When Errol Spence steps in the ring with Sebastian Fundora this October, he will be facing a triple whammy. 

And that doesn’t even include his opponent.

Spence will be fighting for the first time in 14 months, another lengthy layoff in a career that has had three other extended absences. This will be his fifth appearance in the past five years.

He will be coming off a technical knockout loss to Terence Crawford, a fight in which Spence was dominated and dropped three times — once in the second round and twice in the seventh — before being stopped in the ninth.

And he will essentially be debuting in a new weight class, moving up to junior middleweight after spending almost his entire career at or slightly above the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. Spence’s last appearance at junior middleweight was a brief visit all the way back in September 2015, when he came in at 156.5 pounds for a win over Chris Van Heerden.

Any of these, taken alone, would be reason enough for a boxer to take a tune-up fight. 

Long layoff? Shake off the rust.

Bad beating? Learn how much that loss may have taken out of your body. And take care of your mind, too, by getting your confidence back.

Moving into a new division? Acclimate to the extra weight, and to opponents who may be larger, able to hit harder, and more capable of taking your own shots.

That’s not what Spence will be doing against Fundora, however. That’s not what Spence does in general. This isn’t the first time that Spence has made this kind of return. He did the same thing in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

What Spence does isn’t the expectation. That’s why what he does deserves appreciation.

In addition to that unholy trinity of obstacles, this will also be Spence’s first bout with a new trainer after working with Derrick James, a relationship dating back to his amateur days. That pairing ended after the Crawford loss, with James suing Spence alleging he was owed money while Spence filed a counterclaim.

Spence and his new trainer will have to prepare for Fundora, the tallest of junior middleweights. Fundora’s 6-foot-6 frame is so unorthodox that Tim Tszyu suffered a nasty cut via a self-inflicted accidental foul when they met this past March — not from a clash of heads, but from Tszyu ducking into the point of Fundora’s elbow.

Spence had stepped between the ropes after Tszyu-Fundora, which suggested that he was next. Except Tszyu and Fundora had verbally agreed to a rematch clause when Fundora stepped in, on short notice, to replace Keith Thurman. Fundora’s team had seemed intent on honoring that. 

Plans have changed. 

Tszyu signed to meet Vergil Ortiz on August 3 in Los Angeles but just pulled out due to injury. Crawford recognized that the rematch with Spence was unlikely. The WBO had ordered Fundora to defend his newly won world title against Crawford, but Crawford will instead challenge Israil Madrimov for the WBA’s junior middleweight belt. Madrimov vs. Crawford headlines that August 3 card. 

All of which opened up the door for Spence to face Fundora. It’s also possible that Fundora-Spence would’ve happened next regardless.

Either way, it’s no surprise that Spence would choose to walk through that door.

After Spence defeated Shawn Porter in a unification bout in 2019, he set his sights on fighting Danny Garcia, the former lineal junior welterweight champ and former welterweight titleholder who remained a viable contender at 147. But then Spence was hospitalized after a horrifying car crash. Video of the crash showed Spence being thrown from his vehicle. He was charged with driving while intoxicated. Beyond the legal trouble, there were concerns about whether Spence would be able to fully recover in general, never mind whether he’d be able to return to the ring.

Not even three months after the crash, Spence spoke of resuming his career. He named Garcia and Manny Pacquiao.

“I don’t want a tune-up fight. I want a top fight,” Spence said in December 2019. While he wouldn’t fight again until December 2020, 14 months after the crash, it was indeed against Garcia.

"Nobody forced me to fight Danny Garcia. I coulda took a tune-up. But I wanted somebody dangerous who’s gonna keep me focused and keep me in the gym and training hard,” Spence said days before their match. “If I’d have took a tune-up fight or somebody that I was supposed to beat, I feel like that 100 percent fire wouldn’t have all the way been there. Of course I’d have wanted the victory and I’d have wanted to win, but fighting somebody with a great name like Danny Garcia and a great fighter like Danny Garcia just pushed me to another level, and pushed me to the level that I'm supposed to be at.”

Spence defeated Garcia via unanimous decision. He was supposed to face Manny Pacquiao next in August 2021. Instead, he had to pull out of the fight after suffering a torn retina in sparring. Yordenis Ugas stepped in and sent Pacquiao into retirement.

When Spence returned, he went straight at Ugas.

