Only minutes after what may have been the signature moment of his career, Terence Crawford was seated next to Top Rank’s Bob Arum at a news conference, talking about his TKO of Shawn Porter.
The real news, though, was what happened next. With Arum staring glumly forward, Crawford said what everyone who had paid attention expected: His time with Top Rank was done and he’d become a free agent to better position himself for a bout with Errol Spence Jr.
“I’m pretty sure my decision is made already,” Crawford said on Nov. 20. “Bob [Arum] couldn’t secure me the Spence fight when I was with him. So how are you going to secure me the Spence fight when I’m not with him? I’m moving forward with my career right now and I wish everybody the best.”
Getting the Spence fight isn’t proving to be so simple now, though. Spence is scheduled to fight Yordenis Ugas for the IBF-WBA-WBC welterweight belts. Notably, both of them are with Premier Boxing Champions.
If Spence wins, it would make a lot of sense to pair him with Crawford for the undisputed title. It would mean two top-six pound-for-pound fighters going at it for supremacy in one of boxing’s best divisions.
Crawford is No. 2 in the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list and very well could be the most talented fighter in the world. Spence is ranked sixth.
Neither of them is a pay-per-view attraction yet, but Spence is marginally better than Crawford, whose disinterest in selling his fights is now coming back to haunt him.
After Crawford’s bout with Porter did fewer than 200,000 buys on ESPN, Crawford blamed the low number because it was sold on an app. But that doesn’t explain how the UFC had numerous cards sell over 700,000 and two over 1 million in 2021 through that same app.
Crawford is a truly great fighter, but he’s never taken the time to invest in his marketing. Being great is only one factor in being a pay-per-view star.
Top Rank paid him like a star, but he didn’t put the butts into the seats nor did he sell the pay-per-views to justify the checks he was receiving. And that’s now a reality he has to accept as he looks to get the career-defining fight against Spence.
Tim Smith, an outstanding former boxing writer for The New York Times and New York Daily News, is now the vice president of communications for the PBC. He appeared recently on the PBC podcast and was asked about what was preventing a Crawford-Spence bout.
Smith’s answer was blunt.
“Economics,” he said. “You don't want to insult Crawford, but he hasn't been built into a PPV star. … The numbers won’t be enough to give him what he wants.”
That says much about the state of boxing, because in addition to being for welterweight supremacy, in the ring Crawford-Spence figures to be a fabulous fight (though I’ll take Crawford).
That’s not enough to sell and pay both men the multiple million-dollar guarantees they’ll want and not get destroyed financially. If the public knew — and by public, I mean those outside of the tiny and very insular boxing public — how good this fight would be, it would be a huge seller.
While Smith is correct that Crawford’s not a big draw, let’s be fair here: It’s not as if Spence is the next Floyd Mayweather or Mike Tyson in terms of selling PPVs. Neither guy cares much for doing the media and appearances it takes to put up big numbers on PPV.
Nobody worked harder at selling PPVs than guys like Mayweather, Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya. They worked as hard outside of the ring selling as they did inside of it preparing for the bout. Canelo Alvarez does that now.
The PBC has already absorbed tens of millions in losses, and a Spence-Crawford fight could be disastrous if it doesn’t sell given what it takes to get both men to sign a deal.
So the fight that so many hardcore boxing fans want to see is going to be extremely difficult to make, though one of Smith’s comments on the podcast was perplexing.
He said of Crawford, “Nobody wants to make him an offer that’s insulting.”
That is taking the easy way out. Make the offer, get a dialogue going and see what it might take to get a deal done. If Crawford and his management at MTK Global are unreasonable, then walk away. At least, however, give it a shot.
There are similarities to this fight and the one that eventually occurred between Mayweather and Pacquiao in 2015. That bout was first discussed in late 2009 for the spring of 2010. It took more than five years to make it but ultimately set a record by doing 4.6 million pay-per-view sales.
But waiting out Crawford-Spence won’t have that kind of impact. Mayweather and Pacquiao were huge attractions in their own right and were selling millions on PPV without the other. Together, they were massive.
We’ll be left to wait and hope that all sides will be reasonable and want to get a deal done.
I’m not that optimistic it will happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?