Expectations were soaring for Errol Spence Jr. the day he turned pro following a good run for the U.S. men’s boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics. He was compared to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard almost from the outset.
Five-plus years after he’s turned pro and it’s obvious why there was such a fuss over him. The welterweight division, where Spence holds the IBF belt, might be the deepest in top-end talent in the game. With fighters like WBA-WBC champion Keith Thurman, ex-undisputed super lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Lamont Peterson, few divisions have the depth and diversity of talent there is at welterweight.
Spence, who is 22-0 with 19 knockouts, will defend his title against Peterson on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on a Showtime-televised card. It will be the first defense of the belt he won in May when he went to England and knocked out Kell Brook.
The reason Spence is so popular, in addition to his myriad skills, is his attitude. He’s hardly a braggart or self-promoter, though he has every reason to be. But he said a lot while using just a few words while discussing his upcoming bout with Peterson.
“I think it’s a great fight,” he said. “Especially for my first title defense, fighting a guy like Lamont Peterson, who can really fight. He has a lot of experience. He’s crafty. And like you said, he’ll come forward if he has to and make it a tough fight. I think it’s a great first title defense. I think it’s a great experience and I think will be an action-packed fight for as long as it lasts.”
That last phrase — “for as long as it lasts” — is the key. Spence is the kind of guy who isn’t content to cruise to victory. He wants to put an exclamation point on it and thus doesn’t let his foot off of the accelerator. If he hurts Peterson and builds a big lead, he’s not going to play it safe and waltz to the finish. He’ll do what he has to do to end it.
That’s the kind of attitude that made Leonard not only his era’s biggest star but also one of the most popular fighters in boxing history.
Few combine defense and offense along with a killer instinct as well as Spence.
But just like in the 1980s, when Leonard led a group of all-time greats (“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran) who came to be known as “The Four Kings,” the talent in this group of welterweights might mean some losses if they all fight each other.
Spence has already been talking about fighting Thurman. Crawford, who is expected to fight WBO champion Jeff Horn in his first bout at welterweight later this year on ESPN, would make incredible matches with them. Garcia is an elite fighter and Porter is so tough and hard-nosed he’ll make it a rough night for anyone.
Still, while there undoubtedly will be ebbs and flows, don’t be shocked if at the end of the day, Spence is the last man standing.