Opening bell: Spence-Crawford collision course
On back-to-back weekends, fans saw the best boxers the United States has to offer, and they just so happen to be in their primes and reside in the same division. Whether they like it or not, they're on a collision course.
First it was Terence Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs), the 30-year-old switch-hitter from Omaha, Nebraska, who is already a two-time ESPN.com fighter of the year. He moved up to welterweight and bludgeoned Australia's Jeff Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) in a one-sided ninth-round knockout win in Las Vegas on June 9. He claimed a world title in his a third weight class and served notice to the deep 147-pound division that there's a new player to reckoned with.
One week later, it was the outstanding Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw, who on Saturday night made his second welterweight title defense in a homecoming fight at the Ford Center at The Star, the impressive training facility of the Dallas Cowboys in Frisco, Texas. Spence wiped out an overmatched (and wholly undeserving) mandatory challenger, Carlos Ocampo (22-1, 13 KOs).
Crawford and Spence went about their destructions differently, but both displayed their talent and power. Crawford broke down the tougher and more experienced Horn in a dominant performance, knocking him down, busting open a cut over his eye and toying with him until the referee mercifully stopped it. Spence, one of boxing's best body punchers, made it a quick night when he landed one booming right-hook blast to the rib cage to knock down Ocampo, 22, for the count just as the first round was ending.
Before both of the fights, for which Crawford and Spence were heavy favorites, a central discussion was about the prospect of a fight between them that could be this era's version of Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns. Crawford and Spence are both immensely talented welterweight titleholders. They're close in age. They both have supportive hometown fan bases. They both are among boxing's pound-for-pound elite.
So while it's a tough fight to make, given Crawford's association with Top Rank and ESPN and Spence's with adviser Al Haymon and Showtime, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum mentioned last week that the eventual showdown could happen as a joint pay-per-view between the networks, an arrangement similar to how Showtime and HBO teamed for mega pay-per-views between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.
For that to happen, however, both sides have to believe the money and public interest are big enough to warrant going through that headache. Spence also has other quality opponents on his side of the street to fight first, such as unification fights with Keith Thurman and the winner of the vacant title bout between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Crawford's available top opponents are, well, nobody.
But Crawford and Spence have both said they're interested in facing each other. Both have shown respect for the other's game, and fan interest is clearly on the upswing for this as the welterweight fight most in demand.
The fight isn't ready to be made just yet because it can -- and should -- be much bigger. Right now it's simply not big enough financially for either side to push the issue. That will be up to the media and fans to push, push and push for this fight.
Crawford and Spence will have to do their part and keep winning, but the drumbeat for the fight is growing, and it can become much greater based on just the past few weeks. Once it reaches inferno level, and it's worth it for both sides to make the fight, we could have this generation's Leonard-Hearns.
Prospect watch: Joe Joyce
Heavyweight Joe Joyce (5-0, 5 KOs) is 32, older than your typical prospect, but he turned pro very late after claiming a 2016 Olympic silver medal for Great Britain. He's being moved quickly and won the Commonwealth title in only his fourth pro fight. He was supposed to make his first defense against Ghana's Richard Lartey (12-1, 9 KOs) on Friday at York Hall in London, but when Lartey withdrew, Joyce faced Ivica Bacurin (29-13-1, 18 KOs), 36, of Croatia, and took him out at 1 minute, 54 seconds of the first round.
It was Joyce's third KO in the first round. Bacurin had previously been stopped in six rounds by Dillian Whyte and in 10 by Tony Bellew.
Joyce connected with a right that backed Bacurin up and moments later dropped him with a left hook to the top of the head as referee Jeff Hinds waved it off.
The next step: Ringstar Haymaker promoter Richard Schaefer said Joyce is ready to step up in competition to face a legitimate contender. Schaefer is willing to match Joyce with former world title challenger Bryant Jennings, who needs an opponent for his Aug. 18 ESPN main event, but Top Rank has no interest. Former title challenger Hughie Fury, the reigning British champion, was ringside on Friday, and Joyce is interested in facing his countryman. Point is, Team Joyce wants a serious opponent. It's just a matter of if they can pay such an opponent enough to be willing to fight Joyce.
