derrick James to later explain to Boxing News and anybody else concerned, “First of all, you’ve got to understand what he (Crawford) said. He threatened that he was going to kill somebody; that’s what he said. You can’t threaten people and say whatever he said. Why are you going to threaten somebody? The world is watching and you’re threatening people.”
As for Spence, his fighter, James never once had any concern that he would lose his rag or become emotionally involved with what was playing out both on stage and off stage. “He’s not the kind of guy to get riled up,” said James. “He’s the type of guy to hold everything inside and let it out at fight time. That’s why you see broken ribs, broken noses, and broken faces. Because that’s what he is. You don’t have to talk about it and get upset about that. He deals with it and goes from there.”
In summary, I guess today was great for the phone-wielding, rubber-necking nightcrawlers better suited to working for TMZ than in boxing, but, alas, it was hardly good for the sport. Moreover, as Crawford himself carefully alluded to in his opening statement, which was so rudely interrupted, today was not a good look for either of the boxers, their respective teams, and their communities. They had the big stage, deservedly so and after such a long wait, and yet in the end Crawford and Spence, the only two that mattered, were let down by those closest to them.