No opponent has even come close to stopping Errol Spence Jr. since he turned pro after the 2012 Olympics.
He quickly established himself as one of boxing’s top welterweights. After winning the first 21 fights of his career, Spence made an emphatic statement with a blistering KO of Kell Brook in 2017 to win his first world title. Over the next 2½ years, Spence won four more times — including victories over Mikey Garcia and Shawn Porter — picked up a second world title and stood as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
But shortly after his victory over Porter, it became clear that the only one who could derail Spence’s career as it reached new heights was himself.
Then last fall, everything Spence had worked for nearly vanished overnight. In the early hours of Oct. 10, 2019, Spence wrecked his Ferrari in Dallas in a one-car accident that left him hospitalized in critical condition. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle. He was eventually charged with driving while intoxicated in a case that is still pending, according to court records.
More than a year later, Spence is getting another crack at living up to his potential. On Saturday, he’ll defend his IBF welterweight belt against Danny Garcia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in his first fight since the incident. Even if Spence didn’t fully admit the crash was a wake-up call, it appears it has made a significant impact on his career.
“It gave me the same hunger that I had before I won the world title,” Spence said in the prefight news conference in November.
During that interview with reporters, Spence (26-0, 21 KOs) quietly admitted something that wasn’t a secret in boxing circles: Between fights, he hadn’t been the most disciplined athlete.
Spence said he previously started to prepare once he had agreed to a fight. But since the crash, even prior to the Garcia bout being solidified, Spence said, he has attempted to stay focused and keep his weight near the 147-pound limit.
“Now, I’m actually training year-round and making it a priority, more than just, ‘OK, I got a fight; now, I gotta start training,'” said Spence, 30, a native of New York. “Now, I’m training ahead of time, instead of waiting until the last minute.”
Balancing his in-ring preparation and social life was at times an issue.
“Being a professional athlete in a city with wealth, being a guy who has been successful, you have had the time to have fun,” Spence’s longtime trainer, Derrick James, told the Dallas Morning News. “His teen years, he’s trying to make the Olympics. He didn’t go to college. He makes the Olympics, then he turns pro and then goes into a deeper form of concentration and focus. He can’t hang out and do this and do that. What happens when he can hang out and have fun? He’s a celebrity.”
And the decisions made in October 2019 nearly led Spence to pay the ultimate price. The accident left his life hanging in the balance. His message in the lead-up to the Garcia fight is that he is out to prove he now has his personal life and his professional life under control.
Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs) said he was initially scheduled to face Spence in January of this year. When it was time for Spence to make his return to the ring, he wanted to face Garcia, ESPN’s No. 6 welterweight, whose only pro losses have come in title fights.
Spence is at the point in his career where he can more or less pick his opponents. He didn’t want a tuneup fight that would have ended with a first-round knockout.
“I wanted somebody who was going to be tough, push me to the limit I know I need to be pushed to so I can get back to [being] Errol Spence Jr.,” he said.
Garcia, 32, of Philadelphia, who like Spence fights under Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, also wanted the bout. And according to Garcia’s boisterous father and trainer, Angel Garcia, the fact that doctors and Spence’s camp cleared Spence for the fight says everything they needed to know.
“To us, he’s good,” Angel Garcia said. “We can’t worry about [if Spence is 100 percent]. That doesn’t make the fight better or worse. We’re not going to go in there thinking he was in a car accident and we got the advantage. We’re not falling for that booby trap.”
Spence has been training since March with James at his south Dallas gym. Throughout the buildup to the fight, James has maintained that Spence appears as able as he did before the accident.
“He still looked good — from the first day he sparred to each day after that,” James said. “But I think when you get more comfortable with just being back in the ring, being back at ‘home’ or whatever, you can see.”
Garcia will give Spence — and the rest of the division — a good look at where Spence is after the accident. That includes Terence “Bud” Crawford, a welterweight titlist and ESPN’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, who has long pursued a superfight against Spence.
But for Spence, fight night has never been the issue. The time between bouts, specifically toward the end of 2019, is what put him at risk of losing more than his belts. If Spence gets past Garcia, the next test will be whether Spence can stick with the newfound discipline he discovered after the accident.
That, as much as anything that happens Saturday night, will dictate whether Spence is still dominant in the ring and can continue to pick up where he left off before last fall.
“I finally got to that spot where I could fight the big names and the guys I’ve been yearning to fight,” Spence said. “Now’s the time that I’m not going to go backward.”