Totally together: The Errol Spence Jr. homecoming
One week after Terence “Bud” Crawford made his debut at welterweight and beat the WBO title out Jeff Horn, another prized American fighter, IBF welterweight titleholder Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr., makes his return to the ring this Saturday night in a homecoming fight.
“It’s something that I think Dallas has been wanting for a long time,” said Spence in the following interview with Showtime’s Brian Custer. “It’s something we haven’t had, so it’s like a breath of fresh air a little bit. To have something different and people come to boxing events and things like that. I enjoy it. I’m embracing it, and hopefully I can be that iconic figure to come from Dallas and pack out the AT&T Stadium one day.”
Spence, DeSoto, Texas, sat with Custer on the old football field, where he once played in high school, and even hoped of maybe one day having a star on his helmet in the pros. Football is bigger than anything in the Lone Star State and seemingly any young man growing up there has the game cross his mind. Spence was already a boxer, as an adolescent, and the football dreams may’ve been wishful thinking, at best. In his freshman year at DeSoto High School, Spence started winning more national tournaments in the amateurs, and the thought of making the U.S. Olympic Team had him hang up the cleats for good, by year two (Von Miller – current Denver Broncos pass rusher and future NFL Hall-of-Famer – was one year ahead of Spence at DeSoto High). Spence fought in the 2012 London Games, shortly after graduating high school, then turned pro later that November and eventually became one of the most heralded prospects in the sport. Spence certainly knew all along that he was a better fighter than football player but that didn’t stop him from wearing that Dallas Cowboys star on his trunks, in one of his early TV fights.
Spence, 23-0 (20), will be headlining a Showtime (9:00 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) tripleheader at Ford Center, in Frisco, Texas, where the Cowboys recently built a practice arena 28 miles north of Dallas. It’s nicknamed “The Star” and Spence got the VIP treatment from his favorite team in the promotion leading up to a homecoming that was long-overdue. Spence fought several times in San Antonio, early on, but only once in Dallas, 15 miles north of DeSoto. It actually headlined a Premier Boxing Champions card televised on NBC, back in 2015, and, although Spence remained a feature under the PBC banner – delivering knockouts in every one of those fights – there was something missing, while he grew as a pro before the eyes of a wide audience. There’s expected to be 10,000-plus Texans supporting their guy this Saturday night, and it’s a much-needed jolt for a state that produced world heavyweight champions Jack Johnson and George Foreman, to name a few. Texas is certainly no stranger to boxing.
“For me, it’s not hard to get out of bed because I set my goals and my dreams very high. And I still haven’t accomplished that,” said Spence in another interview, in the following YouTube link. “My motivation is different. For some boxers, their motivation might be money, so once they obtain the money, then the hunger dies down. For me, my motivation and my dreams are much bigger than that. Of course I want the money to take care of my family, and things like that, but my main goal and my main dream is to become an undisputed welterweight champion of the world, and become an all-time great. To become a legend in this sport, and be mentioned with the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Floyd Mayweather and things like that. So it’s kind of hard for me to be passive and not train as hard as I used to. I’m going to continue to train hard, continue to stay focused and continue to stay hungry and dedicated.”
Carlos Ocampo, 22-0 (13), is Spence’s dance partner in this homecoming. Not much is being said about the relatively unknown Mexican from Ensenada but, making his way up the IBF welterweight rankings, he earned a mandatory shot to Spence’s title as its No.1 contender. There is no real complaint of him as an opponent either, which reflects how fighting in Dallas was necessary. Not to mention, the IBF’s mandatory position was Spence’s way to his title shot, in May of last year. Traveling to Sheffield, England, where Kell Brook attracted 28,000-plus to the football pitch of his home club, Spence took part in a hotly-contested fight, in which he ended up stopping the Brit in the 11th round to win the belt. The back-and-forth action was enthralling, and the win didn’t come easily for Spence. Ultimately Brook succumbed to an eye injury, which later turned out to be a broken left orbital bone (Spence broke the other one in his prior challenge to unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin). Spence beat the injury into Brook, however, during a fight in which Brook had his moments and won a handful rounds. A year later, the fight is aging nicely upon replay, and, while it seemed like a confirmation that Spence was really good, historically it will be the start of it all, should he become the legend he wants to be.
