ARLINGTON, Texas — Errol Spence Jr. looked impressive in a 10th-round TKO victory over Yordenis Ugas to unify three of the four major welterweight world titles at AT&T Stadium on Saturday. Terence Crawford has the other and a fight between Spence and Crawford has been marinating for too long. Spence said after the win that he wants the fight. Crawford has said he wants the fight. Boxing fans want the fight. Is this the right time?
In the co-main event, lightweight contender Isaac Cruz punished a faded Yuriorkis Gamboa en route to a fifth-round TKO victory, sending a clear message to the rest of the division. But can he beat the top names in the division?
Two other welterweight bouts took place on Saturday. Eimantas Stanionis, who was Ugas’ mandatory challenger but stepped aside to allow the unification fight against Spence, defeated Radzhab Butaev by decision, and Conor Benn did quick work of Chris Van Heerden in a second-round KO victory. But are Stanionis and Benn ready for the big leagues? Is there a chance they can fight each other before taking the next big step?
Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby and Nick Parkinson discuss these topics and share their thoughts.
Spence vs. Crawford, the time is now
Spence wanted to prove he was the big fish in the welterweight division.
On Saturday night, in front of a rocking hometown crowd, he looked like a shark.
But instead of circling Ugas inside the ring, he stuck in front of him with an endless supply of punches until it was too much for Ugas.
And in picking up a 10th-round TKO victory to win three of the four major belts in the welterweight division, Spence did more than make a statement. He showed that it’s not too late for boxing to get the fight it desperately wants — a showdown between Spence and fellow welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.
“That’s the fight that I want,” Spence said in his postfight ring interview. “That’s the fight that everybody else wants. Like I said, I’m going to get these straps and go over there and take his s— too.”
Talking about a Spence-Crawford showdown feels like a box that needs to be checked before discussing the 147-pound division. But because of how Spence looked against Ugas, those words seemed to carry some additional weight this time.
In securing a third piece of the welterweight crown, with Crawford holding the WBO belt as the fourth and final share, Spence showed the sense of resiliency that has marked the last couple of years.
He showed no adverse effects from a detached retina on the left eye that forced him to pull out of a 2021 fight against Manny Pacquiao. Spence overcame a shaky moment in the sixth round when Ugas knocked Spence’s mouthpiece out and continued a relentless output.
If Spence had ever looked better, even after the eye issue and the car accident that left him in critical condition in 2019, it was hard to recall.
Ugas was a worthy champion, for certain, and was dangerous when at a distance. But Spence smothered him and punched Ugas’ eye shut, forcing the ring doctor to stop the fight in the 10th round.
In a way, Spence answered Crawford’s similarly strong performance against Shawn Porter. On that night last November, Crawford made a strong case as the division’s top fighter.
Of course, that has been up for discussion for years during Spence’s and Crawford’s respective runs in the division. After Spence’s victory, Crawford again signaled his intent to end this debate.
“Now the real fight happens,” Crawford said in a Tweet. “No more talk, no more side of the street.”
In the last bit, Crawford referenced any promotional hurdles to a potential Spence showdown that no longer exists after Crawford’s departure from Top Rank.
Spence seems just as eager for this fight to finally happen. And in beating Ugas the way he did, Spence proved that the Crawford bout isn’t past the expiration date. — Ben Baby
Ugas still good, has plenty of options at welterweight
Yordenis Ugas wasn’t even supposed to be here.
After he dropped two decisions in 2014 to opponents far below the championship level, the Cuban retired.
Two years later, he was back, and this time Ugas was a completely different fighter. He reeled off victory after victory and appeared to win his first title when he fought Shawn Porter in 2019, but Ugas lost a controversial decision. Even in defeat, Ugas proved he belonged on the top level.
And against Spence, despite the 10th-round stoppage, Ugas proved he’s one of the best welterweights in the world. He had Spence in serious trouble in Round 6 after a series of shots wobbled Spence, who wasn’t protecting himself after he lost his mouthpiece.
Ugas boxed well over the first half of the bout before Spence took control for good in Round 7, but he fought valiantly with his right eye completely swollen shut. He sent Manny Pacquaio into retirement with an upset win in August, and now Ugas will have to climb back into title contention.
It’s unclear how serious his eye injury is; he was transported to a local hospital afterward for examination. When Ugas does return, a fight with Eimantas Stanionis makes plenty of sense. The Lithuanian scored the biggest win of his career in a fight against Radzhab Butaev on the undercard and is now poised for his own title shot.
The WBA ordered Stanionis to fight Ugas but Stanionis stepped aside to allow the bout with Spence to proceed. If Spence-Crawford materializes next, a fight between Ugas and Stanionis would be perfect to establish who’s next in line for a crack at the titles.
