By Thomas Gerbasi, photo by Ryan Greene
Barclays Center was emptying, but the buzz was still in the air, especially on press row, where reps from various media outlets were discussing the Fight of the Year candidate between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter that they just witnessed.
The June 25 bout in Brooklyn was a special one, two world-class welterweights battling it out for 12 rounds before Thurman emerged with a decision win. But in the midst of these impromptu media scrums, a comment came from a passer-by.
“Errol Spence beats both these guys…in the same night.”
I relayed this comment to Spence on Friday, two days before he steps into the pro ring for the 21st time to face Leonard Bundu at Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island.
“It shows that my hard work is paying off and that all this training is not for nothing,” he said. “People are really paying attention to me fighting on TV and it’s getting me more fans and more exposure, and now people are considering me with Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and the guys at the top of the division, and everybody knows that I belong at the top with them.”
With just 20 fights, all wins, the 26-year-old has proven that he belongs at the top and that he’s as special a fighter as the fight between Thurman and Porter was special. Four years after representing the United States in the 2012 Olympics, he’s on the verge of a different kind of gold, and he knows that he’s almost there. So he’s staying patient.
“I know that everything is about timing,” he said. “Even if something is meant for you, if you get it at the wrong time, it could be bad for you. So we have a game plan set up. I have a manager and I know that he knows what he’s doing, and I know that my time’s coming. I’m fighting a title eliminator now, so I know I’ll be fighting for a world title by winning this fight.”
Most assume that beating the 41-year-old Bundu is a given. But at this point, it’s not about the win, it’s about how Spence wins, and where he does it. Sunday’s bout will air on NBC, and it will also take place in Brooklyn, where the Long Island born and Texas raised welterweight is beginning to build quite the fan following.
“I like fighting out here,” he said of fighting in the borough that produced the likes of Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi. “They’re real fans out here. They actually know who the fighters are, instead of fighting in Vegas, where they show up to the fight but don’t know who’s fighting.”
These days, having that local following may be even more important in the long run than getting television exposure, and Spence can conceivably have “home” fan bases in Texas and New York.
“It’s very important to have a local fan base,” he said. “Those are your core fans and you definitely want to get your home base strong and have them around you. If you can’t be good in your city, it will be hard for you to be good anywhere else.”
Errol Spence may be that exception, as he’s likely going to be good wherever he goes. As for the comment that he could beat Thurman and Porter in the same night, that hyperbole comes from a place where that gentleman likely saw Spence’s April fight against Chris Algieri in the same building where Thurman and Porter put on a show.
That spring night, Spence had that step-up / showcase fight against a former world champion who had been the distance with Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Ruslan Provodnikov. Many young prospects are thrust into a fight like that and while they may win, they don’t take advantage of the spotlight. Spence stopped Algieri in five rounds, with “spectacular” really not capturing how good he looked against a world-class fighter. That ability to step up when called on could be the difference maker between Spence and everybody else at 147 pounds. And while he’s not bragging about it, he knows that he wants the ball when the game’s on the line.
“It’s something you just have to have,” he said. “And it’s something that comes natural. Some athletes have it and some athletes don’t. I feel like I’m one of those athletes to have that ‘it.’ When adversity is at its highest you have to be able to step up and perform, be able to win and be able to overcome anything.”