Blessing in disguise? Errol Spence Jr. reflects on the car wreck that nearly took his life

·Combat columnist
·5 min read

Perspective is something that, sadly, not a lot of elite boxers possess. They make money by the boatloads, sometimes enough in a couple of fights to match the GDP of a few small countries.

There’s always a but, though, and yes, sadly, there is a but with Errol Spence Jr. He’s held a version of the welterweight title for five years now and since his days as a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team was tagged as a potential superstar.

But the bigger the purses and the greater his success, the more Spence’s head grew and the more he was blinded to reality by the good life that came with all of that money.

He bought a Ferrari that he drove like he was trying to win the Indianapolis 500 rather than a man who was trying to get home to spend time with his young children after work.

It caught up to him when a horrifying video of his car tumbling end-over-end down a Dallas street surfaced after he was in an accident.

On top of that, Spence suffered a detached retina before an August fight with Manny Pacquiao that forced him to withdraw and put his career into jeopardy.

Finally, the perspective that Spence had needed had arrived.

On Saturday, he’ll fight WBA champion Yordenis Ugas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for three-quarters of the welterweight titles. Only Bud Crawford’s WBO belt won’t be at stake.

There was a time when it didn’t seem like Spence would make it to this point. He appeared on “The Pivot Podcast,” with former NFL players Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder and told the harrowing story of his accident and how he grew from it.

“Everybody gets led astray a little bit,” Spence said on the podcast. “It got to the point where I was kind of wandering. When you get to a certain age and you’re making money and you’re the man, you think you know everything. … What a lot of people don’t realize is that you have to be disciplined, even when you’re not in training camp. I wasn’t in that type of shape. I was getting up to 180, 185, and I was fighting at 147 pounds.”

He’d often been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr.. but he was making mistakes that Mayweather never made. Mayweather would never drive drunk, or take drugs, or abuse his body. When he went to clubs, he’d be driven there and he’d drink either water or juice. For most of his life, even when he won a 154-pound title, his walking around weight between fights was 150 pounds.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 11: Errol Spence Jr takes the stage during a press conference with Manny Pacquiao at Fox Studios on July 11, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Their fight is scheduled on Aug. 21, 2021 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Errol Spence Jr. called his 2019 car accident "a wakeup call" ahead his unification bout Saturday against Yodenis Ugas in Dallas. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Spence was, for the most part, performing at a high level in the ring. But he wasn’t setting himself up for a long and successful career. He realizes now that his actions weren’t setting himself up for a long and successful life.

So maybe in some crazy way, that car accident was a blessing.

“It was a wakeup call, and most importantly it gave me perspective,” Spence said. “I had to really sit down. I realized that all that outside stuff is just a distraction. What’s important are the people close to you. Because when it’s over, that’s all you’ve got. I realized that I was playing on borrowed time.

“If the concrete couldn’t break anything in my body, then how could a man hurt me? That’s why I came straight out of the gate and fought a strong ex-champion in Danny Garcia.”

Now, he’ll fight Ugas for a chance to add another belt to his collection. And if he wins, the calls for a bout with Crawford will only grow stronger because then it would be for the undisputed title.

Ugas has had a late-career revival, but Spence doesn’t seem stressed.

“I don’t see any trickiness in Ugas,” Spence said. “I think people put too much emphasis on that. Most Cuban fighters move a lot, get on their toes but Ugas is not even that. He’s a guy who tries to fight, he wants to fight and trade shots. I boxed Mikey Garcia, I banged with Kell Brook and Shawn Porter. I boxed in the paint with Lamont Peterson, slipping and countering. I don’t stand in front of opponents.

“I’m adding to my legacy. Every fight that led up to this is just as important as this fight because they got me to this point. If I didn’t beat those guys I fought when I was 9-0, 10-0, then I wouldn’t have gotten the Kell Brook fight. If I didn’t beat Brook, I wouldn’t have got the Shawn Porter fight, Danny Garcia and everything else. So, every fight means a lot to me because it leads me to better fights and more accomplishments.”

His biggest accomplishment, by far, is gaining perspective. We often say youth is wasted on the young, but fortunately, Spence opened his eyes before he was too old to do anything about it.

Getting slaps on the back at the club and having everyone want to take a selfie with you doesn’t amount to much when all is said and done.

What does is having a relationship with his children, being the father they need, and being there for his family.

“It’s about working hard every day, striving and staying on the grind,” he said. “I want to show everyone that they don’t have to worry about anything. I’m going to perform to the best of my abilities and I’m 100 percent.

“It feels good to prove all the doubters wrong. It motivates me. For all the people who say certain things, I just use it as fuel. On [Saturday], they’re going to see not even the same version of me but a better one.”

Better, both inside and most importantly, outside of the ring, that is.