“I’m the best welterweight,” proclaimed Spence. “I’m calling out the top guys. I went overseas and took the belt from arguably, at that time, when he was the best welterweight in the division, Kell Brook. He had beat Shawn Porter and came overseas to beat him. I feel like I’m the best welterweight in the division. I feel like I dethroned Kell Brook, and if any fighter is willing to step up, I’m willing to fight them, whether they have a belt or don’t have a belt. If they’re a Top 5 opponent, I’m willing to prove that I am the best because I’m ready to rule with an iron fist.”
Spence defended his title last January and dominated Lamont Peterson into submission after seven one-sided rounds. (Peterson’s corner threw in the towel after the seventh.) The win marked his 10th stoppage in a row and, going into the fight with Ocampo, Spence is a massive 85-1 favorite (Ocampo, a 35-1 underdog). Still, Spence recognizes that he must look impressive against Ocampo, which does have its own level of pressure. “Definitely,” Spence laughed when asked if he wants to win by knockout. “Y’all know my motto: It’s always ‘Man Down’ and I’ve got to live up to it. It’s something I don’t look for but something I just let happen naturally. If you look for it, you might overexert yourself or might look sloppy doing it. So I just let it come to me and we definitely want to end the night early.”
When it comes to what separates himself from the rest, Spence pretty much described his past two performances perfectly.
“My grit and my hunger. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Spence. “I’m willing to box. I’m willing to go into the fire too. My calmness, my composure. Even if someone is throwing punches, I’m composed: just blocking, slipping or still in there thinking. It’s my all-around natural ability, my all-around talent and just a lot of the stuff my coach instills in me, with always staying composed. It’s not a five-round fight; it’s not a six round fight. It’s a 12-round fight. You can go ahead and turn the pressure up all you want but I’m gonna break you down and I’m gonna beat you.”
The southpaw boxer-puncher is trained by Derrick James, who is quickly becoming a well-known cornerman in the boxing world. In addition to having a good rapport with Spence, there’s another young and hungry stablemate under James’ tutelage, and he’s a regular sparring partner. Jermell Charlo, the WBC junior middleweight titleholder, has been helping Spence grow as a fighter, and having a someone like that beside you can go a long way. Same goes for Charlo.
“Basically it’s really keeping each other sharp,” Spence said, with Charlo and James beside him in the interview. “We train hard and stay focused in the gym because we know, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, we’re gonna have to spar each other, so I better stay sharp. Keep working; keep running and keep doing everything at the top level because everything is gonna come to light, if you haven’t been working or not doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Spence, 28, has a southern drawl that will perk the ears up of anyone from the South, and it’s part of his charm to the rest of America. His motives are clear but he’s also realistic, when it comes to achieving his goal of becoming an undisputed welterweight champion. When asked about the other belts and what he wants by the end of this year, Spence responded, “I don’t know about unifying because Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter still have to fight each other (for the vacant WBC title), and (WBA beltholder) Keith Thurman (who vacated the WBC belt), he’s out. Terence Crawford being across the street, so I can’t promise that is going to happen this year but it’s gonna happen next year.”
There are no gimmicks, when it comes to Spence, and neither with the man across the street. Fighting a week apart is a good time to ponder Spence fighting Crawford, as they now share a weight class and slices of the division’s championship. For now, it’s been quiet, for the most part, on both sides, but certainly both know what lies ahead. There are plenty of other welterweights to fight but nothing will pop quite like the announcement of Spence vs. Crawford, right now, and for the foreseeable future. Being patient will help any boxing fan and hopefully there are good fights along the way for both – even those that threaten the fight itself – but if Spence ever wants to play in the football stadium of his favorite team, the only man who could conceivably help fill it would be Crawford and the legion of Nebraskans more than willing to travel down the I-35 to see him try and take a Texan down. Right in the heartland of United States, the process of discovering the best American fighter has started, and it would even have pound-for-pound implications, let alone the welterweight championship. There hasn’t been a mega-fight between two Americans in quite some time but this one certainly looks inevitable. Surely Spence and Company know that; that’s why the leverage building starts this weekend.