By Sean Reed
There’s no fewer than a million and one avenues or convenient detours a fighter can navigate, in route to doing things incorrectly. The “Sweet Science” is littered with instances of those who soured and couldn’t stay on the straight and narrow in the ring, out of it, or both. There’s even been historically successful prizefighters who’ve won the bulk of their bouts in less than textbook fashion; the wrong way, in other words.
But the short list consists of those that genuinely pledge allegiance to their craft, keep their noses clean between fights, seamlessly straddles the gentleman/badass line and operates with the precision of a pugilistic “how-to” video, all at once.
Nearly four whole years into his professional career, 2012 U.S. Olympian, Errol “The Truth” Spence, Jr., is a southpaw that has done just about everything the right way; correctly, that is. Spence, is aiming to trend in that same direction this Sunday afternoon, August 21st, on the live broadcast of “Premier Boxing Champions” (5PM EST on NBC), as he squares off against 2000 Italian Olympian, Leonard “The Lion” Bundu, in an I.B.F. welterweight championship eliminator.
From the moment Spence (20-0, 17 KO’s) entered year two of this violent vocation, he actively sought name brand opposition. But like poor Rudolph, Errol wasn’t allowed to join in any fistic “reindeer games” at 147 pounds. Undeterred, he continued to grind, stayed in the gym, partied and kicked it at a bare minimum, feasted on journeymen who went the distance and/or lasted a few rounds with a world class guy, here or there, and made a point to defeat them more decisively. If you can’t fight the opponents you want to fight, beat the foes they’ve beaten, but more impressively.
On cue came Chris Algieri, Spence’s benchmark performance to date. Algieri earned his stripes against Ruslan Provodnikov, Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan, exhibiting a fighter’s fortitude by hearing the final bell in each instance. Against Spence, Algieri appeared to be overmatched, lasting less than 5 full rounds, in an outing that sounded the alarm the Desoto, TX., resident was for real. It was just the right way to beat an opponent of Algieri’s caliber. Team Spence is looking to follow that same theme with Bundu (33-1-2, 12 KO’s), who went 12 rounds with W.B.A. titlist, Keith Thurman, nearly two years ago.
Even with an innately aggressive offensive approach, Spence stays true to his defensive principles and teachings. Jabs his way in, hooks off the jab, abuses the body, no wild, reckless shots. Power punches evenly with both hands, almost always properly balanced, gloves positioned to fend off the incoming, you name it. It’s an archetypal way of fighting, seemingly passed down from grizzled, old, cigar smoking boxing trainers from back in the day. Clearly, Spence listens to and applies what he’s taught.
Sparring consists of pressure guys, crafty guys and athletic guys, all of whom are naturally bigger. “He can’t spar guys his own size”, says chief second, Derrick James. Among the current crop of those Spence regularly works with are middleweight Rob “Bravo” Brant (21-0, 14 KO’s), junior middleweight John Vera (14-0, 9 KO’s) and heavyweight Adrian Taylor (who competed in the “World Series of Boxing” and will debut at cruiserweight) They make for lively, competitive sessions, devoid of B.S., like it’s supposed to be.
After he’s gotten his rounds in, Spence treats media obligations professionally; smiling, offering up thoughtful responses, as opposed to cut and paste braggadocio. His soft spoken, easy going nature belying the mean spirited, attack oriented body language of sparring.
“It’s not hard to turn it on and off”, Errol revealed.
“When a lion is with his pack, with his family, he’s chill. But when it’s time to eat, time to hunt, he’s in kill mode.” He’s looking to make Leonard “The Lion” Bundu his next prey.