Errol Spence Jr. is so physically gifted inside a boxing ring, so comfortable, so much at home, that even a whitewash victory over an elite, unbeaten and highly regarded opponent isn’t enough to satisfy his critics who, nearly seven years after his pro debut, continue to ask, “What has he done?”
In his pay-per-view debut, Spence not only won every round in his showdown with Mikey Garcia at AT&T Stadium in March, he dominated so thoroughly that there were next-to-no highlights of the previously unbeaten Garcia.
Taking an excellent fighter and beating him so decisively that he looks ordinary, or worse, is one sign of an elite fighter. Spence’s résumé, though, doesn’t turn many on. He’s 25-0 with 21 knockouts and still not the owner of a signature win if the critics are to be believed.
Whenever the conversation turns to Spence, it’s never just what he’s done but what he hasn’t done: Faced the elite of the welterweight division. For as impressive as his win over Garcia was, Garcia was moving up in weight and gave up a tremendous amount of size to Spence.
Spence has frequently been compared to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist who went on to become one of the best fighters not only of his era, but of all-time. Leonard, though, beat fighters such as Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvelous Marvin Hagler (some say he did, anyway) and Wilfred Benitez along the way to prove his greatness.
Spence has the opportunity on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles to remind those who question his résumé why he is so highly regarded by so many in the industry, when he meets Shawn Porter in an IBF-WBC welterweight title unification bout.
“The winner of this fight is definitely going to be the best welterweight in the world,” Spence said. “There's no way around it.”
Critics, though, are never pleased with his résumé, which Sean Gibbons, the president of Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, vigorously defended.
“Those are fan boys of Terence Crawford saying most of that, and I think [Crawford promoter] Mr. [Bob] Arum might be stoking that,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said he thought Saturday’s bout with Porter would be “Errol’s coming out party.” And while he conceded weight may have been an issue for Garcia against Spence, he said it wasn’t as significant as he’s heard it made out to be.
“Skills pay the bills, man,” Gibbons said. “And the one thing he has better than any fighter is that jab. He can control a fight with that jab of his. I’m a huge fan of the jab, because it dictates so much of what goes on in there and Errol’s jab is fantastic. … Anyone who thinks Spence is nothing, or overrated, hasn’t been paying attention.”
Former world champion Sergio Mora, now a boxing analyst for DAZN, had much the same take. He said it’s short-sighted of anyone to downplay Spence and not point out how many fighters rave about Spence’s talent.
But Mora isn’t new on the Spence bandwagon.
“Whoever thinks he’s not the real deal is not thinking,” Mora said. “Spence has been the goods since he was an amateur. Whenever you have current champions say Spence is one of their favorites, it’s for a reason. What makes him special, aside from pedigree, is he’s a smart but aggressive southpaw, a wicked body puncher, and my favorite lefty right hooker. Those are the most dangerous.”
Trainer Abel Sanchez praised Spence trainer Derrick James for building Spence’s fundamentals. He said that in 2012, he called Spence and Marcus Browne the two best fighters on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, and he believes that prediction has come true.
Sanchez said he believes there is room for growth, and that when Spence decides to sit down on his punches more, his power will increase.
“His coach has really done a nice job working the fundamentals, and so while he’s not fantastic at any one thing in my opinion, he’s very good at everything,” Sanchez said. “That’s what makes him so good. And I’ll tell you, he’s a damn good little fighter right now, but I don’t see him committed to his power. I think he can be a power puncher in the future.
“If he gets in there and looks at a guy and isn’t thinking, ‘This is the sweet science and I’m going to show him my skills,’ but goes in with the intention of kicking the s--- out of the guy, that’s where you’re going to see him starting knocking a lot of guys out.”
Stephen “Breadman” Edwards is one of the sport’s top trainers and works for unified super welterweight champion Julian Williams.
Edwards is a fan of Spence’s talent but agrees with those who say he’s been put high on the pound-for-pound lists too soon. Yahoo Sports has Spence ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound while ESPN lists him fifth and Ring ranks him sixth.
“His résumé is lacking but he passes the eyeball test,” said Edwards, who picked Spence to beat Porter 8-4. “Most of the [Premier Boxing Champion’s] 147s have ducked him. He has great balance, great hand placement, an excellent jab, he’s bull strong and he’s always in position. But I don’t think he’s a super athlete like [Vasiliy Lomachenko], Manny or [Naoya] Inoue. His athleticism is very good but not exceptional.
“The Ray Leonard comparisons are off. Leonard is a better, more twitchy athlete. Spence is more of a young Hagler, mixed with Mike McCallum: Hard-nosed, well-rounded killer who can box. He relies on that more than athleticism.”
Spence isn’t much for self-promotion, which probably means the concerns about Saturday’s pay-per-view performance are justified. It will be interesting to see whether it can surpass the roughly 100,000 who bought Crawford’s fight with Amir Khan in April. It’s not going to be easy.
But that’s something Spence can’t control. What he can control is how he performs, and despite the critics, he’s repeatedly come up with elite wins.
“I think you’ll see him win this something like eight rounds to four in a fight that isn’t even really that close,” Gibbons said. “He’s right there at the top of the food chain with the Senator. I think he’ll make that point pretty clearly on Saturday.”
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