Top pound-for-pound boxer Terence Crawford fighting former elite prospect Jose Benavidez on Saturday night two years after Benavidez had been shot in the leg is not boxing at its finest.
The problem is that Crawford’s promoter, Top Rank, which has its television deal with ESPN, doesn’t have a rich stable of welterweights, and so one had to wonder what was going on earlier this week when Crawford (33-0, 24 knockouts) cracked on Twitter, “I’m bout to go fight in the UFC.”
No, the welterweights are found in abundance at rival Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), starting with Texas’ unbeaten International Boxing Federation champion Errol Spence Jr. PBC, however, is aligned with Fox and Showtime.
Crawford will fight in his home state of Nebraska on Saturday, and as we know well from college football, the rivalry between Texas and Nebraska still simmers.
The two of them fighting is a natural, but how can the separate alliances be bridged?
Since making Crawford-Spence or Spence-Crawford, if you prefer, is unquestionably in the sport’s best interest, there are two seemingly possible compromises to pursue in 2019.
Neither ESPN with Crawford nor Fox with Spence want to invest so deeply in the sport only to see one of their top fighters perform on another network.
Since both are new to pay-per-view broadcasts, one option is to launch a joint venture like Showtime and HBO did with the record-selling Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao welterweight bout in 2015?
While Spence and Crawford lack the name appeal of Mayweather and Pacquiao, fight fans understand the importance of a major title-unification showdown.
Months of exposure to the casual audience through advertising, news coverage and programming on both major networks would give that fight the publicity boost it needs to rise far beyond the amount of buys it would draw at this moment.
Option No. 2 is a trade.
On Dec. 8, Vasiliy Lomachenko is favored to capture a second lightweight belt when he meets Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater, joining Riverside’s Mikey Garcia as a two-belt 135-pound champion.
Lomachenko is a Top Rank-ESPN fighter and Garcia is linked to PBC-Showtime-Fox.
Again, this is a match that pleases any thoughtful boxing fan — the two-time Olympic champion from Ukraine and the unbeaten four-division champion from Southern California.
So, with Crawford-Spence and Garcia-Lomachenko to divvy up, ESPN gets one, Fox gets the other, and the sport they’ve both invested heavily in finds itself more appealing to hard-core and casual fans in what should be brilliant, action-packed affairs.