A chronology of uncommon welterweight unification fights leading up to the Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford match

This Saturday’s fight between Spence and Crawford will be just the 13th welterweight unification contest ever.

On Saturday night, Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford will enter the ring while making history. There have only ever been 12 welterweight unification fights in the history of boxing, yet the majority of those matchups have been illustrious and enduring contests. The first undisputed welterweight champion in the four-belt era will be decided by the winner of Spence vs. Crawford.

While Crawford takes his WBO championship to the bout, Spence comes in as the WBC, WBA, and IBF champion. Both men hold prominent positions on every reputable pound-for-pound list in the sport and have undefeated records over the course of their stellar careers. This duel, which has been anticipated for a long time and may now actually take place as the most significant match of 2023.

The fight with Crawford will be Spence’s third appearance on the short list of welterweight title unification fights. Spence defeated Shawn Porter in 2019 to unify his WBC and IBF titles. In April 2022, he added the WBA championship by defeating Yordenis Ugas.

Crawford has participated in two fights while competing at junior welterweight, where he finally rose to the position of undisputed four-belt champion. This is his first unification fight at welterweight.

In light of this, let’s examine five of the most significant welterweight unification fights in boxing history.

“Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns

A few months shy of a year earlier, Leonard had successfully exacted revenge for his defeat to Roberto Duran and reclaimed the WBC throne. On September 16, 1981, Leonard fought another member of the “Fabulous Four” in a contest billed “The Showdown.” Hearns struck with incredible ferocity while being long and lanky. In August 1980, he defeated Jose Cuevas to earn the WBA crown, which he successfully defended three times with victories by knockout each time.

The fight got off to a poor start but picked more steam as the rounds went on. Leonard responded to inquiries about his chin while taking Hearns’ powerful blows, but the puffiness around his eye revealed that Hearns’ influence was having an adverse effect. Although Leonard wasn’t expected to be able to punch with Hearns, he did so more than competently. However, as the fight came to a close, Hearns turned up the heat and started picking up rounds, eventually accruing enough rounds to prevent Leonard from winning without several knockdowns or a stoppage.

You’re blowing it now, son,” famed trainer Angelo Dundee said to Leonard between rounds 12 and 13. You’re messing up. Hearns was severely damaged in the middle of the round before Leonard knocked him down in the closing seconds of the 13th as a result of turning up the volume and hammering Hearns. In round 14, Leonard continued to damage Hearns and land unanswered blows, forcing the referee to stop the fight and give Leonard the victory in a match that would not have been in his favour according to the official scorecards.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad

One of the most significant matches in boxing history included De La Hoya and Trinidad. Both De La Hoya and Trinidad entered the fight as unbeaten welterweight champions, with Trinidad having defeated Maurice Blocker in just two rounds to win the IBF title and De La Hoya having defeated Julio Cesar Chavez to win the WBC belt. With 14 successful title defences going into the fight, Trinidad had established himself as a divisional legend while De La Hoya had grown to be an international superstar.

The 1999 fight, dubbed “The Fight of the Millennium,” broke records outside the heavyweight class with 1.4 million pay-per-view purchases and $12.9 million in gate receipts. Trinidad would claim the victory in what is now a hotly contested decision about both De La Hoya’s strategy and how the fight was scored.

De La Hoya began to battle off his back foot to maintain a lead that was not as substantial as he and his camp had anticipated after gaining a modest advantage over the course of the first nine rounds. Trinidad turned up the pressure, and he could only really dodge De La Hoya’s jab in the final three rounds, which were obviously won by the Puerto Rican powerhouse. After Trinidad won the majority decision with scores of 114–114, 115–113, and 115–114, fans and the media have been debating De La Hoya’s defensive strategy and the scoring of the first four rounds for decades.

Vernon Forrest vs. Ricardo Mayorga

“Sugar” Shane Mosley was envisioned as another boxing spokesman. An almost unstoppable force at welterweight with a smile suitable for television, much like De La Hoya. However, Vernon Forrest came along and defeated Mosley twice, winning the WBC belt and seemingly catapulting himself into the conversation about the boxing world’s best. Fresh off of his two victories against Mosley, Forrest signed a large six-fight contract with HBO and was assigned to fight the unknown Nicaraguan wildman Ricardo Mayorga in what many believed to be a showcase match. However, as George Foreman would remark on the fight commentary, “Boy, you sign those big contracts and the last thing on your mind is that you gotta fight for the money.”

Mayorga had a hard existence; he had scars on his body from gang member knife battles and a lead pipe wound on his skull. Despite smoking a cigarette a day, he rose up the boxing ranks mostly due to his powerful punches, which allowed him to challenge Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis for the WBA championship. On January 25, 2003, Forrest, who had a complete crew and two rappers with him when they fought, was confronted with his tenacity and violence. At bell time, Forrest was a 6-1 favourite and had a reach advantage of four inches over Mayorga.

Forrest easily outboxed Mayorga in the opening frame, but he lost the frame after Mayorga knocked him out late in the round. In the second round, Forrest gave Mayorga what he wanted, and the two got into a violent brawl that continued into the third round, where Forrest was once more knocked out with a devastating right to the temple. Forrest stood up but was obviously unable to continue, resulting in the underdog’s surprising knockout victory. Larry Merchant of HBO summed up Forrest’s performance by saying, “Let’s see Vernon Forrest come into the ring rapping the next time,” as Mayorga revelled. Before he had an opportunity to seriously defend his title, “he was celebrating his championship.”

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao

It took more than five years to organise a battle that appeared inevitable given the quality of the competitors involved and the enormous sums of money that could be made. But on May 2, 2015, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather entered the ring to face off in what became known as “The Fight of the Century.”

Before facing Pacquiao, the unbeaten Mayweather had won the WBC championship from Victor Ortiz six bouts earlier and had added the WBA title with a victory over Marcos Maidana two fights earlier. He was a five-division world champion. Incredibly, Pacquiao maintained his strength as he gradually advanced from light flyweight to welterweight while winning championships in eight different weight divisions. Pacquiao defeated Timothy Bradley to win the WBO belt two fights before facing Mayweather.

While the drama the buildup suggested was not delivered, viewers were treated to a masterclass from Mayweather and a persistent effort from Pacquiao. Mayweather aimed to employ precise boxing throughout the whole contest, while Pacquiao would erupt in powerful flurry. Due to Mayweather’s abilities, Pacquiao threw a lot fewer punches than usual, which probably contributed to Mayweather’s scores of 118-110, 116-112, and 116-112 in each fight. But is one of the men a loss when they both make more than $100 million?

Keith Thurman vs. Danny Garcia

amid a press conference prior to the fight, Keith Thurman was called Keith Thurman’s father amid an unpleasant build-up to the fight. But all the hostility, a fantastic unification match between unbeaten champs couldn’t be overshadowed. Garcia was the WBC champion and a perfect 33-0 when they first met, while Thurman was 27-0 and the WBA champion.

The fight’s, where an average of 3.74 million viewers tuned in, the most for a prime-time boxing bout since 1998, added to the excitement for the rare welterweight unification contest.

The opening rounds of the match were intriguing, with both men trading blows but Thurman pulling out to an early lead. Midway through the fight, the pace stalled as Thurman tried to hold onto his lead until the final buzzer. Thurman’s caution and defensive adjustment caused him to lose the most of the late rounds on two of the three judges’ scorecards, including one that finally shifted Garcia’s favour. As a result, this ended up being almost a repetition of De La Hoya vs. Trinidad. However, Thurman was able to hang on for the split decision victory, unify the belts, and ensure that his was not the final one standing.