Tyrone Spong never managed to make his way to a scheduled Matchroom Boxing-promoted card in October, but did become of use to the company’s star client.
A year nearly lost for the unbeaten heavyweight was salvaged when receiving a phone call to serve as a primary sparring partner for former unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. Spong spent most of the fall overseas in England helping Joshua (22-1, 21KOs) prepare for his upcoming rematch with Andy Ruiz, which takes place Dec. 7 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
“We just got the call out of the blue, his team reached out to us and asked if I was available to get him ready for (the rematch with Ruiz),” Spong (14-0, 13KOs) informed BoxingScene.com. “I accepted it right away. It was a tremendous opportunity.”
The camp came after Spong—a former superstar kickboxer from Suriname who now resides in the greater Miami area—was removed from an October 12 DAZN show, where he was due to face unbeaten former World cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, after a pair of random drug tests conducted through Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) produced adverse findings of a banned substance. The news was troubling at the time, as he had tested clean both before and after the tests in question, raising questions as to the substance discovered in his system given the normal time frame it takes to leave the human system.
Nevertheless, it was a lost opportunity to face a pound-for-pound entrant in Usyk, as an immediate decision was made to replace him with Chazz Witherspoon, a faded former fringe contender who was stopped in seven rounds. The matter left Spong with just one fight on the year—an early knockout win this past September in Merida, Mexico which was designed to set up the aforementioned fight with Usyk. The phone call from the Joshua camp helped remedy his disappointed view on how his year played out.
“Being in camp with a great champion like Anthony Joshua really did a lot for me, as much as it was beneficial to him,” admitted Spong. “It was frustrating because I wasn’t even in the right frame of mind to want to fight again these past few weeks, but being there with the (former) champ really helped me get back to where I want to be in my career.”
There’s also the belief that the session will get Joshua back to where he hopes to be following an upset knockout loss to Ruiz (33-1, 22KOs) this past June in New York City.
“I saw a man who is ready to regain the world championship,” Spong insists of Joshua’s current mental state. “He’s very focused and looked very sharp in training. You have to give him credit, he could have chosen an easy opponent for his first fight after losing the way he did. But his decision to go right after Ruiz and everything I’ve seen in camp tells me he still carries the heart and mindset of a world champion.”
As for the unbeaten contender in waiting, the balance of 2019 will come and go without another ring appearance, although not an entirely lost year. Spong was honored with the Kankantrie Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for his contributions in the sports world and throughout the Suriname community. As he was unavailable to personally receive the award to training and travel commitments, the honor was accepted on his behalf by his wife, Valerie.
“A strong man is nothing without a strong woman and my beautiful wife Valerie has always been my rock,” notes Spong. “As I was in the wrong state of mind these past few weeks, she has always been there for me then and through my most difficult and challenging moments. My wife Valerie and our four kids are my strength and inspiration.”
Between the personal honor, the camp with Joshua and his loving family always by his side, there has come a clear path for a more promising year ahead.
“We’re looking at different opportunities,” Spong reveals of his eventual ring return. “I can see myself returning by next January. It’s been such a positive period after (the fallout with the Usyk fight), and it will all lead to a big year for me. The same way I took over kickboxing before switching (sports), I am now ready to take over boxing and the heavyweight division.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox