‘I told you so.’ Terence Crawford savors pummeling Errol Spence Jr. and his critics

Terence Crawford hits Errol Spence Jr. and blood mixed with sweat flies during their boxing match
Terence Crawford, right, hits Errol Spence Jr. during their undisputed welterweight championship boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)
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The entire bowl stood to their feet at 8:18 Saturday night in Sin City, ready for a show as unprecedented as the men walking to the ring. The folks paid in public relations dollars to spread their version of the truth told the corral that just under 20,000 people came to see Terence “Bud” Crawford duke it out with Errol Spence Jr. Hell, if that’s to be believed. This joint was rockin’ and rollin’ from the first howl in the undercard. It mighta’ been more plausible that another few thousand sneaked in when the sun went down, making the upper levels of T-Mobile Arena burst from the seams and the center with silhouettes shoving to see the fight of the decade.

When Spence walked from the tunnel, accompanied by regional rapper BigXThaPlug, slurring off beat about the greatness of the state they were from and riding ATVs with diamond chains, folk started shimmying in the crowd.

But, then came Bud.

The crowd’s noise distinctively shifted. They were roaring long before Crawford appeared unmovable in the tunnel, head bowed trying to excise himself from the superstitions and butterflies that latch onto us all. Fighter superstition, at least in the cage, forbade any man who put on the mitts to play “Lose Yourself” by Eminem during a ring walk. It was taboo. How corny could it be, draped in the finest trims and leathers, to walk down to an ass whippin’ and lose after hearing ‘Em rapping about your “mom’s spaghetti.”

Terence Crawford salutes the crowd before entering the ring prior to his fight against Errol Spence Jr.
Terence Crawford enters the ring to fight Errol Spence Jr. Saturday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

I suppose the biggest difference between Crawford and the competition — besides the obvious skill — was that no one else dared to bring ‘Em out with them. No other man made that long walk singing the Midwest’s hallowed words and hoping a live hymn could will them to boxing nobility. And there was no other fighter alive, professionally fighting still, who was willing to lose themselves for this level of glory.

The ovations for Crawford startled press row. People began jumping in their seats. Up and down, bending the black plastic until it nearly touched the floor. The roar from the stands when he reached the ring was primal. Grown men, upon seeing Crawford, began shadow boxing next to each other in their chairs.

Crawford was in all black, draped by a fishing net on his shoulders and shorts that training partner Steven “So Cold” Nelson designed for him. He came into the arena hours prior with his coaches and team wearing grayish shirts that read “Even Big Fish Get Caught.” It was Crawford’s 18th consecutive world title fight. His 40th in his pro career at 35 years old. He stood there, before the bell, as an overachiever; someone who believed those there to watch him brawl — both in the boxing media and audience — came to see him be pummeled. A fighter constantly belittled for being undersized, having a poor resume compared to some of his peers, or generally being the lighter, smaller act.

“He always been dogged out. They always been treating him bad,” Bernard “Bernie” Davis, one of Crawford’s longtime friends and trainers told me before the fight. Folks been talkin’ bad about Bud Crawford since he was the No. 1 prospects in the amateurs, Bernie said. “He gets a bad reputation because Bud ain’t gonna let you dog him out.”

“He don’t give a f– about who you is and how big you is,” Bernie concluded.

At 8:33 p.m., all the talking ended.

And within six minutes of the baffling, bruising bullying that took place at T-Mobile Arena, many of us were questioning whether Spence should keep coming out for another round. What we saw was truthfully unbelievable, more and more appalling as the rounds piled on. Not only did Terence Crawford — and I mean this by purely the most factual, brief and accurate measure of what we witnessed that night — whip Errol Spence’s entire ass, he made a spectacle out of it.

As James Baldwin once remarked in 1963 upon seeing Sonny Liston demolish Floyd Patterson in Chicago’s Comisky Park, there was something “vastly unreal” about what went on in that ring. Dispatches went out every day since the opening news conferences in L.A. and New York: Spence is the bigger man, Spence is the more relentless fighter, Spence has more star power, Spence has more brawnyet almost as soon as the fight began, Spence was knocked down in a flash; dazed, confused and appearing as if he’d seen a ghost.


Even as he walked from the tunnel to the blue corner, Spence didn’t seem all the way right. There was no life in his eyes. His skin appeared almost sunny tangerine instead of a beautiful black and brown. Perhaps, as heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder said after the fight, Spence had a horrible cut, dehydrating himself to the point where he could barely breathe in the 112- degree heat.

It was apparent after the second round. Spence’s mouth was hanging open, while Crawford was following him around the ring. Spence, known to be a grinder and pressure fighter, was being punished routinely, made to swing from his back boot after just three rounds. Promoters promised fans and the media that this five-year long beef between the two would produce a war. Something that could make Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns blush.

Yet, if it was war we wanted, all of the ammunition went in a singular direction. The cards said Spence was knocked down only three times in nine rounds. But each was more emphatic than the last. After a while, Spence could no longer see the punches coming his way. His reactions to feints were getting bigger. Crawford’s counters were leaving him wobbly. During the final knockdown, Crawford hit Spence so hard, the Texan left his feet and almost fell out of the ring. Were we really watching two welterweights fight? The ferocity felt more like George Foreman and Joe Frazier, Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti.

Spence’s chest up to his temples was a bloody art project. There were so many different lumps and bruises around his neck and face, that for a moment I thought I was watching the episode of “Martin” where the actor got chin-checked by Hitman Hearns himself. Martin was so embarrassed after the fight, knots on his nose and knees, that he barely wanted to show his face again.

By the end of Saturday night in Vegas, during Round 9, it looked like Spence barely wanted to engage. He whiffed from a distance at most of his big, looping hooks — and his pace slowed to a snail’s pace toward the later rounds. Spence only landed 96 of his 480 punches and just 33 of his 296 jabs. He looked nervous to throw. All the stream on his punches fizzled. Crawford sensed the kill and moved in, offering combinations that were going unanswered. Crawford was landing 60% of his power punches and never missed two consecutive throws. Spence tried to clinch, but “Bud” smelled blood and teed off on Spence in the corner until none of us could watch anymore. Plenty in the crowd thought the fight should have been stopped two rounds prior, but Derrick James, Spence’s trainer, seemed hesitant to throw in the towel. With sweat and ichor spewing everywhere, referee Harvey Dock got to double-dutchin’ in and out of the middle of the two gladiators before he finally, mercifully, stopped the fight.

Spence was humble about his loss, giving the credit to Crawford — the first undisputed welterweight champ in the four-belt era and the first male fighter to unify multiple divisions — but admitted his timing was off. He even said he physically didn’t feel right, that he couldn’t “kick it up a notch.” Spence, barely lucid a little after 10 p.m., said Crawford’s speed didn’t faze him, and that his accuracy didn’t surprise him. At one point he was asked what he thought after so many knockdowns. “S–,” he said, slurring. “Just fight back.” But Spence, eventually stopped playing coy about this opponent. “He’s everything I thought he was,” Spence said.

Terence Crawford hits Errol Spence Jr. and sweat flies off him during their boxing match
Terence Crawford, left, hits Errol Spence Jr. during their undisputed welterweight championship boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

When he was done talking, his team slowly shuffled him out of the ring and to the locker room. He could barely stand on his own, wobbling as he walked and holding onto whomever could keep him upright. It was difficult to see Spence that way: depleted, beaten, lacking confidence. He kept telling the world he wanted their agreed-upon rematch. The damage he received was unfathomable. Some guys never come back the same fighter after one of those. Two? Remember when Vernon Forrest fought Ricardo Mayorga again? Or Patterson-Liston II? But, after that, it was hard to think Spence wanted any more of Crawford.

Most of us there in the corral were stunned. We thought Spence should be in an ambulance, much less at a lectern. But before the concern could color the room, Crawford’s head trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre was audibly shouting from the opposite tunnel, “THE CHAMPPPP IS HERE!!!” Crawford’s crew walked in gallantly. BoMac’s shouting wasn’t reserved for us, in the dressing room, new title over his left shoulder, he was even more ecstatic. “I told you, man!!” He said pumping his fist, next to Crawford’s mother, Debra. Someone yelled “Eff ‘em!” “Hell yeah!!” BoMac responded. “F— those m—, man!” He started singing. “They madddd! They mad, they mad!”

Crawford, ever since he started camp in the mountains of Colorado, always seemed certain of his eventual victory. How he saw the fight, and how it ended, felt like he wrote his own prophecy. “BoMac” told me before the brawl that the fight had been manifesting in their camp for a long time, and that they were ravenous to prove they were the best in the boxing world. There was even a point during the first two rounds when Crawford said he felt Spence’s power and expected more from his rival than ever appeared.

“I get to tell you, ‘I told you so,’” Crawford said to the media, almost gloating at how easy his win was. “I’ve been asking for these fights for years and y’all been saying, ‘He’s too small. He’s going to get this, and he’s going to get broken.’ And each and every time, I proved you wrong.”

Terence Crawford holds his title belts and celebrates his defeat of Errol Spence Jr.
Terence Crawford celebrates his defeat of Errol Spence Jr. after their undisputed welterweight championship boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

His words reminded me of our last conversation before I left his camp in Colorado this month. He was teeming with excitement for what he would show the world, even then. He didn’t care about his portrayal or what corner he’d walk out of once the bell rang, only that he’d be the one standing on the top of the turnbuckles, shouting to the crowd for the 40th time in 15 years just how talented he was.

Crawford came to fight week in black Air Force 1s, walked out to his public weigh-in sporting Hanes boxers and white Nike socks up to his calves, knees unlotioned, looking like the badass lil’ kid whose punching power was rumored all over Omaha.

Now, all he wanted was his spoils.

“Just give me my props,” he said before he walked away from the podium.