By: Kirk Jackson
Saturday March 16th is the day Errol “The Truth” Spence (24-0, 21 KO’s) has patiently been waiting for. The AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is the site where history will be written.
The biggest fight of the year (so far) featuring two undefeated world champions, two highly skilled fighters in their physical primes, one being Spence, the other Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KO’s), prepare to engage in battle, as the fight signifies as the launching point for Spence to propel towards super-stardom.
The seeds sowed years ago are beginning to blossom and take form. Traits attributed to both the fighting style and overall mentality of each fighter, helped transform this match-up on paper to a blockbuster boxing event.
Derrick James, long-time trainer of Spence believes this upcoming fight may catapult his fighter into a new realm of acclaim and may continue a trend witnessed in recent years with the best fighters facing each other.
“People get excited by the big fights and this one kind of reminds of some of those in the ‘80s we got to see,” James said. “Ray [Leonard], Tommy [Hearns], Duran, Hagler, they all fought each other. I think that’s the kind of fight this one is and hopefully, this one will be the start of something like it was in the ‘80s with those guys.”
Characteristics of hard work, consistency, impeccable timing, and intelligence – traits displayed effortlessly in the ring, each trait earned through countless hours of preparation and textbook execution. These very same traits implemented outside the ring as far as (fighting the right opponents at the right time, securing good management and promotional situations, maintaining high level of professionalism and focus).
One of the hurdles conspiring against Spence throughout his young professional career is the ability to secure big name opponents. Former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin arguably experienced similar issues. Both Golovkin and Spence notably been referenced by the media as the “Boogeyman” for each of their respective divisions.
Golovkin’s star shined brightly over the past few years and as he climbs in age, hopefully he can continue the trend of securing big name, elite fighters as opposition, heading towards his final stretch.
Ideally, it would be nice to see Spence land the big name, elite opponents, sooner rather than later and Mikey Garcia is a good start.
Correction, the misconception is Spence lacks quality opposition across his resume. Quickly assessing that notion, starting his career in November of 2012 and spanning across 24 fights, Spence faced and defeated three world champions – Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson and Chris Algieri respectively.
It’s not a large sample size, but Spence displayed toughness, grit and championship intangibles traveling across the pond to Sheffield, England, dethroning Brook en route to capturing his first world title.
“This takes me on right track to become the face of boxing, and become the #1 Pound-for-Pound fighter in the world.”@ErrolSpenceJr on the face of boxing, and filling the Mayweather void. pic.twitter.com/UiiJxhhC0v
— FOX Sports: PBC (@PBConFOX) March 13, 2019
Using the statistic of world titlists defeated as a benchmark, he trails in comparison to his pound-for-pound contemporaries; Vasyl Lomachenko defeated eight world champions, Terence Crawford defeated six world champions, Golovkin and Oleksandr Usyk defeated five world champions respectively and Mikey Garcia defeated 10 world champions entering Saturday’s match-up.
It’s why analyzing a fighter is case by case and more than numbers or statistics on paper. There are circumstances behind each fight – the condition of each fighter leading into the fight for example. There are circumstances behind why fights never form to fruition as well.
When assessing a fighter, the eye-test is important but taking into consideration the level of opposition is just as important. Spence and Garcia are fighting with something to prove to themselves and to the world.
Garcia is considered the best opponent to date for Spence and the notion of Garcia pulling off an upset continues to cultivate day by day. The lack of acknowledgement and non-appreciation of Spence’s skills continue to develop as well.
Garcia is the fighter observed in this match-up as the fighter with superior technical skills and intelligence. The Mexican-American fighter from Oxnard is regarded with such advantages, in spite of referring to Spence as a mirror of himself.
Something to keep in mind, Spence has greater experience as an amateur and competed as an Olympian for the United States in 2012. Advancing through the rigors of national tournaments, Olympic trials, the Olympics, exhibits a high-level of technical mastery.
Especially considering, Spence and the other amateurs in Olympic boxing from 1992 to 2013 (last year for Olympics -2012) fought under the Computer scoring system.
Five judges sat ringside with a keypad with a red and a blue button. The judges pressed a button for which ever corner they felt landed a scoring blow. Three out of the five judges had to press the button for the same boxer within a one-second window in order for the point to score.
A legal scoring blow was that which is landed cleanly with the knuckle surface of the glove, within the scoring area (middle of the head, down the sides and between the hips through the belly button), and the boxer can’t be committing a foul (slapping, ducking head, wrestling, holding, etc.). As long as the punches landed within the scoring area, they are legal and that included body punches, as well as those to the face/headgear.
No stranger to enduring a measure of under-appreciation from a skill standpoint, in his heyday oddly enough, middleweight great ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler was plagued with similar issues throughout his career as well.
Hagler of course, was revered for his unadulterated savagery inside the ring as well. Drawing comparisons to Hagler, Spence administers a measure of skillful brutality to his opponents.
The late former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier once told Hagler, “You have three strikes against you; you’re black, you’re a southpaw, and you’re good.”
The same applies to Spence – which may have served as a stumbling block to reaching the acclaim and stardom. Factors may also include the direction of the boxing market and how the sport overall is promoted.
