They say that you don’t really become a champion until you successfully defend your title. Going into last September’s fight with “Showtime” Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs,) Errol Spence (26-0, 21 KOs) was already a world champion.
He had held the IBF title for more than two years, and was seeking to unify it with Porter’s WBC strap.
He did so successfully. In a competitive fight with many ebbs and flows, Spence cemented his victory with a knockdown in Round 11. On my card, he took it 115-112.
Now, going into this Saturday’s clash with former two-division champ, Danny Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs,) Spence once again finds himself in a position where he has something to prove.
This fight was originally supposed to take place in January. Garcia, fresh off of a knockout win over Adrian Granados (20-8-2, 14 KOs,) was primed and ready.
Everything was in place for that fight to be the first big showdown of 2020, until Spence was involved in one of the more brutal one-car accidents you will ever see (per Raj Sarkar at Essentially Sports.) The pictures at the top of the article tell you what Spence must feel: gratitude for the fact that he’s even alive.
Garcia kept their January date, and shut out the smaller and outmatched Ivan Redkach in a stay-busy bout.
Spence has been on the mend for most of the last year. He faces not only a tough opponent, but questions about his own ability to perform at the highest level after his brush with death. Should he return to peak form, it is more than likely that he will keep his belts and maintain his unblemished record.
In this writer’s opinion, here are the keys to Spence’s fight plan this Saturday night in Dallas.
1: The Jab
It’s easy to look at Errol Spence’s record and knockout ratio (81%) and think that he’s simply cutting everybody down with power punches and pressure.
Though many of his fights have finished that way, they have always begun with Spence using his crisp jab and near-perfect fundamentals. Even if his 2012 Olympic campaign ended without a medal, Errol is the most fundamentally sound out of the American squad that year.
There are pressure fighters, and there are pressure boxers. Spence is the latter of the two. Skill and aggression don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Like many whose ring presence depends on steady pressure, Spence tends to start slow behind the jab and cross, and build his work rate as fights progress.
This being a southpaw-versus-orthodox matchup places even greater emphasis on Spence’s southpaw jab.
Danny Garcia’s offense is incredibly dependent on all variations of his left hand, which lines up with Spence’s right. By winning the battle of the lead hand, and jointly keeping his front foot outside that of Garcia, Errol would gain an enormous advantage.
2. Start Fast
This is relative. Errol hasn’t lost a stretch of rounds definitively since his initial title effort against Kell Brook (39-3, 27 KOs) in 2017. However, it would serve him to try and push the pace with calculated pressure from the opening bell. Danny Garcia is, like the rest of the boxing world, cognizant of Spence’s accident and 14 month absence from the ring. He will likely try to press his own advantage early.
Errol Spence may have a bit of a colorful history concerning Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs,) but he would do well to take a page from his playbook. When the two squared off in 2017, Thurman blitzed Garcia early and was able to buzz him more than once in the first couple of rounds. After getting his respect, Thurman settled into a rhythm and boxed much of the rest of the fight. It was close and competitive throughout, but those rounds set the tone.
Danny Garcia has been made into a meme in many boxing forums for his so-called “no-look left hook.” Aside from netting him a few victories, that punch has drawn the ire of some casual fans due to the perceived lack of skill that it requires.
From my own fighter’s perspective, that couldn’t be further from the truth. His one elite trait is his timing. His power is slightly above average (at a world level.) His speed and footwork are about the same. His timing and punch selection, however, put him over the top on their own. By pressing Garcia, Spence will disrupt his timing by preventing him from establishing his own rhythm.
3. Stay Tight on Defense
Danny Garcia’s Sunday punch – that left hook – is at its most dangerous in the exchanges. Amir Khan can tell you as much. Khan (34-5, 21 KOs) was dominating their 2012 matchup until Garcia landed his hook under Khan’s ear.
Spence’s aggressive style makes him susceptible to return fire but, other than Kell Brook and Shawn Porter, no one has been able to capitalize on that. He should expect Danny Garcia to do so. Aside from Brook and Porter, Garcia is the best fighter of comparable size that Spence has faced. In order to win on Saturday, he has to defend at the same high level with which he attacks.
Maintain a tight guard, keep the combinations on the inside and at mid-range relatively short, and circle to his own left, away from Garcia’s left hook when using footwork to get out of trouble. The last bit is counter-intuitive, considering typical strategy for southpaws when facing orthodox fighters, but Garcia’s hook is a game changer if it lands. It’s worth going against convention for the sake of avoiding that shot.
If Errol Spence is back to his old self, and able to execute well on these points, he should get his hand raised. Danny Garcia is far from a gatekeeper. In fact, he is still what most should consider a championship level fighter.
But, with the effect that losses have on a boxer’s career nowadays, he must know that he will be viewed as a second tier welterweight if he comes up short this weekend. Both men have a lot to prove to themselves and the fans, which makes for a fantastic fight. Don’t miss it.