The Year Boxing Got Its Act Together

I like to joke that being a boxing fan is an embarrassing lifestyle choice—because, in 2023, calling yourself a supporter of the sweet science means being teased, traumatized, ridiculed, and robbed by a sport that does its best work finding ways to regularly fuck over its shrinking fan base.

From its increasingly fraught economics, forcing followers to shell out more and more money to watch a product often lacking juice; to integrity issues with judges, referees, and sanctioning bodies; to the sport’s toxic, confusing structure, which way too frequently prevents the best fights from happening, boxing always seems to hurt those who love it the most.

Which makes what is happening this year so remarkable: boxing, at least temporarily, has changed its act. In 2023, America’s most chaotic sport is thriving. We’ve already seen two huge fights this year, and we’ll get a second-half lineup that includes, in just two days, one of the most consequential bouts in modern history. If you haven’t been paying attention—well, you’re forgiven, since the sport’s done a truly commendable job of turning off the casual fan. But the hardcore fans couldn’t be happier with how boxing has collectively gotten its shit together.

And nothing illustrates that better than the era-defining fight about to go down in Las Vegas.

Errol Spence Jr., the undefeated WBC, WBA, and IBF welterweight champ, and Terence Crawford, the undefeated WBO welterweight champ, will finally face off in a bout that’s by far the best boxing can offer on July 29th (Showtime PPV, 8 p.m. ET). It’s been brewing for at least half a decade. “For years,” Crawford said recently, “even my kids (were) like, ‘Dad, is you gonna fight that Spencer guy?’” After a few close calls, boxing fans could hardly believe the May announcement that the two future Hall of Famers agreed to fight. They decided enough time had been wasted. “Errol and I got on the phone to get the biggest fight in boxing made,” Crawford said. “We both understood the assignment and had the same goals and dreams in mind. We came together to make sure we were both mature enough to get the fight made.”

An easy comparison is 2015’s “Fight of the Century,” the showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. And while that bout broke all kinds of pay-per-view records, it ultimately was a bore since both fighters were past their prime after spending too many years avoiding each other. While nobody wanted to wait this long, it’s all good since Spence (33) and Crawford (35) are still among the best in boxing and haven’t shown any signs of decline. And while Floyd and Manny fought for three of four belts at 147, the winner of Spence-Crawford will become the first undisputed champ in the historically rich welterweight division’s four-belt era. Plus he’ll make a strong case for deserving the top spot on the mythical pound-for-pound rankings. Basically, it’s impossible to undersell this one.

The cherry on top is there’s an insanely high chance that, no matter what happens on the 29th, we’re going to get a second installment: a bilateral rematch clause inserted into the contracts means Spence-Crawford II (or Crawford-Spence II) most likely goes down before the end of the year. And if the series is tied 1-1 after that, there’s a pretty decent chance we get a third fight in 2024. Even if you barely know anything about boxing, you probably know trilogies—like Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Duran, and most recently Fury-Wilder—have defined it.

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