By MARK ANDERSON AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS — The fight itself didn’t match the hype, but Terence Crawford’s performance exceeded it.
He knocked down Errol Spence Jr. three times Saturday night before finally ending the fight at 2:32 of the ninth round on a technical knockout to cement himself as one of the greatest welterweights in history.
The fight, the most anticipated boxing match in several years, made Crawford the first undisputed champion in the 147-pound division in the four-belt era that began in 2004.
Crawford (40-0, 31 knockouts) already owned the WBO belt, and took the WBC, WBA and IBF titles from Spence (28-1). Crawford also ran his KO streak to 11 matches, the second-longest active stretch.
Crawford, 35, has won titles at super lightweight and lightweight in addition to welterweight, capturing the latter after moving up in 2018. The Omaha, Nebraska, fighter became the first male boxer to become the undisputed champion in two divisions in the four-belt era.
“I only dreamed of being a world champion,” Crawford said. “I’m an over-achiever. Nobody believed in me when I was coming up, but I made everybody a believer. I want to thank Spence and his team because without him none of this would have been possible.”
A big fight night on the Strip still brings out the stars, with recording artist Andre 3000 of Outkast, NBA star Damian Lillard and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at T-Mobile Arena. They were among the celebrities that also included former boxing champions such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
Eminem introduced Crawford and his song “Lose Yourself” played as he walked into the ring before a sellout crowd of 19,990 at T-Mobile Arena.
Spence was the aggressor early on, but Crawford sent him to the floor with a right hand with 20 seconds left in the second round. Then Crawford went after Spence, but time ran out before he could finish him off.
Crawford, a minus-154 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, then took control of the fight, landing several major blows, often on counters. But Crawford also picked his spots to go after Spence, his punching power taking a heavy toll.
“He was just better tonight,” Spence said. “I make no excuses. He was throwing a harder jab. He was timing with his jab, and he had his timing down on point.”
In the seventh round, Crawford knocked down Spence twice – with a short right at 1:02 and with another right with just a second left.
The fight was essentially over at that point, though Crawford backed off in the eighth round. He came roaring back in the ninth to end it for sure.
Crawford didn’t waste the chance to gloat afterward, directly responding to his critics.
“They said I wasn’t good enough and I couldn’t beat these welterweights,” Crawford said. “I just kept my head to the sky and kept praying to God that I would get the opportunity to show the world how great Terence Crawford is. Tonight, I believe I showed how great I am.”
Spence, however, said he would be up for a rematch but wants to move up to the 154-pound division.
“We’ve got to do it again,” Spence said. “I would be a lot better.”
Crawford said he would have no problem moving up a weight class.
“I’m in the hurt business,” Crawford said. “Forty-seven is kind of hard for me, too. I was already talking about moving up in weight and challenging (champion Jermell) Charlo.”
The 33-year-old Spence, who lives in DeSoto, Texas, won the IBF title in 2017, claimed the WBC championship in 2019 and took the WBA championship last year.
In the co-main event, Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz (25-2-1) of Mexico beat Chicago resident Giovanni Cabrera (21-1) by split decision in a WBC and WBA lightweight match. Judges Benoit Roussel (114-113) and Don Trella (115-112) scored the fight in favor of Cruz, and Glenn Feldman gave Cabrera the fight by a 114-113 score. Cruz had a point deducted because of a head butt.
Also, Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5) of Mexico won the vacant WBC bantamweight title with a 115-113, 116-112, 116-12 decision over Nonito Donaire (42-8), who lives in Las Vegas.