“I did have, you know, almost two career-ending injuries,” Spence said just before that match. “So, you know, I feel like I’m on borrowed time right now. So, you know, I can’t just sit around and fight a tune-up fight, and then, you know, God forbid something may happen or anything like that. So, you know, send me straight in with the other sharks, you know? And I feel like Ugas, he’s a tough fighter and he’s gonna come to fight. He’s gonna push me to that level.”

Spence stopped Ugas in the 10th round of their fight, adding a third world title to his collection. The fourth belonged to Crawford. There had been talk for years about a fight between these two pound-for-pound list denizens. It would take some more time, and more negotiating, to finally get them in the same ring.

In the meantime, Crawford would meet and beat David Avanesyan. Spence’s team looked at a fight with Thurman. That fight didn’t happen. Spence was in another car crash, this one not his fault, but rather caused by another driver hitting Spence’s vehicle.

“I don’t believe in tune-ups. They’re not with my pedigree, fighting someone I know I’m supposed to beat and I know it’s a showcase fight,” Spence was quoted as telling ES News at the start of 2023. “And I feel like the fans deserve it, too. They don’t want to see me fight a bum dude or a showcase fight. They wanna see me fight the best of the business.”

That’s what fans got when Spence and Crawford finally reached an agreement. They met in July 2023. Crawford had been more active; his win over Avanesyan had taken place less than eight months beforehand. Spence hadn’t fought in more than 15 months, dating back to the Ugas bout.

After Spence lost, there were those who wondered whether the inactivity was a factor. It very well may have been. Spence said afterward that his timing “was a little bit off,” though that could have just as much to do with Crawford’s expertise as with Spence’s ring rust.

To Spence, at least, inactivity has never been an excuse. This quote from May 2023 — in response to another question about tune-ups — applies nevertheless to this situation:

“You have an 8-10 week training camp. If I ain’t good enough in that 8-10 weeks, then shit,” Spence said. “I got 8-10 weeks to prepare for a fight. Sparring, and getting ready for a fight. I should be on point. It shouldn't take me another fight for me to be sharp and on point.”

Spence’s approach isn’t shared by everyone. And that’s fine. Fighters and their teams have different perspectives and prerogatives. We’ve heard plenty of boxers talk about how they felt in the ring after a lot of time away, how there’s a difference between the rounds they got in training camp and the rounds once the bell rings on fight night. We’ve seen fighters thrive when they are more active. We’ve also seen fighters come back rejuvenated after time off.

Just because someone is the exception — and that exception is exceptional — doesn’t mean it should be the standard. For example, a fighter who battles through a serious injury in a fight deserves our praise. That doesn’t mean a fighter who opts to call it a night is deserving of criticism.

For Spence, his approach remains the same even if his situation is different. He’s coming off his first pro loss. He’s 34, an age that is considered the tail end of when most boxers are in their prime. Fighters in this era, even when they’re completely healthy, are far less active than boxers from previous eras. This opportunity is available. Spence is taking it. Even if taking it means taking a chance.

Inactivity. The potential of lingering damage, physical or mental, from the loss to Crawford. A new weight class. A new trainer. An unorthodox opponent. Then there’s the cataract surgery Spence underwent earlier this year. And some have wondered whether the car crash, plus the wear and tear accumulated during a career in combat sports, have left Spence more faded than he’s willing to admit.

That makes it seem like the deck is stacked against Spence. Perhaps Spence is gambling that the cards will still be dealt in his favor. Or that he’s doing his own part to better the odds.

It’s possible that Spence will be reinvigorated at 154, given seven pounds of relief on the scales. 

It’s possible that the loss will add even more motivation, a reality check for a fighter who recognized he hadn’t been living like a boxer should.

It’s possible that he will be inspired by a new weight class, a new set of opponents and challenges to overcome, and that perhaps beating one of these new challenges can set up a rematch with an old one if Crawford tops Madrimov.

All of this is a combination of speculation and supposition. The only thing that matters is proof.

Spence’s career as a professional prizefighter has been about realizing his potential, about a boxer who lost in the 2012 Olympics but was believed to be better suited for the paid ranks, about a fighter who was bestowed the nickname “The Truth” and proceeded to back that up.

Spence earned three of the four world titles at welterweight and turned out to be no worse than the second best at 147 pounds, defeated only by one of the most talented boxers of this generation.

Is he still “The Truth”? The truth is we won’t know until October. Neither will Spence. Depending on when exactly the fight with Fundora is scheduled for, that’s still four to five months away. 

All the more reason to forgo a tune-up. One way or the other, we’ll have answers about Errol Spence before the end of 2024. Whether he wins or loses, we’ll move on to the next question:

“What’s next?”

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.