Fight you might have missed
Sunday at Kiev, Ukraine
Flyweight Artem Dalakian (17-0, 12 KOs) TKO8 Sirichai Thaiyen (50-4, 35 KOs), retains a flyweight title.
Dalakian, 30, of Ukraine, won a vacant title by lopsided decision over Brian Viloria in February and made his first defense in a homecoming fight against Thaiyen, 27, of Thailand, whose 15-fight, four-year winning streak ended. Dalakian was the boss the entire fight, dropping Thaiyen three times -- all with right hands -- in the fifth round, right at the end of the seventh and again in the eighth. As he continued to torment Thaiyen in the eighth round, referee Raul Caiz Jr. waved it off at 2:54 to save him from more abuse.
Saturday at Hato Rey, Puerto Rico
Junior flyweight Angel "Tito" Acosta (18-1, 18 KOs) TKO12 Carlos Buitrago (30-4-1, 17 KOs), retains a junior flyweight title.
Acosta, 27, of Puerto Rico, won a vacant 108-pound title by an exciting 10th-round knockout in December on the undercard of the farewell fight of his promoter, Miguel Cotto, and made his first defense in the main event of a pay-per-view card against Buitrago, 26, of Nicaragua, who was moving up in weight and dropped to 0-4-1 in world or interim title fights. Acosta took a few rounds to settle in and find his distance but then pulled away. In the 12th round, he dropped Buitrago with a right at the end of a flurry and clubbed him with 10 unanswered punches during the follow-up attack, forcing referee Luis Pabon to stop it at 1:43.
Saturday at Munich, Germany
Heavyweight Marco Huck (41-5-1, 28 KOs) TKO4 Yakup Saglam (40-5, 37 KOs).
Former longtime cruiserweight world titlist Huck, 33, of Germany, lost two world title fights in a row and then decided to make the move to heavyweight, where he came in at 220 pounds and looked pretty good against solid journeyman Saglam, 41, a Turkey native fighting out of Germany. In the fourth round, Huck connected with two right hands that sent Saglam sagging into the ropes and down to all fours. Although Saglam beat the count, referee Juergen Langos waved off the fight at 26 seconds as Saglam's corner was throwing in the towel.
Saturday at Mexicali, Mexico
Lightweight Jose Zepeda (29-1, 24 KOs) KO5 Carlos Diaz (26-1, 13 KOs).
In an exciting battle, Zepeda, 29, of Long Beach, California, rallied from being dropped with a right hand with 30 seconds left in the fourth round to impressively finish Diaz, 23, of Mexico, in the fifth round to move a step closer to a second shot at a lightweight belt. Zepeda shook off the knockdown and took it to Diaz in the fifth round, finally flooring him an onslaught of punches, including a harsh left to the body. Diaz went down to a knee and took the full count from referee Rafael Ramos at 2:40, vomiting while he was down. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
Saturday at Gomez Palacio, Mexico
Lightweight Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (25-7-1, 20 KOs) KO3 Cristian Mijares (59-9-2, 27 KOs).
Former junior featherweight world titleholder Vazquez, 33, of Puerto Rico, traveled to Mijares' hometown, ended his 10-fight winning streak and sent him into retirement with a knockout loss. Mijares, 36, a former two-time junior bantamweight world titleholder, was billing the fight as his farewell bout, and it didn't end well. In the third round, Vazquez mercilessly assaulted Mijares, backing him into a corner and nailing him with a right hand to the face that dropped Mijares to his rear end. Leaning on the ropes, bleeding from his nose and shaking his head "no," Mijares took the full count from referee Luciano Flores with 34 seconds left. The victory ended Vazquez's three-fight losing skid.
Saturday at Newcastle, England
Junior welterweight Ricky Burns (42-7-1, 15 KOs) TKO4 Ivan Njegac (10-6, 3 KOs).
In the 50th fight of his career, Scotland's Burns, 35, the only fighter from his country to win world titles in three divisions (junior welterweight, lightweight and junior lightweight), returned from back-to-back losses, including losing his junior welterweight title, to hand giant underdog Njegac, 25, of Croatia, his third straight defeat. Burns, hoping to position himself for another title fight, dominated the bout until Njegac retired in his corner after the fourth round.