Tunnel vision: Errol Spence Jr interview

Steve Brenner
26/05/2017 6:12am

Photo: @MatchroomBoxing

Errol Spence Jr is focused. He tells Steve Brenner he won’t be distracted fighting in front of a hostile crowd at Sheffield United football stadium on Saturday night against Kell Brook...

Errol Spence Jr has been here before.

A home crowd baying.

An outsider venturing into enemy territory. Boos and catcalls everywhere.

Spence knows only too well that on 27 May, Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United Football Club, will be rocking to the sound of Kell Brook’s beat. The home fighter’s IBF welterweight title is up for grabs.

Reputations are on the line too. Spence, however, is steeled for the Steel City.

Spence’s journey to the Olympics and then on to the professional ranks has been all about nights like these.

“That whole process taught me so much,” said the unbeaten Texas-based 27 year-old, who is nestled in amongst Al Haymon’s roster of fighters.

”It especially taught me about fighting in hostile territory. I’m used to all that. Going to foreign places and fighting their champions.

“I was in arenas where the crowds were making noise with blow horns and cheering for the guy they wanted to see beat me up.”

One moment from the past sticks out.

“Russia was tough but Venezuela was most the hostile environment,” Spence said. “It was at the Pan American Games, the crowd were going wild, I was up against their national champion and he had a huge following. He was held in really high esteem in that country — but I won.

“That gave me experience on the big stage in front of the world. The Olympics is a worldwide event. So, yeah, I am ready to go to England and fight.”

The roars for Brook, however, will be music to Spence’s ears.

“I get a lot of motivation knowing I am the guy that most of the fans on the night want to see lose,” he said.
“That just pushes me to go and get the win.”

Brook’s last fight, against Gennady Golovkin, was mostly monetary — GGG was always likely to be too strong, too powerful. This time, however, it’s different, with Brook defending the title in his own weight division.

Spence is a serious contender and a brilliant talent. His focus is infectious and stems from a settled family life in relaxed surroundings.

“My parents moved me from New York when I was a baby,” he said, his Long Island accent now infused with a seriously Texan twang.

“They wanted me to have better opportunities.”

It worked.

American football and basketball were sports of choice until boxing showed its face during high school.

Once Spence stepped into the ring for the first time, that was it.

“I started boxing around 15 years old,” Spence said. “I loved all sports — basketball, [American] football (little league, high school). At first [boxing] just started out as a hobby, something to do in the summer while I wasn’t at school.

“But I soon fell in love with it, became good at it so decided to stick with it. I got in a couple of scrapes at school but I was always a physical person. I loved the physical contact.”

Soon enough, dreams were hatched and the journey began.

“I heard people talking about the possibility me of me going to the Olympics,” he said.

“So I was competing in nationals and doing everything I could to make that happen.”

The London Games of 2012 was the aim, although not everything went to plan. A contentious win over Vikas Krishan, which saw the original defeat overturned, helped Spence reach the last eight, although Russian Andrey Zamkovoy proved too hard a nut to crack.

The professional game came calling — and with just three wins in the locker, another call was received.

“Floyd Mayweather invited me into his training camp after I had just turned pro,” Spence said. “He was beating up a lot of guys, so they called me in to spar with him. He liked my personality, my style and how I carried myself.”

Spence and Mayweather speak often and a mutual respect has helped hone a friendship — and push Spence’s career forward.

“We have a good relationship. He calls me up to see how I am doing, how I am feeling,” Spence said. “I have been able to pick his brains, whether it’s about aspects of training, how he would handle certain situations. It is good to have someone on that type of level to ask questions.

“He has experienced everything first hand so it’s a great feeling to be able to talk to someone like him.

“It gave me serious motivation and was a real confidence booster, being in the ring with the greatest fighter of my era, going tit-for-tat with him.

“I never thought I would be getting that kind of opportunity. It was a great experience. I definitely felt comfortable in there with him. He had loads of guys in the gym, 20 or 30 all round the ring, all banging on the mat and making noise.

“There were dog sounds and stuff like that. I enjoyed it a lot. I am always open to tough challenges and especially tough sparring sessions.”

Just witnessing Mayweather’s work ethic and gym dedication is a key weapon in Spence’s armoury.

“I was starting out and the gym where I had come from, there weren’t really any top-level guys like that,” Spence said.
“So to see how he trained was great. Just watching him work and prepare for big fights. His work ethic was amazing.

“You would think he was dead broke and needed the money, considering how hard he was working. There were women around him, friends around him. Everything which could distract him from doing his job. But he has total tunnel vision and that’s what stood out the most for me.

“Whatever is going on elsewhere, the gym and the grind are put first. That’s what I respect about him the most.”
Mayweather isn’t the only legend in the Errol Spence fan club.

“Oscar De La Hoya has also said nice things, which is great,” Spence said. “A future hall of famer, for him to pick me ahead of everyone else in boxing as the one guy he would like to sign is an honour and a great compliment. All those dudes, and he chose me.”

With trainer Derrick James, who has been involved since the amateur days, calling the shots, Spence was combustible and spiky in Sheffield at the end of February, when he met Brook at a press conference for the first time.

Barbs were thrown in both directions yet the Sheffield fighter would surely have noticed Spence’s air of determination.

“I have two little daughters and my friends around my house so you need that total dedication and the tunnel vision,” he said. “If you really want it, you have to make sacrifices, because the guy standing at the other end of the ring has done that. He [too] has a family.”

Spence’s last two performances — stopping Chris Algieri, something Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan failed to do — as well as dropping the solid Leonard Bundu with almost five million watching on the NBC television network, served notice of his intent.

“I don’t really care about what Brook has to offer,” Spence said. “If he wants to be the dominant one in the ring, try and dictate the pace or muscle and manhandle, I can do the same thing.

“At some time in the fight, my class will tell. We can take a few things from his fight with GGG, stuff we will put into the gameplan on the night. But my style is different from Golovkin so we will do something different. He says I will be outclassed. But I don’t agree.”