Where did the American heavyweight boxing champions go?

Welterweights Errol Spence and Terence Crawford are boxing’s marquee stars

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Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford pose during a news conference
Errol Spence Jr. (l.) and Terence Crawford pose during a news conference
Photo: John Locher (AP)

Errol Spence and Terence Crawford’s highly-anticipated welterweight Fight of the Year doubles as a ring showdown for the pound-for-pound crown that boxing aficionados have been counting down to for years.

For purists, Crawford and Spence are a dream pairing. Crawford has been the No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world since Canelo Álvarez was chopped down to size by WBA light heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol last spring. Injuries and serious car crashes disrupted Spence’s career and dropped him from his previous perch as boxing’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter. In 2019, Spence was ejected from his vehicle while traveling at high speeds during a solo crash. His car, which flipped multiple times was totaled, but Spence’s injuries were minor. A detached retina in Spence’s right eye nixed his Aug. 2021 match against Manny Pacquiao’s fossils and dropped him in most publications’ pound-for-pound rankings.


Spence and Crawford’s presence at the top of another main card highlights the graveyard that is the heavyweight boxing scene in America. Tomorrow’s 147-pound weight room clash illustrates how American boxers still reign throughout boxing’s weight class territories, except one. The heavyweight boxing landscape is almost completely barren of serious American contenders.


If you conducted a survey of boxing observers’ most recognizable belt holders of the last 20 years, British heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is the only one currently resonating. Boxing is no longer king of the American combat sports culture. These days, boxing promotions have to compete with the brutal violence of the UFC for eyeballs. In a different time, Jon Jones would have been a heavyweight champ. But the UFC hasn’t been able to touch other divisions which are littered with American champions.


Knockdown, drag ‘em out brawls used to be synonymous with American heavyweights. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman were the most feared men in boxing. Knockouts just happen to sell better too, which is why Tank Davis and not the more technically sound Spence or Crawford are recognized as one of the up-and-coming faces of the sport.

Davis produces KOs with the equivalent of a heavyweight’s iron fists. In 29 fights, Davis has delivered a finishing blow 27 times, including his bout against Ryan Garcia earlier this summer. That fight wound up being the sixth-highest-grossing boxing pay-per-view (not counting for inflation) ever and generated $22.8 million in ticket sales, ranking fifth in Nevada boxing history.


A majority of the best-selling non-Mayweather pay-per-view fights have been heavyweight slugfests. The boxing landscape has been chock full of classic fights, but the best the heavyweight has had to offer of late has been Tyson Fury beating up a lineup of tomato cans.

The No. 2 of the top 3 fighters in most outlets’ pound-for-pound ranking is Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk. At least he has the U.S. in his name. Accounting for inflation, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle is the highest-grossing fight in history. The only modern heavyweight boxer who was capable of generating one million pay-per-view sales is Anthony Joshua. By comparison, Back in May, British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn estimated that Spence and Crawford would attract somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 pay-per-view buys.


The most watched pay-per-views of all time in this century have been products of the Money Mayweather promotional machine. His 2015 bout against Manny Pacquiao more than doubled the previous record, Mayweather’s 2015 split decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya. Mayweather was involved with four of the best-selling pay-per-views ever.

Heavyweights are the high-octane offenses of weight classes. we’re frothing at the mouth for a heavyweight dust-up after two decades of Mayweather’s frustrating defensive snoozzzzzzzzzefests. Sorry about that. Just the memories briefly knocked me out. Fury is hardly an icon internationally, but his win over Deontay Wilder left an indelible mark on the zeitgeist in part because his opponent was America’s next great American boxing hope. Wilder turned out to be a pretender.


American heavyweights have been rendered obsolete. Andy Ruiz is the only American unified heavyweight champ since Hasim Rahman in 2001. Ruiz’s Cinderella knockout of Anthony Joshua only happened after Jarrell Miller failed a drug test weeks before his match against Joshua. The American heavyweight is long gone and they may be gone for good.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex