Errol “The Truth” Spence, Jr. is a singular talent who hasn't been treated like one.
Which is totally unfair, given his skill -- but also in keeping with a larger life story of which even he is not fully aware -- one that touches on three other men with the same name and what we pass down through the generations.
On the decisions we make whose effects we can't possibly foresee. On those Paltrow-ian sliding doors separating what was and what might have been.
Spence is a 29-year-old, 24-0 champ, whose rightful coming out party should’ve been his 2016 post-Olympics match that peaked at six million viewers. And whose every bout thereafter should’ve been Christopher Wallace-BIG.
Yet when he faces Mikey “Upward Mobility” Garcia next Saturday in a PPV live from Dallas, it’ll be because the opposing lightweight called for the match – not because Spence was ever granted himself a major stage in his own division.
Ludicrous – the man charged with “advising” Spence being unable to land him any of his other banner advisees (all current or former 147-lb. strapholders, all three of whom have looked weak in their most recent outings – Porter, Thurman, Garcia).
(I do like Spence’s independence in matters sartorial, though – from his firing of his stylist and taking on fashion duties himself to his taste in watches – if I had his cash, I’d go Patek Philippe, too #NautilusAllDayEveryDay.)
One trainer of a prominent PBC fighter in another weight class recently shared his own dismay:
“When have you seen a fighter of that caliber not get any aging big names in his stable? He’s only fought one PBC welter in (Lamont) Peterson. Just one, and they have eight or nine viable [options]."
Which is to say, part of Spence’s prime was wasted. He’s wide-framed and bursting – composed of a million little muscular knots (but not in that big-chested, Andre Berto-way that impedes full arm extension – and not in that hulking Jeff Lacy way that allows only wide-lunge hooking -- upper-body muscles appearing a weighty burden).
Spence was always gonna have a limited run at welterweight before his body, having begged for years, blackmailed him -- via slower metabolism -- into moving up a division. He should’ve already been afforded a chance, then, to make a greater mark at 147, to attempt title unifications.
Trainers tell me Spence can get all the dudes he wants at 154 in the PBC because they're not afraid to rumble with each other – Hurd, Harrison, Jermell, Lara, J-Rock, Lubin, Trout and now Castaño.
Think how often a pairing of any these guys has entered the ring together. It's actually an impressive web -- there are more connections between these pugs than attendees of a Jewish wedding.
Oh, you fought Trout, too! How is he – everything good by him?
The problem is general audiences have always paid far more attention to welter and middleweight than to the betwixt-and-between stepchild level between them.
I kinda want Spence, after beating Mikey (and more on predictions a little later), to spend only a minor period at 154 -- say three fights, the way Trinidad did between welter and middle, taking out David Reid and Fernando Vargas along the way.
Let Spence meet Hurd and Jermall up at 160 and give the PBC some depth there, a few intriguing possibilities on which fans can ruminate (and against which we all can inveigh, because that's ultimately more fun and we're about five-years-old maturity-wise online).
Which brings us to the second Spence (dunno when my articles began resembling a Seder Haggadah in structure -- it kinda just happened): the Spence who, unlike his namesake, wasn't evaded by his peers but instead fled from them.
It's 1992. In the state of Florida, a man named Antonio Spenz, distraught after a break-up, tries to remedy the situation by kidnapping his now-ex-girlfriend. She escapes, thankfully, and warrants for Spenz’s arrest are issued -- initially for that crime but later for others committed while he remains on the lam.
For three years cops work to find the fugitive, though their stated reason for not succeeding seems pretty weak.
He “moves around a lot,” the local police chief says.
Three years later, an informant tells the cops they can find Spenz in the attic of a house between the wildlife refuge and the big Lake.
Naturally, Antonio Spenz has been using aliases during his 900-day flight from justice.
He has been telling people his name is, in fact, Errol Spence.
Obviously, this is no more than a coincidence, and yet you can read myriad clips from that era, when our Spence was a toddler, entirely about a man answering to that name being everywhere chased. And having heard from inside the PBC bubble how fast its welters were scurrying to avoid pug Spence, it almost seems like a karmic balancing of the scales.
One Spence flees, the other sends them packing.
Which is why the notoriously messy presser at Barclays last year, in which Adrien Broner told the press about Spence dissing fellow welter Shawn Porter in their private conversation, is the lone example of AB acting a fool I can applaud.
Broner -- as Anger Translator Luthor -- was calling out a dynamic the measured Spence never would. And so far, you could argue Spence hasn't had to -- when Golden Boy offered Spence a $2.5 million promotional deal in 2017 that included a shot at Miguel Cotto in the latter's final bout and options on future fights, Spence could take the offer to Haymon and have Al pay $3.5 million for Spence to take a different bout (without any clauses about future events beyond that one).
Financially, Spence -- called by "EJ" by kin -- hasn't needed worthy opponents to make bank. But you cannot direct-deposit legacy, and it took a seemingly-sodden Broner to begin making that point, albeit in shambolic fashion.
