Terence Crawford emerged from the locker room at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas late on Saturday night, walked the long aisle to the arena floor, then scaled the steps to the boxing ring one more time.
He had the World Boxing Organization welterweight title belt, which he has owned since 2018, draped over his left forearm, along with the green World Boxing Council belt, which he had just won from Errol Spence Jr. The other two belts, from the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Association, rested with members of Crawford’s entourage, who followed him to ringside for the postfight news conference.
Crawford greeted Spence, whom he had just defeated by technical knockout in the ninth round of the most important boxing match of the year. Spence, his face red and swollen, and Crawford, his face unblemished, hugged and spoke with each other. Before Spence could exit, Crawford handed him the W.B.C. belt, then gathered the other straps from his team members and handed them to him, too.
Belt exchanges like these are common but seldom seen in public. Boxing’s sanctioning bodies will make new belts for Crawford, who is now 40-0 with 31 knockouts after Saturday’s emphatic win. Spence, 28-1 with 22 knockouts, will retain his as keepsakes.
The postfight ritual hinged on the premise that sold the fight — that Crawford, 35, and Spence, 33, are both champions. But only Crawford is the undisputed champion. The win on Saturday, in which he landed twice as many punches as Spence did, makes him the first welterweight to hold titles from all four major sanctioning bodies.
The belts Crawford handed back will always belong to Spence, but the welterweight division belongs to Crawford.
“The whole world is talking about it, and we put on a great show,” Crawford said.
On paper, the showdown, between previously undefeated champions, was evenly matched. Neither fighter had ever been knocked down, and both tended to win their fights by wide margins. The oddsmakers gave Crawford a slight edge, and the boxers’ records and skill sets also hinted at a close contest.
But people close to Crawford, who is from Omaha, noticed an uptick in intensity during training camp.
“He added to everything he’s doing — more swimming, more running, a lot more recovery,” said Keyshawn Davis, the lightweight contender who trained alongside Crawford in Colorado Springs. “I’ve never seen him put so much into a fight.”
After Spence won the first round by advancing behind a stiff right jab, Crawford dropped him in Round 2 with a short right hand during a quick exchange of punches.
“My timing was off, and he capitalized on a couple of things,” said Spence, a native of Long Island in New York who grew up near Dallas. “His timing was a lot better than mine tonight.”
When Spence speared Crawford with a jab to the belly, Crawford countered with a hard left hand to the head. And when Spence attempted a flurry in Round 6, Crawford popped him with a jab. Then another. Then a hard left hand. Then another.
As Crawford won rounds, Spence’s trainer, Derrick James, urged a shift in tactics.
“Do our best to take away what he was doing, instead of kind of standing in front of him,” James said.
It did not work.
Crawford ended a Round 7 salvo of punches with a body shot that made Spence stiffen. When Spence launched a looping left hand midway through the round, Crawford fired a short right hook that sent Spence to the canvas. Just before the bell, a double right hook knocked Spence off his feet. As the referee, Harvey Dock, counted over Spence’s fallen body, Crawford turned his back to the scene and began grandstanding to some friends at ringside.
Two rounds later, there was another looping left from Spence and then another quick, concussive right hook from Crawford. Spence staggered backward. Crawford followed up with heavy punches. Dock stepped between the fighters and halted the bout with 28 seconds remaining in Round 9.
For Crawford, the moment brought elation and also relief.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air that I get to breathe,” Crawford said. “We finally did it.”
All three judges scored the bout, 79-70, for Crawford, a level of unanimity that is rare in a subjectively scored sport. Even more uncommon: Crawford’s blend of power and accuracy.
The CompuBox scoring system credited Crawford with landing 185 of 369 punches, compared with 96 of 480 for Spence. Crawford also landed 98 of 163 power punches; the 60 percent success rate is unusually high for a top-tier bout.
The statistical landslide appeared to eliminate the need for a rematch, but the contract gave the losing fighter the option to trigger one. Spence said he intended to exercise it.
“We got to do it again,” he said in the ring after the fight. “I’ll be a lot better.”
Spence said he would prefer to move up in weight and meet Crawford in the 154-pound junior middleweight division, but he may have lost his negotiating leverage along with his world titles on Saturday. Crawford would enter a rematch as the clear headliner and have the upper hand in dictating contract terms.
Crawford’s win made him the first male boxer to hold all four major titles in two different weight classes, at 140 pounds and now at 147. Among women, only Claressa Shields has achieved that feat.
In 2017, Crawford became the undisputed champion at 140 pounds, then promptly vacated those titles to move up to welterweight. On Saturday night, he considered a similar move, saying that he, like Spence, had grown tired of shaving his weight to 147 pounds.
But he also hinted that, after producing a career-best performance at age 35, and securing his status as one of the greatest fighters in boxing history, he might not have many more titles to chase.
“In two months, I’ll be 36 years old,” he said. “I’ve been boxing since I was 7 years old. I’ve got to sit down with my team and think about the future.”