As the boxers Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford exchanged verbal barbs on Wednesday at the Palladium Times Square ahead of their much-delayed and anticipated bout later this summer, technicians streamed the promotional event on a billboard outside. The fighters arrived in Manhattan less than 24 hours after they participated in a similar news conference near Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Hotel, playing up boxing’s ties to the entertainment world.
Showtime Sports executives and others involved in the buildup to the fight have seen the two largest media markets in the U.S. as necessary stops in their efforts to promote a bout that is seen as both marquee for the sport and a draw for casual fans who might not normally care about — or pay for — a boxing event.
After nearly a half-decade of hype and false starts, Spence (28-0, 22 knockouts) and Crawford (39-0, 30 knockouts) will face each other in a unification 147-pound bout in Las Vegas on July 29.
Crawford holds the belt in the World Boxing Organization, while Spence is the champion among the three other major sanctioning bodies, meaning the winner will become the first undisputed champion of the weight class since 1988.
The fight offers a rare bout with two of the best boxers in the world fighting each other in their prime, and it has been compared to memorable matchups such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. against Manny Pacquiao in 2015 and Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas Hearns in 1981.
“We got to show these people in suits, we got to show these other fighters that there is a reward in taking risks,” Spence, 33, told reporters on Wednesday. He added: “If you fight the best, there’s a reward for that.”
Demand for the match has built as each man has risen through his career. The two sides nearly finalized a bout for last fall, but negotiations fell apart. Crawford, 35, instead agreed to a December fight against a lesser opponent, David Avanesyan, on the little-known streaming service BLK Prime.
“The negotiations with Spence and his team didn’t go according to plan, so I just took that fight in the meantime,” Crawford said in a brief interview, while scrolling through Instagram on his phone.
The fight went unscheduled until 2021 in large part because Crawford’s former promoter, Top Rank, rarely did business with Spence’s promoter, Premier Boxing Champions, because of conflicts about fight distribution. Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, said in an interview that negotiations became easier after Crawford became a free agent in 2021, but he said it was “a bit of a surprise” that Crawford backed out in the fall. After Crawford defeated Avanesyan via technical knockout, Espinoza said the negotiations picked up quickly with an added sense of urgency.
“There was a huge sense of disappointment with everything in the fall, and that as much as anything was a big motivator,” Espinoza said. “No one liked that feeling, so when we all came back to the table, everybody gave a little bit more and that was able to get it done.”
That process included Spence and Crawford talking to each other occasionally on video calls. Spence, in an interview, said he felt the gesture expedited the agreement as each man got to know the other personally. On the calls, Spence said he and Crawford also discussed compromises they could each make to finalize the bout, including pay splits and the control of revenue beyond pay-per-view buyers.
Spence and Crawford are far from the first boxers to participate in political gamesmanship when it comes to future fights, especially highly anticipated ones. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight notoriously happened years later than fans had hoped. Red tape among promoters, financial disagreements and the fear of adding a loss to a fighter’s record are three of the biggest culprits for why elite matchups often take so long to materialize.
But the boxing calendar this year has quickly filled up with enticing shows, including Gervonta Davis’s seventh-round technical knockout against Ryan Garcia in April and Devin Haney’s decision win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in May. Espinoza said he hoped those kinds of matchups would become more common as boxers came to see the fights as cultural events.
“You don’t get undisputed titles unless the best are fighting the best,” Espinoza said.
The winner on July 29 will be regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, and though it took a while to finalize, Spence said he expected that fans would be pleased.
“Everyone has matched us up together for years,” Spence said. “The time is right. All roads led to him for me, and for him, all roads led to me.”