OKLAHOMA CITY — Chesapeake Energy Arena was buzzing.
The crowd was there to see local product Alex Saucedo attempt to become the city’s first world boxing champion in more than three decades, but it also got an undercard matchup that it wasn’t expecting.
Welterweight champions Terence “Bud” Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. — widely regarded as two of the top fighters in the world, regardless of weight class — unexpectedly met at the Top Rank event Nov. 16.
Both were on hand to cheer on mutual friend Maurice “Mighty Mo” Hooker, who successfully defended his 140-pound title by stopping Saucedo. The WBO junior welterweight titlist, like Spence, is from Dallas. But he is a former training partner of Crawford, who was instructing the champion from ringside.
Crawford knew Spence was going to be here, and vice versa. Their meeting was inevitable. And with the boxing world clamoring for a showdown between them, Crawford made sure that they would hook up.
The WBO champion from Omaha tweeted at Spence from ringside, inviting him to come say “hi.” When he got no response, Crawford sought out the IBF beltholder in the crowd to force a one-on-one meeting.
Video clips of their playful, yet confrontational, back-and-forth banter quickly spread through a number of social media platforms. It did nothing but whet the appetite of boxing fans who crave this unification.
But as someone at ringside eloquently noted, “This will be the only time they’ll be in the same arena.”
Crawford and Spence fight under rival banners and perform on competing networks. Crawford promoter Bob Arum and Spence adviser Al Haymon would have to come to an agreement to make the proposed bout a reality. Neither of them has displayed much interest in working with the other on a regular basis.
Haymon, who doesn’t speak to the media, chooses to remain behind the scenes. Arum publicly states that he’s willing to do business with anyone to make the best fights. In this case, he advised Spence instead.
“The smartest thing you can do is stay away from Terence,” he said.
Both champions are undefeated. Spence, a former U.S. Olympian, has fought his entire career at welterweight. Crawford has been the lineal champion at both 135 and 140 pounds previously as a pro.
The unbeaten Omahan has recorded two knockout victories since moving up to welterweight earlier this year. He hasn’t hidden his desire to become the top fighter in his new division as he has in the two others.
Crawford knows to achieve that, he’ll have to face the world’s other top welterweights. Nearly all of them are advised by Haymon and fight in the Premier Boxing Champions series on Showtime and Fox. Crawford competes for Arum’s Top Rank Boxing, which has an exclusive contract for bouts with ESPN.
A showdown between Crawford and Spence won’t happen for a while. The IBF champion from Dallas already has his next assignment — a March 16 date with unbeaten Mikey Garcia, a four-division titlist.
Crawford’s next fight should come around that same time, Top Rank officials said. He doesn’t have an opponent yet, and his willingness to fight the other top boxers in his division won’t get him a big event.
WBA super champion Keith Thurman, WBA regular beltholder Manny Pacquiao and WBC titlist Shawn Porter already have bouts scheduled for early 2019. Former WBC champion Danny Garcia does also.
And a matchup with any one of those potential foes faces the same challenges that a proposed fight with Spence would. All four of those welterweight stars are locked into deals with competing entities.
Lithuanian welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas, also a Top Rank fighter, is the best bet to be the next boxer to challenge for Crawford’s WBO title. The unbeaten and highly ranked contender knocked out Roberto Arriaza in front of Crawford in the co-main event, then announced that he was ready for a title shot.
“I want to fight the best in the welterweight division, and the best guy right now is Terence Crawford,” said Kavaliauskas, who improved to 21-0 with 17 knockouts with the win. “I am ready for that fight next.”
Arum called the knockout by his contender a “significant victory” and suggested a bout with Crawford.
“We’re going to look very closely at having Egidijus challenge Terence Crawford for the welterweight championship of the world,” he said. Arum made a similar comment following a Jose Benavidez win this summer, and Benavidez was indeed the fighter in the opposite corner from Crawford in Omaha this fall.
Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) didn’t comment on the possibility of meeting Kavaliauskas after the contender’s impressive knockout. He quickly raced from his seat after the referee’s 10-count to go search for Spence.
Not surprisingly, each champion predicted a victory over the other during their verbal sparring in the arena’s hallway. Crawford was betting on a KO win while Spence referred to himself as the boogeyman.
“You can’t be the boogeyman if I’m chasing you,” Crawford said.
Photos: Terence 'Bud' Crawford's path to world champion
Over the last decade, Omaha native Terence "Bud" Crawford has developed into one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. Check out these pictures following Crawford from his time as an amateur to his current position as world champion.