Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford argued in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City in 2018, an otherwise ordinary back-and-forth exchange that went on to hold outsized significance to boxing fans everywhere.
A matchup between two of boxing's best fighters was ripe on that November evening nearly five years ago, but for a variety of reasons since that day, the bout couldn't be delivered. Fans instead settled for years as Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) and Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) fought each other with incendiary words outside the ring as a multitude of issues prevented a matchup from materializing.
It's rare for two undefeated elite boxers like Spence and Crawford to campaign at the same weight at the same time. Both in their prime and near the top of the pound-for-pound list. But the politics of boxing stood in the way. Crawford was with Top Rank and Spence with PBC, promotional companies that rarely conduct business with each other.
A deal finally seemed on the precipice of reality last September, only for talks to collapse at the 11th hour. Spence seemed destined to move up to 154 pounds for a summer bout against former unified welterweight champion Keith Thurman, perhaps once and for all denying the sport a welterweight summit meeting with Crawford.
Fortunately, the fighters took matters into their own hands. Crawford said he pushed the fight negotiations forward with a lengthy phone call in March and set the wheels in motion for what is arguably the most relevant boxing match since Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
"I knew I had to make it happen," Spence, 33, said at his media workout last week in Las Vegas. "This is what everyone wanted. We have to prove who the man is in the welterweight division and in boxing. The winner of this fight is the best fighter in boxing. Period."
No, Spence and Crawford won't come close to matching the astronomical revenue generated by Mayweather and Pacquiao, records that stand today, but unlike Mayweather and Pacquiao, both all-time greats, it can be argued that Spence and Crawford, 35, are peaking athletically.
They will enter the ring on Saturday in Las Vegas with their unblemished records intact and with all major four welterweight titles on the line. Spence, who holds the WBC, WBA and IBF titles, will meet Crawford, the WBO champion, for welterweight supremacy if not pound-for-pound supremacy too. Spence is ESPN's No. 4 boxer regardless of weight, while Crawford tops the list at No. 1.
"This fight is happening at the right time," Crawford said at his own media workout last week in Las Vegas. "All the belts are on the line, so there's even more to fight for. What better way to have this fight than to have it for the undisputed welterweight title?"
The journey to Spence-Crawford was a long and winding one, but it's here at long last. This is how the fight finally came to fruition.
May 27, 2017: In his first pro fight outside of North America, Spence traveled from Texas to Sheffield, England, for his first championship opportunity against local hero Kell Brook. Spence delivered with a star-making performance to capture the IBF welterweight title.
Brook was in control over the first half of the bout, but Spence broke through in the second half on the strength of his precise southpaw jab and body punching. As Spence poured on the punishment, he closed Brook's left eye and forced him to take a knee from a barrage of punches in Round 10.
In Round 11, Brook was on the canvas again. This time, the referee waved the fight off.
Spence fractured Brook's left orbital in the bout, a fight after Brook suffered a fractured right orbital when he faced Gennadiy Golovkin.
"He's one of the best kids I've been in with, if not the best," Brook said of Spence after the fight.
Said Spence, "A true champion goes anywhere to fight. He has gone to America and fought, so I came here. ... The goal is to unify and become undisputed welterweight champion of the world."
Jan. 20, 2018: Spence's first defense of his IBF title came against Lamont Peterson, a former champion past his best days, and "The Truth" delivered with a one-sided seventh-round TKO victory.
Spence floored Peterson in Round 5 and won all seven rounds on all three scorecards before Peterson retired on his stool following Round 7.
Terence Crawford sends José Benavidez Jr. to the canvas in the 12th, and Benavidez has no answer when he gets up, ending the fight in a TKO victory for Crawford.
June 9, 2018: Crawford captured the WBO welterweight title in his 147-pound debut with a ninth-round stoppage of Jeff Horn. Horn was a recognizable name after he wrested the title from Pacquiao via controversial decision the previous year, but he was no match for Crawford.
"Bud" won the first eight rounds on all three scorecards before he dropped Horn in Round 9. Horn was up before the count of 10, but Crawford teed off on the Australian, which prompted referee Robert Byrd to halt the beatdown.
June 16, 2018: Spence stayed busy with a first-round KO victory over Carlos Ocampo to retain his IBF title. The homecoming title defense took place in Frisco, Texas, at the practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys, Spence's favorite football team.
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.
Oct. 13, 2018: Crawford made the first defense of his WBO welterweight title with a 12th-round TKO of Jose Benavidez Jr., the older brother of current WBC interim super middleweight champion David Benavidez. Crawford was able to floor Benavidez in the final round to lift the sold-out CHI Health Center to its feet in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
Terence "Bud" Crawford gets off to a great start by knocking down Amir Khan in the first round. Watch the full replay on ESPN PPV.
