As if the pursuit of an Olympic gold medal wasn’t daunting enough, Errol Spence Jr. had to deal with notably bizarre officiating along the way.
In London last year, the 23-year old welterweight thought he had lost to his Indian opponent, Krishan Vikas, by scores of 13-11 despite a litany of fouls committed throughout the contest. About five hours later, as he was sitting in the Olympic Village with teammate Rau’Shee Warren, he found out the decision had been overturned and he’d be fighting in the quarterfinals.
He was already deflated, though.
“I felt like I was getting in a nice zone, like I was getting in a groove, and then when that happened it basically changed everything. Mentally I couldn’t really just dial it back because emotionally, what I was going through after I lost, and the emotional stress and everything else, there was just no bouncing back,” Spence told RingTV.com.
After falling to Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy, the Dallas native took off his headgear, and kept it off for everything but sparring. He never had a second thought about remaining in the amateur ranks. And perhaps unexpectedly, being a professional would turn out to be a safer haven in some respects.
Not long after the Olympics, advisor to the stars Al Haymon reached out to six of the nine members of Team USA from the London games, including Spence.
Haymon, of course, advises some of the biggest names in the sport, including Floyd Mayweather.
Signing with Haymon is the equivalent of having Johnny Cochrane beside you in court: If anything, you’re likely to get away with robbery.
“I just felt like he was in it for me, so I decided he was the guy. I felt that I could trust him,” said Spence of Haymon. “There’s politicians in the pros, but in the amateurs, there’s a lot of politics and stuff. In the pros I feel like I get a fair shot, a fair chance. I have a great name, a great manager and everything else, so I’ll get a fair shot, an even chance to win a fight, instead of somebody robbing me or something.”
Being in the Haymon clan has afforded him some serious luxuries. For one, his career has essentially been an extension of the road to London. He and his Olympic teammates are all in the same stable, and as a result, have fought on the same pro cards thus far. More importantly, however, the leverage along with his Olympic cache has allowed him to grow up in front of a national audience, with all three of his fights having been televised.
As with all amateur standouts, the opposition he’s facing early in his career is significantly inferior to that which he faced just months ago wearing a singlet. His latest fight on ShoExtreme came against Nathan Butcher, a short-notice opponent who was mocked relentlessly on social media for his underwhelming appearance and unrefined technique.
This weekend on Golden Boy’s Fox Deportes telecast, he faces Luis Torres, who is unlikely to provide any resistance either.
But as safe as he might feel in a business sense, he’s acutely aware of the inherent dangers of the pro game.
“It was disappointing that I didn’t give people much to see, that I didn’t get to showcase my skills the way I wanted to. But it was a guy I was supposed to get out of there fast, so I did my job and got him out of there as soon as I could and didn’t take any punishment. You can’t play around with nobody fighting with them small gloves. One shot can change everything,” said Spence (3-0, 3 knockouts).
One of the men who has volunteered to acclimate Spence to the big leagues is Adrien Broner, who spends many of his training camps in Colorado Springs, where USA Boxing sets up shop. The brash lightweight titlist is also a Haymon client, and has shown a side entirely different than the one he displays on TV while dealing with Spence.
“He’s real cool. He’s not one of those guys who’s trying to push somebody down or step on somebody. He’s not on a pedestal because he’s got all this money. He really is just one of the guys,” said Spence.
Though he has some new famous friends, his surroundings are still quite familiar. He still trains at the Maple Avenue Gym in Dallas, where he was born and raised, with his trainer Derrick James (a former cruiserweight pro himself). He doesn’t have high budget camps yet, preferring to spar with locals and even James himself on occasion (“I beat him up last time,” boasts Spence.).
It’s the same gym his father, Errol Spence Sr., used to drive him to every afternoon as a teenager. As a 15-year old, Spence wanted to quit boxing, but his Dad told him “if you quit this, you’ll quit everything else you do in your life.” He took on a midnight driving shift as a truck driver so that he could have time during the day to get his son to the gym. He would get home by noon, nap, shuttle his son to the gym at 3:00, take him home at six, sleep for two hours, then return to work.
Not far from there is the barber shop where the two of them used to watch fights together on weekends.
“That was the pay-per-view hook up back in the day. The guy who ran the barber shop used to charge people to come in and they’d bet on who would win and everything else. I was a big Lennox Lewis fan, because of my Dad being Jamaican and Lennox being Jamaican,” said Spence.
The blue chipper is forever grateful that his Dad forbade him from giving up boxing. To repay him, Spence has taken up a midnight shift of his own, running nightly on the cool Texas roads, or at the local 24-Hour Fitness, no matter how late he’s been up playing video games.
Anything less would be quitting.
“The sky’s the limit now,” said Spence.
Photos: Harry How-Golden Boy Promotions/Gettyimages; Scott Heavey-Gettyimages
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman