By Keith Idec
Errol Spence Jr.’s fight Saturday night is more about where than who.
The unbeaten IBF welterweight champion is such a huge favorite against unknown mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo that if Spence loses, it’ll be an upset of epic proportions. The 22-year-old Ocampo is unbeaten, but he has defeated a very low level of opposition since making his pro debut in July 2012 and hasn’t fought outside of his native Mexico.
Bovada, an online sports book, considers this such a mismatch, it lists Spence as an astounding 100-1 favorite over Ocampo.
Ocampo’s complete anonymity makes the expected turnout for Spence’s hometown fight all the more impressive. An anticipated capacity crowd of roughly 15,000 will pack Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ training center, for the card headlined by the Spence-Ocampo match in Frisco, Texas (Showtime; 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
A proud Spence spoke during a press conference Thursday about his hometown area’s response to his first fight there since he became a 147-pound champion last year. He has been asking adviser Al Haymon for a fight in the Dallas area for quite some time, and this is why.
“Dallas already is a boxing town,” Spence said. “Just not enough boxing comes here. I can be the star who has annual fights and bring the city out like we’re doing Saturday night. I’m gonna prove we’re a boxing city in Dallas and that Texas is a boxing state, period. I do this for the whole state.”
Dallas’ sustainability as a boxing city is debatable, but Spence proved by selling out a 15,000-seat venue against an anonymous, overmatched opponent that one of the best boxers in the sport also is one of its few draws in the United States.
You barely need two hands to count those, thus this must be considered a positive development in a star-starved sport.
Tickets to the Spence-Ocampo card were priced reasonably, but due to the demand ringside tickets were going for as much as $700 apiece Thursday night on SeatGeek.com, the official ticket-seller of the Cowboys.
Whatever those tickets fetch, Spence still is almost exclusively responsible for selling approximately 15,000 tickets for this card. Comping tickets, a common practice among promoters, won’t be necessary Saturday night.
Spence’s sellout Saturday night obviously doesn’t mean he is as big a draw in America as Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin.
Mexico’s Alvarez has drawn crowds of 51,000, 39,247 and 31,588 to three separate stadiums in Spence’s native Texas over the past five years. Kazakhstan’s Golovkin, who’ll fight Alvarez again at a sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on September 15, has sold out Madison Square Garden and packed The Forum in Inglewood, California.
This does mean Spence is a bona fide ticket-seller in his home area, like Terence Crawford and Jose Ramirez, both promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc.
Crawford, the welterweight champion most boxing fans want Spence to fight, has drawn crowds of at least 10,943 for four fights in his native Omaha, Nebraska, and one fight in nearby Lincoln since June 2014. Ramirez, of Avenal, California, helped lure a crowd of 13,838 to Save Mart Center in nearby Fresno for his last fight there November 11, and expects a comparable crowd for his July 7 bout there against Danny O’Connor.
Crawford and Spence are elite-level talents, among the top 10, pound-for-pound, in the sport. Ramirez isn’t as good as either of those fighters, yet there’s no denying that the unbeaten WBC super lightweight champion is an established ticket-seller.
The announced attendance for Spence’s last fight, a technical knockout of Lamont Peterson on January 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, was 12,107. That’s a successful figure as well, particularly since neither Spence nor Peterson is from New York.
Drawing this type of crowd in his home area, however, is more special to Spence, who’s from DeSoto, Texas, another Dallas suburb.
“I think this is gonna be electrifying,” Spence said during a conference call Tuesday. “I think it’s gonna be a great atmosphere and, you know, a very lively crowd. It’s gonna be a great event. I’m a hometown guy and they get to see one of their hometown boxers fight, and not just somewhere out of state. But I think it’s gonna be lively. It’s gonna be a great crowd. It’s gonna be a great atmosphere and great energy all around.”
This was what Spence wanted to experience once he traveled to Sheffield, England, last May for his title shot against Kell Brook. A crowd of roughly 27,000 filled Bramall Lane, a soccer stadium in Brook’s hometown, and watched Spence knock out Brook in the 11th round to win the IBF welterweight title.
“I can’t waiting to be fighting in front of my hometown crowd, 15,000 fans,” Spence said. “You know, it’s gonna be great. I hope Carlos Ocampo comes to fight and [we can] give the crowd a fan-friendly fight. So I’m in shape, I’m ready, I’m training very hard for this fight. I can’t wait to put on a great performance.”
Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) views this as a pressure-packed situation for Spence (23-0, 20 KOs) because the 28-year-old champion is defending his title against a huge underdog, in front of his hometown fans. Spence disagrees.
“I always have pressure to perform and look impressive,” Spence said. “I mean, since I’ve turned pro I’ve been in the spotlight. All of my fights have been on TV and I always expect to look good and perform. I don’t think anything tops the pressure that I had going overseas to fight Kell Brook. So I’ve been dealing with pressure since I’ve been fighting and, you know, this is just another fight for me.”
That said, the success of this event provides evidence of something Spence believed all along about his ability to draw crowds in the Dallas area.
“It’s very satisfying because this is my home state,” Spence said. “This is where I started and just to see my core fans, you know, to appreciate me enough to come out and spend their time and their money to come watch me fight, that’s great. It shows a lot of my hard work – that blood, sweat and tears – paid off. And I feel like that’s the ultimate gratification, to be at home and to sell out at home and have people come out and support you, and it be a great event.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.