Four champions, representing a vibrant cross section of styles and generations, sit atop the welterweight division. Two of those champions, Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter, meet Saturday in Los Angeles in one of the biggest fights of the year to unify the IBF and WBC world titles.
Manny Pacquiao, the WBA champion, is coming off a victory over Keith Thurman in July, and the winner of Spence-Porter will no doubt campaign for a shot at the Filipino legend. WBO champion Terence Crawford is at the peak of his powers, and widely viewed as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
It would seem only natural for Crawford to be in the mix to make a big-money fight with one of the other champions in the division, most notably a unification bout with Spence, one of the biggest fights that could currently be made.
Instead, Crawford will likely face Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) later this year on ESPN.
As 2019 rolls through its last few months with a schedule replete with highly anticipated matchups, Crawford-Kavaliauskas only includes one top-tier name.
While "The Mean Machine" from Lithuania was once considered an elite prospect, in recent years Kavaliauskas' development as a fighter has plateaued.
According to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, the reason for making this fight is a simple one: Kavaliauskas is rated No. 1 by the WBO and this fight is being made now to take care of Crawford's mandatory obligation early.
The other three champions, as well as a handful of top challengers, fight under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner -- and that barrier stands in the way of Crawford fighting most of the top talent in the division.
Looking at the ESPN rankings at welterweight, Spence (1), Pacquiao (2), Thurman (4), Porter (5), Danny Garcia (6), Yordenis Ugas (7), Jamal James (8), and Sergey Lipinets (9) all are affiliated with PBC. Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) and Kavaliauskas, third and 10th, respectively, are Top Rank fighters. There are essentially three separate leagues of boxing: PBC (airs on Fox, FS1 and Showtime), Top Rank (ESPN) and Matchroom Sports/Golden Boy Promotions (DAZN).
With Crawford signing a contract extension with Top Rank last year, one wonders how long he will be an island unto himself. He's considered one of the very best in the sport, but boxing is not a solo act.
So far, Crawford's welterweight run has consisted of Jeff Horn (whom he defeated in the summer of 2018 to win his current title), Jose Benavidez (TKO12) and, most recently, a faded Amir Khan (TKO6) in April.
When matchmaking difficulties were mentioned to Crawford by Chris Mannix of DAZN during the Maurice Hooker-Jose Ramirez broadcast on July 27, Crawford bristled.
"There's no such thing -- there's no such thing as 'across the street,'" Crawford said, in reference to competing promotional companies. "Back in the day, you never heard fighters say 'across the street.' What street? This is boxing, everybody fights everybody."
While he's correct in theory, there isn't nearly enough interleague play between organizations -- and Crawford is far from the only boxer currently in this predicament.
Jermall Charlo (29-0, 21 KOs), currently under the PBC umbrella, holds a version of the WBC middleweight title, is undefeated and has gotten plenty of television exposure throughout his career. But looking at the landscape at 160 pounds, the majority of the players who represent the biggest potential paydays in the weight class -- Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Demetrius Andrade and Daniel Jacobs -- are with DAZN.
To be involved in the most significant bouts at light heavyweight, it would help to be promoted by Top Rank, which has three of the champions -- Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Artur Beterbiev and Sergey Kovalev. WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, who returns to action on Oct. 12 in Chicago on DAZN, is out of luck for the time being.
Perhaps there is hope, though.
Crawford pointed out that the 140-pound unification bout that took place between Hooker and Ramirez was a collaboration between Matchroom Sports and Top Rank, with Ramirez fighting on DAZN and ultimately bringing two belts home with him. There's also the highly anticipated heavyweight rematch between Tyson Fury (Top Rank) and Deontay Wilder (PBC), provided Wilder takes care of business against Luis Ortiz.
Wilder-Fury 2, in particular, figures to be a huge pay-per-view event, after the initial fight drew 325,000 PPV buys and ended without a clear winner. Both sides are willing to reach across the aisle as risk and reward intersect for all parties involved.
Will Crawford fall under the category of being worth the risk, especially while Spence and other welterweights can just keep tangling with one another? To Spence's credit, while other PBC welterweights try to act like Crawford doesn't exist, he is happy to give Crawford his just due.
"You have to recognize him, just his skill set and what he's been doing," Spence told ESPN in August. "He is one of the top welterweights in the division, and he does have a title."
But it's clear that a Crawford fight isn't Spence's top priority at the moment.
"Definitely, it's a fight that can definitely happen," Spence said. "Right now, after I beat Shawn Porter, I want to fight Pacquiao. That's the biggest fight for me in the welterweight division."
It seems like every top welterweight associated with PBC still views Pacquiao as the grand prize, because it's a fight that will bring them career-high paydays and notoriety. But the power lies with Pacquiao, who can afford to be selective as his prolific career winds toward an end.
A Crawford-Pacquiao fight is something that both Arum and Crawford have wanted to make for years. Pacquiao previously fought under the Top Rank banner, and in his last few years with the promotion, as Crawford was an ascending star and looking for an opponent who would catapult his Q rating, Arum suggested a bout between Crawford and Pacquiao.
But Arum says he was immediately rebuffed by the brain trust of the Filipino icon. He claims they didn't want to fight Crawford, and that it was too tough a fight for the value it offered for Pacquiao.
It has only grown less likely since Pacquiao left for PBC. According to Sean Gibbons, a close confidant of Pacquiao and the matchmaker for MP Promotions, the acting senator will return to the ring in the first quarter of 2020 -- and all of the potential fights they see happening fall exclusively under the PBC banner.
"Here in the next month or so, [Pacquiao] will take a look. He'll see what's out there," Gibbons told ESPN. "He'll take a look at Danny Garcia, he'll take a look at Mikey Garcia -- those are the two front-runners.
"If some big upset would happen Saturday with Shawn Porter, Porter would put himself in the mix because Porter at that point would be the only guy walking forward with two belts. The other two guys have no belt."
Given that insight, Spence also seems to be persona non grata to Pacquiao, regardless of his standing in the sport and the likelihood he walks out of Saturday's fight with two world titles. So maybe, just maybe, could Spence and Crawford need one another in the not-too-distant future?
It would be a chance for everyone to win, and perhaps the sport of boxing most of all. For now, though, Crawford and Spence's promoters are on wildly different pages.
"Based on a preliminary conversation with [PBC's] Al Haymon, I think there's a real possibility," Arum said.
Meanwhile, Tim Smith, vice president of communications for PBC, said the conversation around this fight is far too premature.
"There's really nothing to say," Smith said. "Errol is fighting Shawn Porter on Sept. 28 in PPV at Staples Center and Crawford is sitting down with his promoter to plan his next fight. The only thing I can say is [Crawford-Spence] won't happen this year."
Crawford, Spence exchange words
Backstage at the Hooker-Saucedo fight, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. get into an argument that ends with Crawford saying he could knock out Spence.
Last November, as Maurice Hooker and Alex Saucedo fought for the vacant IBF junior welterweight title in Oklahoma City, Crawford and Spence crossed paths at Chesapeake Energy Arena and had a spirited exchange that went viral across social media as they debated a hypothetical matchup.
Let's hope that's not the closest they ever get to fighting one another.