To watch Spence, 23, box is to watch a man born to do it. His movements are technically sound, economical and precise. It wasn’t always this way.
“Not at first,” said Spence. “I actually got beat up a lot when I first started boxing. I started at a Mexican gym. I got beat up a lot. I wanted to quit. My dad encouraged me to keep going and to keep training. He said I would get better after a time. Then after I fought in the ‘08 Nationals and I lost in the semifinals, I knew that this was something I really wanted to do. After two years, I made it to the semifinals and lost in a tie-breaker. I decided then it was something I wanted to do.”
With this love for boxing passed on from his father at the barbershop, home and/or at ringside, Spence is of that newest of generations who grew up watching fights on YouTube. For a student of the game, it is a wonderful place to sit and study.
“Growing up, I watched a lot of Lennox Lewis,” said Spence. “After I started boxing, I started watching guys like Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather. On YouTube, I started watching guys like Terry Norris, Sugar Ray Leonard.”
Spence said he is naturally left-handed and unlike most lefties, he’s never fought as an orthodox fighter. His study isn’t exclusive to lefties, however.
“I watch a lot of orthodox fighters. I don’t really even watch a lot of southpaw fighters. I watch a lot of orthodox like Terry Norris, Andre Ward. You know, I just look at things to implement in my game as you said and I use it. I look at their form, their stance, how they throw their punches. I look at everything,” said Spence.
While his résumé suggests a pure punching monster, his easygoing demeanor in and out of the ring shows something else.
“I don’t see myself as a power puncher,” assessed Spence. “I see myself as a boxer, as a counterpuncher, passive-aggressive as a boxer-puncher. A lot of times, I’m just testing these guys with the right shot because, a lot of times, I am just picking my shots. I am throwing one at a time, placing my shots. And you catch them at the right time with the right shot, they fall.”
Spence discussed the differences between fighting in the amateur and pros. To him, there isn’t much difference other than headgear and gloves.
“A lot of times when you are fighting in the amateurs, especially internationally, you are fighting grown men. 30, 32 years old, they are pretty much grown men,” said Spence. “I was stopping people in the amateurs too. If you look on YouTube, [there are clips of me] stopping grown men in the amateurs. You place your shots right, you catch them in the right spot with enough power, you can stop anybody.”
To kick off 2013, Spence was 5-0 with four knockouts and was slated for three or more fights. While Spence has heard he may fight in August, the true reward for all his hard work and fan-friendly style will be a date on either September 13 or 14, the weekend or night of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. The pace suits Spence.
“I feel good. As long as I am feeling strong in training camp, feeling strong, feeling the same, not wore down, I feel like I can keep going. I can feel I can keep going. I don’t take a lot of punishment. And I don’t spar a lot, so I feel I can keep up this pace,” he explained. “It’s something me and my coach do. We don’t spar a lot. I might spar like twice a week or something like that. There’s not a lot of real sparring out here but we just don’t spar a lot anyway. We do a lot of hand mitts and one-on-one stuff just to stay sharp, a lot of mitt work to stay sharp.”
Spence is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, managed by Al Haymon and trained by Derrick James. He credits James with adding dimension to his fighting game.
“My dad introduced me to him five years ago,” said Spence. “There was a lot of stuff to my game that wasn’t really…there was a lot of stuff that could be added to my game. I was a one-two puncher and when I got with him, he taught me my hook and my combinations. Other coaches had me throwing one-two punches. That was kind of the amateur style, throw one-twos. He gave me kind of a pro style when we hooked up. And the rest is history.”
Spence has the distinction of being a part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Boxing team, which won no medals for the first time in the country’s history. At welterweight (141-152 pounds), Spence looked great out of the gate but lost to Vikas Krishan via a controversial 13-11 decision (after defeating Brazil’s Myke Carvalho). The U.S. team protested the obviously horrible decision and Spence advanced to the quarterfinals when the decision was overturned. But by then, it was too late for him mentally. The up-and-down of the moment had dulled Spence’s edge.
“I kind of wish it never happened. I wish they would had just gave me the win in the first place because I felt I was in a real groove. I was in the zone. And once that happened, the whole controversy happened, I didn’t feel the same, especially fighting the Russian [Andrey Zamkovoy]. I had beat that Russian probably four months prior in Germany but I didn’t feel the same after losing and then having it overturned.
Spence lost the quarterfinals by decision to Zamkovoy in his next fight. All the snap and power he had displayed in his opening bout was gone. Competition at that level is hard enough with the rollercoaster of emotions.
“I think it really knocked me out of my groove. I was in a real groove. I was looking good, fighting great. I was real focused. Then after that, I kind of just…because my emotions. They had raised my hand. I thought I had won. I was excited. Then they turned around and raised his hand and I was crying.”
Though no medals were won, Spence and his fellow Olympians seem to have easily made the transition to the pros. With his aggressive style, Spence is clearly one to watch going forward as are Terrell Gausha, Jose Ramirez and Joseph Diaz Jr. to name just a few members of the team possessed of professional styles.
“We do have a pro style. If you look at it, me and Joseph Diaz, we go to the body a lot. Jose Ramirez, he goes to the body a lot. They don’t count body punches in the Olympics. It’s more of an amateur style. Touch, touch. Touch, touch. With us, we spar a lot of pros in America, so our style is kind of slower and we go to the body a lot, which they don’t count,” said Spence.
Now that AIBA is using the professional style of judging for the Olympics, the U.S. team must address the problem of funding and preparing a proper team that can compete internationally. However, nothing can prepare anyone for the politics at the international level.
“We didn’t have enough time to train. We trained like two months to get ready for the Olympics,” said Spence. “We didn’t have time to train. We had to cram everything up in one little training camp. There was a lot of controversy going on. I thought Terrell Gausha won. A lot of controversial stuff.”
For Spence, politics end when he gets in the ring. Like most fighters, he understands he is the only judge he needs.
“I can’t think for the judges. I just have to hope they make the right decision. I’m not going to alter my game plan just because I think [a judge is] a crook or something. They’re going to do what they’re going to do and I hope it’s fair.”
At age 23, the future is wide open for Errol Spence. He is the right mix of intelligence, speed and power along with a down-to-Earth sense that should carry him far.
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