The market can dictate the level of celebrity and fame amongst boxers and the audiences in respective countries worldwide. The television series Premier Boxing Champions, is bringing renewed mainstream exposure to professional boxing across various cable television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) and their affiliated sports-oriented cable networks (ESPN, CBS Sports Network, FS1, NBCSN, respectively along with Spike and Bounce TV).
DAZN is another outlet – a subscription video streaming service dedicated to sports, offering live and on-demand streaming of events. More and more premier boxing events are filtering through DAZN and it is viewed as the way of the future by many.
With the stock of boxing continuing to rise with greater promotion and exposure, the time for Spence appears right as he aims to overcome previous obstacles laying in his path.
His opponent this weekend is the right opponent to display skills, showcase greatness and ascend to another level. Spence aims to carve his own path, but in many ways he is shadowing a similar path comparable to Hagler.
When Hagler was on the cusp of super-stardom, he had Roberto Duran to elevate his status. Spence’s “Roberto Duran” is Mikey Garcia.
It was Mikey Garcia, stepping up to challenge Spence shadowing the path of Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran, while other champions in Errol’s division appeared weary of embracing the challenge of the young IBF champion.
“I have all the tools and all the skills needed to beat Errol Spence Jr. When it comes to timing, speed, reflexes and defense, you name it, I’m better,” Garcia said. “I’ve got to go in there Saturday night and show why I picked this fight. I want to make history and this is the one that will get me there.”
“I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to win this fight. We trained very hard. We can go 12 rounds for sure. But, if I get a chance to hurt my opponent, I’m definitely going to jump on him and get the knockout.”
The fighter regularly avoided (Spence) is now in the target in this case. How he responds with the bull’s eye across his back is telling, because winning this weekend most likely assures he’ll be the target progressing forward. The winner can be the target progressing forward due to financial incentive.
Spence mentioned Floyd Mayweather and replacing the void he left upon retirement. When Mayweather campaigned at super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight, he was the fighter avoided by most because he was deemed as high-risk, low reward.
It wasn’t until his shining moment against the late Arturo Gatti and again against cash cow Oscar De La Hoya, that Mayweather’s stock rose to heights never witnessed previously. That very same fate may potentially bestow upon the winner this weekend.
Fighters are chasing the meal ticket. The pot at the end of the rainbow and as they should, they’re prize fighters as well as warriors.
The measure of focus appears at it’s the highest point, as Spence remains in the laboratory fine-tuning his engine in preparation for Saturday night.
Spence aims to be fully prepared as he engages in the fight of his life. In true Marvelous Marvin style-fashion Spence will wage war against Mikey Garcia – fellow undefeated fighter across four weight classes, a fighter seeking his version of manifest destiny, aiming to solidify greatness of epic proportions.
Hagler soundly defeated Duran in an entertaining, competitive affair, securing his spot as one of boxing best fighters and biggest attractions. Hagler’s victory over Duran led to greener pastures, as his star shined brighter and he capitalized eventually securing fights against Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard.
“I wanna be mentioned with the likes of ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Ali and Ray Robinson, Floyd Mayweather. I wanna be mentioned along with those greats,” said Spence.
“And I know in order to do that, I have to fight the best fighters out there and keep getting titles. Hopefully, I can be undisputed welterweight champion.”
True to form as he is shadowing the path of Marvin Hagler – Spence should emerge victorious over the weekend and the question is who is next in line?
Manny Pacquiao – albeit will not be considered Spence’s “Sugar Ray Leonard” is another prime time opponent serving as an additional catalyst to Spence’s emergent ascension to power. And another fight that may take place at AT&T stadium.
Which may fall in line with the long-term plans of Al Haymon (Pacquiao’s advisor) when Pacquiao signed to PBC. No matter what transpires with Pacquiao, he’ll always be fondly regarded amongst the media and a loss to Spence doesn’t hurt his cause.
The same situation presents for Garcia – if he loses this weekend he’ll be regarded as the brave fighter moving up two weight classes to challenge the “Boogeyman.”
The truth is, this match-up can be argued as lose-lose situation for Spence. “It’s a win-win for him – even if I knock him out in the first round,” says Spence in an interview with ESPN.
“They’ll say he’s too small,” Spence continues. “If I beat him up throughout the whole fight, they’ll say, ‘He has amazing heart for a little guy. Errol Spence is supposed to do that, he’s the bigger welterweight.’ So even if he looks good [in defeat], they’ll say, ‘The smaller guy looked good, he just couldn’t hold up the weight.”
Spence must win for his star to truly shine and he must dominate. Although he recognizes Garcia is a tough opponent, he also realizes his status as boxing’s premier star depends on defeating Garcia.
“On paper he’s the toughest opponent to date, but once we get in the ring we’ll find out,” Spence said. “I know I’m the best fighter in the world and I’m going to show it Saturday night. I’m going to punish him and make him wish he took his brother’s (Robert Garcia) advice to not take this fight.”
“This is an opportunity,” Spence continued. “Mikey Garcia is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He’s proven himself time and time again and he’s always out there looking to fight the best. So for me to fight a guy like that, that’s a chance for me to make a statement.”