The ring had been converted to a stage by the time Terence Crawford emerged from his dressing room and back into the lights of T-Mobile Arena.
The new undisputed welterweight champion clambered up the steps and made a beeline for Errol Spence Jr. Just as he had a few minutes earlier, while putting on one the most spectacular performances Sin City has seen in many years.
Bud had a few gifts for the beaten Spence – one by one, Crawford handed back the WBC, WBA and IBF belts he had just taken from his rival. It was a touching gesture, another reminder that this superfight was never built on beef. Only respect.
But no one who had the privilege of watching Crawford’s surgically dismantle Spence over nine one-sided rounds was any under illusion: the prizes, the accolades, the acclaim were only heading one way. Towards Nebraska and boxing’s new king.
We had been told all week that this was the Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford era. It certainly is now. He was already a three-weight world champion and one of the world’s most complete fighters. This stunning win – over the elite welterweight of recent years – cemented Crawford as the best fighter on the planet. A generational talent. The face of American boxing. An all-time great.
Terence Crawford cemented himself as the world’s best fighter with victory over Errol Spence
The 35-year-old put his rival on the canvas three times en route to a stoppage win in Las Vegas
It should propel him towards the levels of superstardom that his skills have long deserved. There are only a couple of problems. Rather nagging ones: has it come too late? And where does he go from here?
Crawford is already 35. He is 40 fights into a 15-year career. Time is against him but, perhaps more crucially, opponents might be running out, too. The beauty of this rivalry with Spence was that they appeared so perfectly matched.
Plenty picked Crawford, many fancied Spence. Virtually everyone agreed that it would be close enough to make a rematch inevitable. No one outside of Team Crawford predicted anything this devastating. And brilliance comes at a cost. Bud might just have battered his way out of more huge fights and more huge paydays with this dance partner.
Spence insists he wants another tango. Crawford opened the door to making it happen at 154lbs. After this, though, it becomes a far more difficult sell. Only Spence and those around him will know how much another cut to 147lbs really took from the 33-year-old.
Only they will know how much damage – mental and physical – he suffered during this sustained beating. They must think very carefully before jumping back into the fire, no matter how much money is at stake. We said the same, of course, before Deontay Wilder signed for a third fight with Tyson Fury. And that proved to be the best of the lot.
Spence said he intends to activate his rematch clause following his first professional defeat
Jermell Charlo got Crawford’s attention as the pair verbally jousted mid-fight on Saturday
Unfortunately, Spence doesn’t have the one-punch power that gives fighters such as Wilder a chance to turn round any fight. The brutal truth on Saturday night? There was nothing beyond the second round to suggest he could win – even while Crawford resisted switch-hitting. So, should Spence err against taking the rematch – and it is hard not to hope he does – then where does Crawford look instead?
After one of the three knockdowns on Saturday night, Crawford rushed to the neutral corner and began a war of words with an interested observer at ringside: Jermell Charlo. He is a stablemate of Spence and the undisputed champion at 154lbs. Crawford has already hinted that his future might lie in another division.
‘I was already talking about moving up in weight and challenging Charlo,’ he said on Saturday night. The problem: Jermell is slated to meet Canelo Alvarez in September. That fight is at 168lbs. It seems unlikely that Charlo, at 33, would then drop back down. That would leave Crawford looking elsewhere.
Could the undisputed welterweight king step up to 154lbs and face Australian Tim Tszyu?
At 154lbs, a fight with the unbeaten Tim Tszyu would be an intriguing one. But after all the work Team Tszyu have done to build a rising star, would they risk it all against Crawford – given Tszyu is only 28 and on the cusp of a world title shot? Beyond the Australian, son of the legendary Kostya Tszyu, the division lacks stardust, too.
Winning a world title in a fourth division would further cement Crawford’s legend. At this stage of his career, though, given the stage he now occupies, given the ticking clock, would challenging for a vacant belt, against an unheralded opponent, sate the appetite? He might only have a couple of years – or a couple of fights – left, after all.
At 35, moving back down to 140, a division of more marketable stars, would surely be beyond Crawford. Which means his future might remain at 147. In which case, all roads lead to Boots.
Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis is a rising star at 147lbs and is Crawford’s mandatory challenger
Jaron Ennis is the heir to the throne at welterweight. The 26-year-old is unbeaten in 31 professional fights and the mandatory challenger to the new IBF champion. He called out the winner of Saturday’s coronation – is he ready for Crawford? Is anyone?
What a prospect it would be, though. Master vs apprentice. The present vs the future. Victory over the division’s next big thing certainly would be yet another box ticked. And at this point, Crawford might not have many other options. That’s the problem with being out on your own.
For so long, Crawford struggled to land the fights that could prove his greatness. He finally got his wish and might have punched his way back to purgatory. At long last, though, he has taken his rightful place.
Crawford always had the skills to rule over boxing. He just never played the game. He had no interest in sideshow or sham. That forced him on to the scenic route towards this throne. But Bud Crawford is so special because he is so real. We should enjoy his reign – however long it lasts, wherever it takes him next.