I’m gonna drop that Broner line randomly in conversation from now on, just for the laughs it’ll bring me, if not my interlocutors – Talk to ‘em, EJ!
Thing is, I wonder whether even Errol knows fully why he doesn't jabber much (this impression is so universal that a famous Texas referee -- recall that Errol is from Dallas -- mused to me on the phone today that Errol just does not know how to talk smack -- only time I've heard a ref marvel at a fighter's lack of foul play).
In 2016, when I asked Spence at a restaurant in NYC's East Village about a teammate of his from the 2012 Olympic boxing squad, he looked me square in the eyes and with a steady tone and without raising his voice, said, We don't talk.
I jotted in my pad back then that the look, the clipped words -- all of it indicated Spence had some negative opinion about -- or grudge with -- the guy I had mentioned.
But I couldn't be sure. Spence has a way of curtailing a line of inquiry before you've quite finished probing. He is concise in that "King of the Hill" Texan way -- it's an economy of words born of pragmatism or respect or maybe humor. Maybe moroseness.
It's deadpan but maybe also dead-serious.
It's ingratiating and discomfiting.
It signals Spence can't handle the media -- or that he manipulates us brilliantly.
One fight game observer, whose counsel I often seek, told me she couldn't understand Spence: How does a man with his laconic drawl, his wariness of overstepping certain lines, hang out with PBC buds whose lives abound in anarchy -- Broner and Tank, say.
Her answer some time later to me: Spence must need a social lubricant -- perhaps alcohol, but who knows -- to loosen up sufficiently to the company of his peers. It was the only way she could square the arrangement.
An alternative answer: Spence senses strongly, even without knowing every detail, what his father expects of him. The third namesake.
Errol Spence, Sr. is an immigrant from Jamaica who originally moved to New York -– (becoming an LL Cool J fan) before settling with his family in Dallas. You could argue his dreams and expectations for his son, however, were seeded back in Jamaica, in his own youth, when he and his six brothers listened to Muhammad Ali bouts on a small radio in the ‘70s (no one had electricity in the Spences' neighborhood of Hanover –- let alone a television).
There's nothing unusual about the Spence Sr. immigration story (one wishes the man in office realized how common and workforce-sustaining such moves are, but that's another argument for another time). Neither of Jr.'s parents ever pressured him into boxing -- the kid was naturally gifted at a number of activities. Boxing wasn't his way out of a bad situation.
And yet the larger arc from radio-listening to ringside-viewing of his own son is an epic one for Spence, Sr. One so cosmically grand you can understand why Jr. might be afraid of messing it up, even subconsciously.
The Cowboys' AT&T Stadium, where Jr. will fight Mikey on Saturday, seats 100,000. Its famed scoreboard is 60 yards long. A man who listened to Ali with merely a transistor radio will now experience a boxing event in which his son's face occupies the world's grandest screen.
And it goes deeper. To the fourth Spence. If Jr. can't fully appreciate the reasons underpinning his reticence, then Sr. can't take full credit for avoiding a potential tragedy. And yet he did.
In 2007, Spence lost to Omar Figueroa, a fighter in the same amateur weight class who'd been born a month earlier than Spence, in Texas -- they were both 17. Figueroa's win meant he'd advance to rep Texas in the national amateur Golden Gloves tournament.
At that point, Spence could've bailed on the amateur game and tried to turn pro (guys have done it even younger than that), but he chose instead to stick to the amateurs until he had something to show for it.
It was during this period of refinement -- when he wasn't getting a check for ring work -- the happy outcome of which was selection to the national boxing team for the 2012 London Olympics -- that the full magnitude of Sr.'s decision to leave Jamaica became clear.
If not to him, then to the writer who'd eventually try to tie it all together.
In May of 2010, under pressure from the US, Jamaica attempted to raid the compound of notorious drug dealer Christopher Coke (that's his original surname) -- who employed a militia and ran a fiefdom inside Kingston -- so he could be extradited to the States.
The operation was more than a disaster -- it was a clear extrajudicial killing spree from the jump. Before Jamaica's forces raided Coke's neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, he and his henchmen escaped.
When Jamaican authorities finally entered, only basic, harmless citizens remained -- the males of whom, young and old, were rounded up and taken away, even if they had neither weapon nor allegiance to a gang. Even if they had never committed no crime at all.
The government wound up shooting dead at least 70 of them. The day after the operation, the prime minister realizing he had a crisis on his hands, sent a team to investigate the bombed-out, blooded area. The New Yorker: "In a flat near Java, the investigators saw a waist-high bullet hole in one wall and blood on the floor; witnesses said that Errol Spence, a twenty-two-year-old barber, had been shot and killed there."
Meanwhile, the Errol Spence whose father had transplanted his family to the States, continued training to represent America abroad, on the world's most-watched global stage. When Jr. finally reached the Olympics in 2012, he was 22 -- the same age as the barber of the same name when his own country shot him to death.
Stay tuned for Episode 3: Predictions from Unexpected People.