Nov. 17, 2018: Spence and Crawford were both ringside in Oklahoma City to watch their mutual friend, Maurice Hooker, defeat Alex Saucedo in a junior welterweight title fight on ESPN.
Afterward, in the bowels of the arena, Spence and Crawford exchanged fighting words, whipping the boxing world into a frenzy.
"I'm gonna crush you, and I'm gonna stop you ..." Spence said. "I'm gonna stop you, easy. It's gonna be easy work, I promise you."
"Try that body shot," Crawford countered while showing off his midsection. "I'm solid. Solid as a rock. That's fat (he said while pointing to Spence)."
"It don't matter," Spence responded. "I'm gonna knock you out. You got wobbled by [Yuriorkis] Gamboa. We've seen your wobbly legs."
"You got hurt by Ocampo. And you got hurt by Kell Brook," Crawford replied. "Wait until I hit you. You gonna look like [Jose] Benavidez."
"He had one leg," Spence said of Benavidez, who was shot in the leg back in 2016 and wore a brace on his knee in the fight against Crawford.
"I'm gonna make you do the Stanky Leg," Crawford retorted.
Spence: "What you wanna bet on that? I'll bet $100,000 on that."
Crawford: "Let's bet $1 million."
Spence: "Let's bet $1 million. Easy."
March 16, 2019: Spence headlined on pay-per-view for the first time with a shutout decision victory over Mikey Garcia, who moved up two divisions to welterweight for the challenge. The fight also marked Spence's debut at the home of the Cowboys with an announced attendance of more than 47,000.
Afterward, Spence welcomed Pacquiao into the ring, setting the stage for a possible future showdown.
Terence Crawford knocks down Egidijus Kavaliauskas with a strong right hand in the seventh round. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up for ESPN+: https://plus.espn.com/.
April 20, 2019: Crawford floored Amir Khan in the opening round and picked apart the Englishman with ease en route to a sixth-round TKO victory. The ending was anticlimactic, however. Crawford landed an accidental low blow in Round 6, and Khan deemed he couldn't continue. Over 14,000 were on hand at New York's Madison Square Garden for Crawford's first ESPN PPV.
"The fight I want next is Errol Spence," Crawford said. "Whenever he is ready, he can come and get it."
Top Rank founder Bob Arum, Crawford's promoter at the time, lamented the failure to consummate a fight between his fighter and Spence.
"We want to fight Errol Spence," Arum said. "Everyone wants the fight. There is one guy stopping it, and that is Al Haymon.
"Al Haymon won't make fights. Spence won't fight Crawford, not because of Spence but because of Al Haymon. He's running a scam of a company. People have to realize he is ruining the sport of boxing. To not make a Spence fight with Crawford, which is a fight that all fight fans want, why? He only has his fighters fight in his own camp, unless he gets fighters he knows his fighters can beat.
"That's the scam. Spence believes he will beat Crawford. Al Haymon does not believe. I'm looking to make the fight and do it on the most reasonable terms."
PBC had no comment when ESPN reached out regarding Arum's accusations.
Sept. 28, 2019: In one of the best victories of his career and one of the best fights of 2019, Spence handled his greatest adversity yet with a split-decision win over Shawn Porter. The win earned Spence the WBC welterweight title to go along with the IBF title he retained.
Spence was deadlocked with Porter in a tit-for-tat battle when he uncorked a hellacious left hook in the penultimate round to score a knockdown.
"I've told my team: You line them up, I'll knock them down," Spence said.
Oct. 10, 2019: Spence was involved in a serious single-car accident just before 3 a.m. in Dallas. The Ferrari he was driving crossed a median into oncoming traffic and flipped over several times, ejecting Spence, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, according to police. Spence was placed in the intensive care unit and spent six days in the hospital but didn't break any bones.
He later pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to three days in jail, but was given credit for time served.
"Fortunately, no one else was involved in the accident, and I am most grateful for that," Spence said. "It was an incident that would profoundly change my life."
Spence noted that during his recovery he contemplated "how much I could have lost and how blessed I was to have a second chance at life."
"Don't drink and drive," Spence said. "Not one drink. It's not worth it."
Terence "Bud" Crawford retained his WBO title with a TKO of Shawn Porter in Las Vegas.
Dec. 14, 2019: Crawford retained his WBO title with a ninth-round TKO of Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas, scoring three knockdowns in the process.
