Errol Spence Jr: The next big thing

Mark Butcher
24/02/2016 10:59am

For many aficionados of the fight game, Errol Spence is boxing’s ‘next big thing’ and heir apparent to the pound-for-pound crown recently abdicated by Floyd Mayweather. Expectations rarely weigh heavier, but few dispute the potential of the gifted boxer-puncher, perhaps prophetically, dubbed ‘The Truth’.

Boxing royalty are among Spence’s advocates with Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard each backing the talented 25-year-old to replicate their ascent to the summit of world boxing. These lofty predictions might be a hindrance for some but the cool Texan southpaw takes such plaudits in his stride.

“It makes me feel good. It shows that my hard work has been paying off and all those long days staying disciplined in the gym have turned out well,” Spence recently told BM over the phone from his training camp at the R&R Boxing Gym in Dallas. “Floyd Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard have both been the best fighter in the sport so for them to show high regard for me means a lot - that these kind of boxers are backing me. 

“It’s not a burden at all. It’s motivation for people to hold me in high regard and say that I am the next Mayweather or Leonard, but I still have to stay focused and work hard so I can exceed those expectations.” 

Exceed. The fighter himself has set the bar of personal achievement sky high, but there is a sense of purpose in Spence’s voice, hinting at the deep dedication that separates boxing’s elite from mere pretenders to the throne. As a three-fight novice, the laid back Texan sparred Mayweather before ‘Money’s’ May 2013 exorcism of Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero and reportedly gave the former pound-for-pound king a black eye. What did Spence absorb from those gym sessions?

“Just his work ethic, how he trained in the gym,” Spence (19-0, 16 KOs) told BM. “Floyd always stays focused, no matter what’s going on around him. His boxing IQ. He always has a Plan B, if Plan A doesn’t work in the ring.

“I’m a naturally calm person, too. That’s how you want to be in the ring. I don’t want to get too angry or too emotional. You have to be able to think correctly so you stay focused, stay calm and just let everything flow.”

Spence recently circulated a meme of himself in his MGM Grand dressing room alongside a two-man training team and the slogan, ‘Keep the circle small; better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies’ - staying grounded remains the blueprint for a fighter ready to soar to the top of the sport.

“Nah, I don’t think you’ll ever see me with a big entourage,” said Spence, noted for his speed, exquisite movement and timely punch precision. ”I usually just stay in my circle, stay family orientated and keep people around me who trust in me on an everyday basis and not just through boxing. I’ve got to stay grounded, humble and keep working on my craft. I’ll be there soon.”

One name that holds strong appeal for Spence is IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook, a challenge for which he would happily cross the Atlantic. “I would come to the UK to fight Kell Brook,” the 25-year-old Texan told BM. “Amir Khan? I would fight him in the States. But Kell Brook has the title so I would definitely come to the UK and would fight him there if that opportunity was presented to me. Kell Brook and Amir Khan are two great fighters, but personally I think they should be fighting each other. That would a huge fight in the UK, a mega fight. But I can see myself fighting them in the next year or two.“

The stacked welterweight division is quite probably the most talent laden of boxing’s 17 weight classes with luminaries such as Timothy Bradley, Manny Pacquiao, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Brook and Khan. Spence relishes the competition and prospect of these challenges.

“I will fight any one of those guys, anybody who is in the top 10. All of those are great fights for me, Kell Brook, Keith Thurman, Timothy Bradley, Shawn Porter. It’s a hotbed at 147 for talent. Me and Keith Thurman? Yeah, I think that could be a mega fight in a year or two. Hopefully, it happens and we’ll be fighting for a title. But I only ever think about the opponent who is in front of me.

“I think I’m close to a world title,” said Spence, who fights former WBO 140lbs champ Chris Algieri in Brooklyn on 16 April. “Right now I am in the top 10 with the IBF and the WBC so I’m there. I’ve just got to get a few wins under my belt and hopefully within the next year I will be fighting for a world title.”

In September, the skillful Spence effortlessly disposed of highly regarded Chris van Heerden, dropping him twice en route to an impressive eighth round stoppage victory. The South African had never previously tasted the canvas in a 25-fight career.

“It went as I expected,” said Spence, who hopes to emulate another Texan Terry Norris and win multiple world titles. “I broke him down using my jab, staying patient, even though he was trying to counter me. I broke him down in the later rounds and was able to finish him.

“I have all styles, but I watched a lot of Terry Norris. He was one of my favourite fighters. He could fight, he could punch, he could box. He was a boxer-puncher. I liked him a lot.”

Spence has formed a close bond with trainer Derrick James, a former pro who boxed Otis Grant and Ole Klemetsen among others, and the two are permanently adjusting in the gym in an effort to find that flawless performance. “Me and Derrick have been training for a long time,” Spence told BM. “He works on the little things, the fundamentals of boxing. We try to correct every small thing because you never know how that [could affect you] late on in a fight. So we try to correct every thing, perfect every little thing. He’s helped me a lot in my career.” 

Only time will tell if Spence is indeed the future of boxing, but his work ethic, natural talent and strong family grounding suggest the foundations are there to build something special and perhaps a lasting legacy in the hardest game.

“Everybody goes through some kind of hardship in life,” Spence told BM. “I just feel that if you want something that’s worth having or worth getting you have to go through something to do it. That’s how I handle everything.

“I think I am going to cement a legacy at 147, but eventually I am going to move up to 154 and grab a world title up there and hopefully be a multi world champion. And be an undefeated world champion. Unify the world titles and become undisputed world champion at 147 and 154 one day.”

One way or the other, ‘The Truth’ will be revealed soon.

EXITING THE AMATEURS

Many shrewd observers believed Errol Spence would win a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics before he fell just short of the podium losing to Russian Andrey Zamkovoy in the quarter-finals. The political aspect of the amateur game is not something the Texan misses.

“I was happy to get out of amateur boxing,” admitted Spence. “But I gained a lot of experience so I wouldn’t take anything back. Going overseas to different countries and fighting different styles and types of fighters. There are a lot of politics in amateur boxing and I think that needs to change.

“Many guys, especially the American boxers, are turning pro really young. When you fight overseas a lot of times there are not fair decisions. So until they change the amateur system I think a lot of guys are going to turn pro early instead of waiting around.” 

Spence’s family provided a pivotal support network in his amateur days and the essential platform for him to learn his craft and ultimately flourish as a professional. Father Errol Spence Sr worked night shifts as a Fed Ex contractor so as to never miss a morning or afternoon training session. Mother Debra worked days for the U.S. Postal Service. 

“My family is everything. They supported me when I was in amateur boxing when I wasn’t making no money,” Spence, known as E.J. to his family, told BM. “It costs a lot to be in amateur boxing - the travel to fight in these tournaments; the hotel, paying for food, renting cars, airplane tickets. They put their priorities last and put mine first. My family has supported me since day one.”

His Jamaican background is a source of pride and inspiration to Spence. “It’s very important, my dad being Jamaican. I grew up watching Lennox Lewis. He was probably the reason why I got into boxing, him being of Jamaican heritage.

“Outside of boxing, I like to hang with friends. I just had a new born baby [Ivy who debuted in October] so I like spend time with my daughter, play video games and watch TV. I like to be a regular person when I am not boxing.”