By Jeff Zimmerman
Photos: Robert Hughes
It’s hard to believe it has been four years since rising welterweight star Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (20-0, 17 KOs) represented the United States at the Olympics in London. And although he didn’t medal, he was viewed as one of the top pro prospects coming out of those games and a surefire future world champion who has drawn comparisons to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard. And when the former pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr anointed the hard-hitting southpaw from Desoto, Texas the next great champion of the sport that raised Spence Jr’s profile even greater in boxing circles.
When he fights Leonard “The Lion” Bundu (33-1-2, 12 KOs) on Sunday, August 21 at the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island, NY, in an elimination bout for the IBF welterweight title on NBC primetime, following the Olympic gold medal basketball game, it will also mark the 21st time he has fought on television in as many fights.
Yet at 26 and with all his superstar potential, Spence Jr is still waiting for his first chance to fight for a world title. It is quite possible that Spence Jr is the most feared fighter in the stacked welterweight division and no one is clamoring to get in the ring with him. He doesn’t believe that the title holders are scared, but for someone who is only getting better with every fight and has yet to reach his full potential by all accounts, they are definitely not knocking down his door to get at him.
“I don’t think they are scared but why would you fight a young up and coming lion contender if you don’t have to. They don’t have to fight me, they can fight somebody else, somebody with a bigger name than myself, a name or former world champion. I just think they don’t have to so why would they.”
Spence Jr is someone who thinks about his legacy and wants to be great, but knows he has to fight and beat the guys at the top to be considered the best welterweight in the world. As he told Joe Tessitore on ESPN recently, he believes whoever becomes the undisputed welterweight champion could potentially be a future hall of famer. He would even be open for a tournament if that’s what it took to get Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and the likes together.
“Oh definitely especially like they had at 168. Get all the top guys in a tournament at 147, you got Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, myself, Shawn Porter, just all the top fighters get in that tournament then I’m definitely up for it.”
“I’m not going to get in a tournament if there is nothing to gain, nobody in the tournament, it has to be the top guys at 147 to fight in the tournament.”
With Kell Brook jumping at the chance to fight GGG to create his own legacy, Spence Jr shared his thoughts when he heard the news that sent shockwaves through the sport.
“I didn’t really have a reaction. Like everybody else, I was like wow he’s moving to 160 to fight one of the hardest punchers in boxing right now. I take my hat off to him that was his legendary move. If he wins, it’s big for him, he’s now a megastar. He would have just beat the so called most feared fighter in boxing so I take my hat off to him.”
Although Spence Jr has been eyeing a fight with Brook for some time now, he explains that Brook was never the main goal, he just happened to own the IBF belt he treasured.
“I am going after the IBF. Everybody is like Errol Spence is going after Kell Brook. It’s not the point I wanted to fight Kell Brook, the only reason I wanted to fight Kell Brook is because he has the IBF title and that is the route I am going. He has the title that’s why I want to fight him. So if he comes down to fight me or they strip him, it doesn’t matter, as long as I get my chance to fight for a world title.”
Spence Jr’s advisor Al Haymon happens to also advise many of the other top welterweights in the world. He will get his chance at the IBF title if he gets by Bundu and will squelch the chatter that he hasn’t fought top talent, even though he blasted Chris Algieri in five rounds in his last fight. The same Algieri that went the distance with future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.
“Right now I am fighting a title eliminator after this he [Haymon] guarantees me a shot at the IBF world title. After that, if I get a world title then there are no more excuses of who Errol Spence fought, people will have to fight him. I’m a world champion. This isn’t about titles, it’s like back in the old days, all about being the undisputed champion.”
Spence Jr. adds, “The only way you will really know who the number one guy is to unify and become the undisputed champion of your weight class. So it’s definitely something I want to do so there’s no doubt in my mind who the best fighter is at 147.”
The competitive Spence Jr. believes he has been ready for some time to fight for a title, but understands he has to keep winning to fulfill his goals.
“In my eyes I could have fought for a world title 3 fights ago but timing is everything and I feel like everything happens for a reason. My journey is different than somebody else so I just got to follow my own path and do my own thing and not worry about what somebody else is doing. Like when Michael Phelps was swimming and the dude was looking in another person’s lane. I can’t get caught looking in another person’s lane I got to stay in my own lane, do my own thing and I have to stay 120% focused. The goal is to keep winning, keep winning and even if I don’t get a title shot, keep winning, they can’t deny me if I keep winning.”
Spence Jr. somehow remains patient although he seems to be paying his dues more than most fighters especially with all his experience and Olympic background.
“Yea I definitely feel like that. I feel like even though with my pedigree and me being an Olympian, fighting on TV every fight, it’s like my 21st fight on TV. A lot of guys who were in the same Olympics as me are already getting world title shots, they don’t have to fight in title eliminators or basically fighting no names and get the title shot right off the bat. But I’m not worried about it all. Everybody has a different road and it will just make my story sweeter and I can actually say I didn’t have it easy, I had to fight real fighters so I’m not worried about it, I’m going to get my shot. You got a lot of guys like Keith Thurman, lot of these dudes were pros for like seven years before they got a world title shot so I’m not worried about it at all. It’s going to happen. Timing is everything.”
Trainer Derrick James also knows the task at hand. He won’t look beyond Bundu.
“Well I can’t see past Leonard Bundu. He’s like this big giant wall so I can’t see on the other side. I have to look right at him and he is a great fighter, 33-1. He’s only lost one fight and that was to Keith Thurman. So he’s a guy that should really be taken seriously and not overlooked. The media plays him down but we don’t get caught up in that.”
James added, “If you think about it, he’s the European Champion, that wasn’t a gift, he had to fight for that. He had to go other people’s country and fight for that. He was a past Olympian, I think like 2000 or 2004, so he’s a guy who fought on an elite level his whole career so we can’t take him lightly because he’s tough, I have watched videos of him and he’s a very tough guy, very aggressive, throws hard punches throughout the whole fight and he’s a hungry fighter who wants to win. So we have to go in there and be focused, be smart with a great jab. The better the opponent is, the better Errol Spence is, so this guy is good so you are going to see a really good Errol Spence.”
James even went as far as to say Bundu could take out some of today’s champions.
“I think he’ll beat Danny Garcia. He made Keith Thurman box him, move on him. I can’t look past him. I have never seen Kell Brook fight. I didn’t watch the Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman fight. I have to be focused in this moment, live in this moment, appreciate this moment and enjoy this moment, breathe in this moment. There’s a lot of good guys out there but I just want to stay right here, right now.”
Spence Jr also scouted Bundu from his fight with Thurman.
“Of course, I watched the fight. You take notice of little things, little certain things he does in the ring. We have our own game plan, our own strategy on how we are going to win so focus on what we are going to do in the ring and if adjustments to be made we will make them on the fly.”
Spence Jr no doubt believes he is ready to fight for a world title now and finally prove he was the best pro prospect out of those 2012 London Olympics, but until that happens, he also knows each fight makes him better and more confident.
“Oh yeah, it’s giving me better preparation, even though I don’t need it. Just follow the journey, because a world title is coming real soon.”
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