Crawford knocked down Kavaliauskas once in Round 7 and twice in Round 9, but Crawford was down on the canvas in Round 3 from a punch, though the referee ruled it a slip.
"I wasn't hurt at all," Crawford said. "I got up and went straight to him. I wasn't hurt by no means. I walked through everything he threw all night."
Neither Spence nor Crawford have been knocked down in their pro careers.
Nov. 14, 2020: In another blistering performance, Crawford stopped Brook in the fourth round to retain his WBO title. "Bud" floored Brook with a lead right hand in Round 4, then finished him on his feet with a barrage of punches.
"Never in my career, nobody has ever done that to me -- not even in sparring," Brook said.
Dec. 5, 2020: Spence showed no ill effects from the accident in his return to the ring 14 months later.
Spence cruised past Danny Garcia, a former two-division champion, using his pinpoint southpaw jab to win a unanimous decision.
"I was smiling because it was a long, long road to come back," Spence said after the fight. "It was a lot of sacrifice and buckling down and staying focused and trials and tribulations to get to this point tonight. I got to that point, and it paid off.
"I basically proved that I'm back and I'm here to stay and I'm the unified champion of the world."
August 2021: Spence was set to fight Pacquiao on Aug. 21 in Las Vegas in the biggest fight of his career but was forced to withdraw from the bout 12 days out after being diagnosed with a detached retina in his left eye.
"I'm grateful that I caught it. ... It's a career-ending injury for a lot of other boxers," Spence told ESPN in his first public comments since the surgery. "A lot of them don't get checked up. Even if this would have happened early in training camp, I would have still tried to spar and things like that. And it probably would have damaged it permanently.
"I'm just grateful it happened when it happened, I caught it sooner than later, and I have another chance at what I love doing."
Spence was replaced by Yordenis Ugas, who upset Pacquiao to send the all-time great into retirement.
Terence Crawford says he isn't worried about his legacy if a fight against Errol Spence Jr. doesn't materialize.
Nov. 20, 2021: Brook was the first common opponent between Spence and Crawford; Porter became the second.
Porter pushed Spence to the brink in a close fight, and the former champion was able to test Crawford, too. While Spence knocked Porter down in Round 11 and settled for a decision victory, Crawford stopped Porter in Round 10.
Crawford dropped the pressure fighter twice in Round 10 before Porter's father and trainer, Kenny Porter, threw in the towel. Porter announced his retirement after the fight.
"His dad did the right thing by stopping it because I was coming with a vengeance," Crawford said after the fight. He was ahead on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage: 86-85, 87-84 and 86-85.
Spence was ringside in Las Vegas for the bout, and Crawford sent a message to him afterward.
"You see what I did compared to what he did," Crawford said after the fight, referring to Spence's split-decision victory over Porter. "Who's No. 1 in the welterweight division now? You know who I want. I've been calling him out all day. Maybe Spence will get his tail out of his butt and fight me."
The fight was the last of Crawford's deal with Top Rank, his longtime promoter, making him a free agent and paving the way for a fight with Spence.
"I'm pretty sure my decision is made already," Crawford said. "Bob couldn't secure me the Spence fight when I was with him, so how is he going to secure me the Spence fight when I'm not with him? I'm moving forward with my career now."
April 16, 2022: Spence returned from a career-threatening surgery to repair his detached retina with another impressive victory, a 10th-round TKO of Yordenis Ugas at the home of the Cowboys.
The victory netted Spence his third welterweight title, the WBA belt, bringing him one step closer to the undisputed championship.
Ugas rocked Spence in Round 6, sending his mouthpiece flying, but Spence recovered. He broke Ugas' orbital bone -- just as he did to Brook -- and buckled Ugas in Round 10 before the ringside doctor advised the fight be stopped.
"Everybody knows who I want next; I want Terence Crawford next," Spence said. "That's the fight that I want; that's the fight everybody else wants. Terence, I'm coming for that motherf---ing belt."
September 2022: Spence and Crawford were on the verge of a deal after months of negotiations and even agreed to the purse split, but the fight, which was targeted for Nov. 19, collapsed at the 11th hour.
The issue: Crawford wanted transparency related to event expenses because the contract contained no guaranteed purse, sources said. Crawford, according to sources, conceded to the short end of the financial split.
Crawford was set to earn a percentage of the net revenue, so he wanted the ability to approve expenses, sources said.
Oct. 20, 2022: Crawford told ESPN that he struck a deal to fight welterweight contender David Avanesyan on Dec. 10 in Omaha, ending hope of a clash with Spence in 2022.
