By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Had negotiations gone better between his handlers and Golden Boy Promotions a couple months ago, Errol Spence Jr. would’ve taken a far different trip to New York this week.
Different opponent. Different weight class. Different venue. Different borough. Different network. Different paycheck. Different everything.
Imagine how much more enthused we’d all be about Miguel Cotto’s farewell fight if it were to have come against Spence on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden? According to Spence, that fascinating fight would’ve happened had “The Golden Boy” himself, Oscar De La Hoya, not insisted Spence sign with his company, which promotes Cotto, in order to make the Cotto fight happen.
Otherwise, Spence, perhaps boxing’s best welterweight, would’ve moved up from 147 pounds to 154 to challenge Cotto for his WBO super welterweight title. The unbeaten IBF welterweight champion just isn’t willing to give up his promotional independence, not even for a high-profile fight at The Garden against a Puerto Rican legend Spence admits he would’ve loved to have fought.
That left us with two lower-profile press conferences this week featuring Spence and Cotto – one Wednesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and another Thursday at The Garden in Manhattan.
Spence’s trip from Dallas to New York instead revolved around his first defense of the IBF welterweight title he won six months ago from England’s Kell Brook – a January 20 fight against former two-division champion Lamont Peterson at Barclays Center (Showtime).
The 33-year-old Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs) is an undeniable underdog against the younger, stronger Spence (22-0, 19 KOs), but he is much more accomplished than the opponent on whom Cotto eventually settled, Brooklyn’s Sadam Ali. And Peterson, of Washington, D.C., at least competes in the same weight class as Spence.
The 29-year-old Ali is a career welterweight who was stopped by Jessie Vargas in the ninth round of their fight for the then-vacant WBO welterweight title in March 2016 in Washington, D.C. Las Vegas’ Vargas has knocked out only 34 percent of his opponents since he turned pro nine years ago (27-2, 10 KOs).
Like Ali, Spence is a 5-feet-9 welterweight who fought for the United States in the Olympics. Their similarities end there, though.
While Spence also would’ve had to move up to face Cotto, he is generally regarded as one of the top 10 boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport. Win or lose, opposing Spence in his final fight would’ve added even more credibility to Cotto’s already tremendous resume.
His decision to fight Ali, however, has drawn considerable criticism from fans, media and fellow fighters.
Nevertheless, a respectful Spence isn’t angry about this missed opportunity. The 2012 Olympian understands Golden Boy’s bullish approach to signing him, but based on how his career has progressed as part of adviser Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions organization, Spence just doesn’t think he needs a promoter.
“The offer was made from Golden Boy,” Spence said recently regarding the Cotto fight. “I mean, every promoter, you name ‘em, has been trying to get me since I turned pro. And, you know, I just declined it. I don’t want a promoter right now. I feel like I’m gonna start my own promotional company, probably later next year, and start doing my own thing. I mean, I’m already fighting on network [TV], I’m already main event, I’m already making great money, so I don’t see what a promoter can offer me.”
As disappointing as it was to have to turn down a shot at Cotto, the DeSoto, Texas, native has no problem with Cotto’s choice of opponent for his final fight. Spence feels as though a 37-year-old veteran who has won world titles in four weight classes and faced the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, Shane Mosley, Sergio Martinez, Antonio Margarito and Zab Judah has earned the right to fight whomever he wants.
Cotto (41-5, 33 KOs) is listed by numerous Internet sports books as a 10-1 favorite over Ali (25-1, 14 KOs), who has never fought as a full-fledged junior middleweight. That’s all fine by Spence.
“He deserves it,” Spence told BoxingScene.com following Wednesday’s press conference. “Cotto is a guy who never ducked anybody. You’ve never known Cotto to duck anybody or [have people] come out and say, ‘Oh, Cotto didn’t wanna fight this guy.’ Cotto fought the best fighters in his prime and never ducked opposition. So, I mean, if he wants to fight Sadam Ali, he can fight Sadam Ali. He deserves it. I let him go with that pass.”
Spence also acknowledged that he would’ve preferred spending this week winding down preparation for what would’ve been a huge fight at Madison Square Garden.
“Cotto is a future Hall-of-Famer,” Spence said. “Cotto has a great resume. He’s one of the best Puerto Rican fighters of all time. Definitely, I would’ve took that fight.”
The left-handed Spence is nearly 10 full years younger than Cotto and the last time Cotto encountered a southpaw in a junior middleweight title fight at The Garden, Austin Trout defeated Cotto convincingly over 12 rounds in December 2012. But based on what Spence has seen from Cotto recently, particularly during his dominant win against Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai on August 26, he thinks their fight would’ve been competitive.
“[I see] me winning, but I think it would’ve been a good fight,” Spence said. “Cotto, he’s tough, he’s very crafty, he’s got a lot of experience and he can box. He’s somebody that I watched a lot, too.”
Spence is certain Cotto has “more than enough left” to beat Ali impressively in a fight HBO will televise as the main event of a doubleheader Saturday night (10 p.m. ET). Though he believes Cotto could continue to be more than competitive against elite-level opponents, Spence also understands Cotto’s commitment to retirement following this fight.
“I’m not surprised,” Spence said. “He had a long career. You know, he’s been around for a long time and all of his classmates are retiring. So, I mean, it’s about that time, you know, you just sail off, man. Money-wise, he’s good. So why scramble your brain even more, just to stick around?”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.