By Corey Erdman
Being as good as Errol Spence is can be a difficult proposition at times. Spence is undeniably one of the very best fighters on the planet at the moment. Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that his opponent on Saturday, was the 30th best welterweight in the world.
In another individual sport, it would be completely reasonable for the 30th best golfer to give the world’s No. 1 a run at a major tournament, or for the 30th best tennis player to take the world’s No. 1 into a fourth or fifth set. But in boxing, if you’re the best in the world, anything short of a first round knockout will produce questions from media and fans alike.
So that’s exactly what he did. Spence folded Ocampo in two with a left hand to the body in the final seconds of the opening round, rendering him prone on the canvas well beyond the count of 10.
"If he would have got up, I probably would have carried him until the 4th or 5th round," said Spence jokingly.
Not only did he do it in front of a television audience on SHOWTIME, but he did it in front of over 13,000 fans. The other unique expectation of boxers is that they have to be ticket-sellers too. They’re solely responsible for their own popularity. People don’t just buy boxing tickets just because boxing is in town, the way they might with other individual sports. There’s no league or entity designed to push you along, outside of the managerial team you assemble yourself.
In the ring and at the turnstiles, Spence proved once again that he is in an elite class—one who can deliver thrilling performances, and one who can command an attendance that could conceivably only be matched by a handful of American fighters.
The way that Spence has come to stardom has been particularly interesting, because while he performs like a star, he seems to reject the notion that he has to act like one in order to validate himself.
My colleague Morgan Campbell likes to share an anecdote about seeing Spence walk through the MGM Grand casino during Mayweather-McGregor fight week all by himself, without an entourage, without a tracksuit with his name emblazoned on it to inform people who he was—just one of the best fighters in the world in the midst of one of the largest congregations of fight fans in Las Vegas ever, living life as if he didn’t know—or didn’t care—if people would recognize him.
A quick perusal of YouTube produces plenty more examples of Spence being unusually regular. There’s a video from four months ago of Spence doing his strength and conditioning circuit at Planet Fitness, right next to everyone else who pays $10 a month—one of the best athletes in the world next to the folks there for a quick walk on the treadmill and a free Tootsie Roll. There’s a video of him slap boxing in the driveway with one of his friends—one of the best fighters in the world horsing around with the neighborhood tough guy.
The common man with uncommon abilities.
"I don't do interviews too much, but I'm gonna start doing them, start showing my other side like when I'm chilling with my friends, that's what they want me to do anyway," Spence told reporters after the Ocampo victory.
Spence is a unique marketing case study, because often times, being the quiet, polite fighter doesn’t result in popularity or big checks. In Spence’s case however, there is a decided mystique surrounding him. Part of it is rooted in his overall nonchalance—things look easy for him, and because he isn’t concerned with putting on a bombastic personality, it lends credence to that idea. But there are also tall tales about Spence’s gym performances that sound like stories that came out about fighters in the early 1900s when sportswriters were prone to sensationalism and there wasn’t any video footage to dispute them.
There’s the story of Spence knocking Adrien Broner out in sparring. The tale of Spence giving Floyd Mayweather fits during their sessions. The fabled gym wars between him and the Charlos. Every training camp, there’s a new sparring tall tale, and while there usually isn’t any proof of them, when asked, Spence doesn’t deny them either—he just smiles, with a look that tells you that if it didn’t happen, he’s good enough to have made it happen if he wanted.
The real proof of Spence’s potential is still to come. Along with Keith Thurman and Terence Crawford, Spence is a part of a trio atop the welterweight division as good as any have been since the late-90s trifecta of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Ike Quartey.
Before he can cross promotional and network lines to face Crawford, the most likely trajectory is for him to face the winner of Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, and then the winner of that bout would go on to face Thurman. Provided Spence has no more mandatory title defenses clogging up his schedule, and Thurman’s injury heals as planned, the next two times we see Spence in the ring could be the two biggest tests of his career.
“It's easy to make. Same manager. Same network. It's easy,” said Spence.
Everything is seemingly easy for him.