"I was really looking forward to the Errol Spence fight," Crawford said. "I started communicating with Al Haymon and PBC back in June. And unfortunately, they represent a fighter in Errol Spence who didn't want the fight as bad as I did.
"I agreed to all of their bulls--- and they've been dragging their ass for months. Spence was nowhere to be found while I was trying to make the deal. I explained to Al Haymon and Errol that I was going to fight before the end of the year. ... David Avanesyan is a very tough task. He's knocked out his last six opponents and this guy is dangerous. Once I'm successful against Avanesyan, my plan is still the same: whup Errol Spence's ass."
Spence replied on Twitter: "[Crawford has] been stalling for months, I could've fought in November. Been fighting at this weight for over a decade, this s--- ain't easy or fun."
Dec. 10, 2022: Crawford delivered a highlight-reel KO of Avanesyan, a left uppercut followed by a right hand that ended the fight swiftly in Round 6.
March 2023: Spence and Crawford both credited a roughly 30-minute phone call they had in February with getting the deal over the line after Spence appeared headed for a fight with Keith Thurman at 154 pounds.
"I feel as if I didn't call him and we wasn't in contact with one another that the fight wouldn't have happened," Crawford said. " ... I was just chilling at the house and I sent him a text message. We texted back and forth, and then we got the ball rolling."
"I been wantin' the fight. And the people had me for the blame why the fight wasn't happening. And I don't wanna never go into detail and say or point fingers at anybody, so, you know, I called him up again and said, 'Hey, listen, you know, let's get this fight done. Let's make history. You wanna become undisputed champion of the welterweight division and so do I. So, let's come together and get this fight done.'"
Spence agreed on the importance of the call in delivering the fight once and for all.
"Just FaceTiming each other, talking about it and, you know, basically he telling me the demands that he had," Spence said. "Basically I had to humble myself and make concessions to what he wanted, even though certain people in the business thought I wasn't gonna do it. But I did it and I feel like I'm the reason why the fight happened."
Crawford said he had never spoken to an opponent before about deal points "because there was no need for me to do that."
"The stakes is real high at this point and I recognized that, he recognized that, and that's why we came together and made the fight that all the fans wanted to be made."
Said Spence: "It's just dope that you got two fighters that humble they self and basically put other stuff to the side and talk about it and try to make the fight happen."
Crawford said he "learned a lot in these last months of doing and handling my own career and talking with Al Haymon and talking with my handlers, my lawyers and just learning the game.
"It's so much that goes into making a megafight like this that nobody understands. They think that two fighters just agree and bam, here you have it. But there's a lot of missed detail that goes into making a megafight that a lot of people don't know and don't understand. And then they fault the fighters for not taking the fight because things wasn't right in the contract."
May 23, 2023: ESPN reported that Spence and Crawford agreed to a deal for a July 29 fight for the undisputed welterweight championship in Las Vegas.
The deal contained a bidirectional rematch clause that the loser, no matter who it is, could exercise within 30 days of the fight for a return bout later this year.
May 25, 2023: Spence and Crawford officially announced that they'll meet July 29 on Showtime PPV.
June 13-14, 2023: Spence and Crawford embarked on a two-city press tour to promote the fight. They shared the stage in Los Angeles before they traveled to New York for one more news conference.
"This is the biggest fight in boxing right now," Spence said. "This is a legendary fight. It's an old-school fight. This is like the fights my dad used to tell me about. It's the best fighting the best."
Said Crawford, "Y'all are going to witness greatness. We measure greatness by eras. July 29, I'm going to show everyone why this era is the Terence Crawford era.
"People after this fight are going to say that Bud Crawford is special. I can assure you that. He'll give me my respect after the fight after I whup that ass. ... Errol doesn't like to back up. I'm the type of fighter where you push me and I push even harder. We both have big hearts and like to fight. It makes for a great action-packed fight."
July 25, 2023: Spence and Crawford made their grand arrivals for fight week at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"It would be a dream come true to become the first welterweight undisputed champion of the world in the four-belt era," Spence said. "I watched all the great fighters as a kid. Now I get to have my moment.
"I want the bright lights and the glory. ... He's in his prime. I'm in my prime. We are the two best fighters in the welterweight division. The winner of the fight on Saturday night will be the best fighter in boxing."
Said Crawford, "It's going to be even sweeter to win the undisputed championship for the second time. That's why we take the chances we take. That's why we fight the way we fight. This is a fight that the world's been craving.
"My name is already up there with the all-time greatest welterweight fighters. It's just a matter of going out there on Saturday and putting the cherry on top and furthering my legacy."