Muhammad Ali

Why Spence vs. Crawford title fight is this generation’s Ali vs. Frazier… yes, really

There hasn’t been a fight like Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford since Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 1.

Yes, you heard that right.

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No, it isn’t hyperbole… even if it sounds that way on the surface.

We’ve seen bigger fights (Mayweather-Pacquiao), undisputed fights (Haney-Lomachenko), high profile fights between undefeated fighters (Davis-Garcia) and fights between consensus top five pound for pound fighters (Ward-Kovalev).

But we have never seen them all at the same time. Add in the cultural significance of both fighters being African American and suddenly we’re in Ali-Frazier territory. You have to go back over 50 years for the last time this happened when Ali and Frazier battled in “The Fight of the Century” on March 8, 1971.

MORE: Sporting News staff predicts Errol Spence Jr vs. Terence Crawford

Both were undefeated with Frazier holding the WBA, WBC and The Ring heavyweight titles while Ali had a legitimate claim to being the true undisputed heavyweight champion considering that he was stripped of the titles by boxing authorities after he infamously refused induction into the armed forces in 1967.

MORE: How much have Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford made in their careers?

In Ali’s three and a half year absence, Frazier emerged and became the unified champion. By the time they met in 1971, they were considered two of the best fighters in the world and they battled to determine who the true heavyweight champion was in a bout that is widely regarded as the biggest in boxing history.

Since then, there have been other “big” fights with African Americans but none that have all of the elements of Spence-Crawford. Some will immediately point to Leonard-Hearns, Leonard-Hagler and Hagler-Hearns but Sugar Ray Leonard had already lost to Roberto Duran before he met Tommy Hearns or Marvin Hagler while Hagler had two losses before he faced Leonard or Hearns.

Floyd Mayweather’s 2010 pay per view blockbuster with Shane Mosley was big but Mosley had five losses before he faced Mayweather. Donald Curry’s 1985 battle with Milton McCrory to unify the welterweight titles was big, but McCrory was far from being considered one of the best fighters in the world at that time.

You would have to go back to Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe’s heavyweight title clash back in 1992 for a fight that almost had all of the elements of Ali-Frazier. But many still considered Mike Tyson the real heavyweight champion while Riddick Bowe wasn’t considered a top five fighter in the world at that point.

That brings us to Spence-Crawford.

Both fighters check all of the same boxes that Ali-Frazier once did.

  • Undefeated? Check.
  • Top-5 pound-for-pound? Check.
  • World champions? Check
  • African American? Check.

Both world champions have a legitimate claim to be the best in the welterweight division. It’s a 50-50 fight where pundits are torn on picking a winner considering that neither have shown much weakness in their respective games to this point.

The only thing where Spence-Crawford pales in comparison to Ali-Frazier is star power. Although both Spence and Crawford are stars in their own right, neither come close to what Muhammad Ali was to the sports world in 1971. But that wasn’t just relegated to boxing as Ali was the biggest and most controversial athlete in the world at that time. And with Joe Frazier being exactly opposite of everything Ali was, it formed the perfect clash of styles and personalities.

MORE: How Spence-Crawford compares to the best welterweight fights of all-time

Errol Spence and Terence Crawford are up against a lot more to sell this fight to the masses. While it’s certain that this will be a major event, boxing doesn’t have the world’s attention like it did fifty years ago.

Nevertheless, Spence vs. Crawford is a special cultural phenomenon that will be talked about years from now. One can only hope that the fight itself lives up to the hype and leaves us something to create conversations that start with “Do you remember where you were when Errol Spence and Terence Crawford fought for the undisputed welterweight championship on July 29 in Las Vegas?”

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