Besides Stanionis, a fight between Ugas and Keith Thurman would be attractive, two former champions who appear to be evenly matched. And then, of course, there are rising stars like Jaron “Boots” Ennis, Conor Benn and Vergil Ortiz Jr.
Whatever comes next, it likely will be a while until Ugas fights one of these top-10 welterweights. After another grueling fight and what could be a serious eye injury, a long rest appears to be in store. — Mike Coppinger
Stanionis wins, shows he’s ready for title shot
Stanionis cemented his status as one of the best welterweights in the world with a split-decision victory over Butaev in his first legitimate test.
Butaev (14-1, 11 KOs) entered the fight rated No. 9 by ESPN at 147 pounds on the heels of a stoppage victory over Jamal James. But against a far better opponent in Stanionis, Butaev had trouble fending off the attack.
Stanionis (14-0, 9 KOs) is a big welterweight who is strong on the inside, and perhaps most impressively, he’s an aggressive fighter who’s defensively responsible. Even as Stanionis unloaded on Butaev in the clinch, his head was a moving target behind a tight guard.
Stanionis still absorbed plenty of damage — 140 punches — and emerged with both eyes badly bruised. But he evaded most of Butaev’s punches: the Russian connected on less than 19% percent of his shots.
The Lithuanian was set to fight Ugas for the WBA title, but Stanionis stepped aside to allow the unification with Spence to proceed.
At 27 and ESPN’s No. 7 welterweight, there’s no rush. If Spence fights Crawford later this year to unify all four major welterweight titles, Stanionis could step aside and gain some seasoning with another tough fight.
But it appears that Stanionis is ready to at least hang with the division’s elite right now, even if he would be a decided underdog against Spence or Crawford.
When you consider the best welterweights under 30 years old, you must include Stanionis along with Ennis, Ortiz Jr. and Benn. Hopefully, some fights are made between these four boxers, unlike the so-called Four Kings at 135 pounds (Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis). — Mike Coppinger
Is Conor Benn ready to face the top welterweights?
Benn wants the best at 147 pounds, but what is more likely is a summer showdown against one of the former shining lights in the division — Adrien Broner or Kell Brook. Failing that, a matchup with David Avanesyan could be a good step up bout.
Essex, England-based Benn (21-0, 14 KOs) rushed to another impressive stoppage win on Saturday, when he demolished Chris van Heerden (28-3-1, 12 KOs) from Johannesburg, South Africa, in two rounds. That win over van Heerden, 34, followed a four-round wipeout of former junior welterweight champion Chris Algieri in December.
Benn, 25, has not done enough to suggest he’s ready to fight against the top names in boxing’s most treacherous division despite his recent success. That includes champions Spence Jr., Ugas and Crawford and top contenders Ortiz Jr. and Ennis. But his promoter, Eddie Hearn, says a big test still awaits this summer.
Former IBF world welterweight champion Brook (40-4, 27 KOs), 35, who dealt Amir Khan (34-6, 21 KOs) a painful sixth-round defeat in February, is asking for £10 million to share a ring with Benn, and may have priced himself out. From Sheffield, England, Brook would make a fight with Benn one of the biggest non-heavyweight bouts in the United Kingdom this year, but it is still not worth Brook’s asking price.
Hearn will likely explore a fight with Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs), 32, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Russia’s Avanesyan (29-3-1, 17 KOs), 33 — who lost a decision challenging Lamont Peterson for the WBA world title in 2017 — has won his past six fights by stoppage, could also be an option.
“It won’t be Amir Khan, he won’t be around until the end of the year, but it’s time for a serious test, and I’m talking about Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Adrien Broner, David Avanesyan,” Hearn said after the fight. “Kell Brook is the perfect fight to establish the best welterweight in Britain. Kell Brook asked for £10 million and that tells me he doesn’t want the fight but we will see what the next few weeks bring.”
Hearn particularly likes the fight against Broner in England. Broner, who has won titles in fourth different weight classes, has not fought since February 2021 and last held a welterweight belt in 2013. But a victory over Broner would help introduce Benn to viewers in the United States.
It is also a fight Benn can win. While Benn has kept busy and is in form, Broner has had five fights in as many years, winning two of them, losing two — to Manny Pacquiao and Mikey Garcia — with a draw against Jesse Vargas.
“I would love them all to be there, but the Brook fight is the one I want because I always want to fight the winner,” Benn said. “Khan suffered a one-sided beating [against Brook] and I have no interest in fighting someone who has just gone through that.
“I’ve got to give credit to Kell. He looked sharp, focused, he looked like the Kell Brook of old. So I want that challenge. I reckon I knock him out inside six rounds. If Khan wants to come and have it with me, then he’s welcome, both of those show you that greed is a terrible thing.” — Nick Parkinson