I missed the Robert Easter vs Javier Fortuna debacle (I’m being told it was a debacle from the weigh-in until the fight ended) so I’ll save that for another time.
I tuned in just as Showtime was queuing up the Errol Spence show. For those of you that haven’t been following the Texas native’s rise to stardom – a rise buoyed by Showtime’s insistence that he is a star – I can only say that I pity you. Spence appears to be a truly great fighter, and his demolition Lamont Peterson only furthers that narrative.
Being great in this way comes with the microscope of criticism. Once you transcend the ceiling of pretty good and observers start talking about you as “great”, the small details of each performance get held up to the light of scrutiny.
So, with the caveat that I hold Spence among my top ten active fighters at any weight, indulge me whilst I examine Spence’s Saturday night at the office.
Let’s begin with a simple premise: Errol Spence Jr. has power. Real power, not the flimsy kind that a lot of fighters have but struggle to use in a meaningful way (think fellow welterweight Shawn Porter), but the kind that matters.
Lamont Peterson is no rollover. He has been in with great fighters and has shown his ability to take shots. On Saturday night, Spence backed him up with damn near everything he threw. Not just the big shots, but his jab was staggering Peterson from the opening bell. Peterson could have been manifesting the effects of a lifetime spent fighting, but the power passes the eye test for me. Spence showed off some truly frightful force with his punches.
How does Spence deliver his power? Mainly by standing directly in the pocket and blasting through his opponent’s guard. It’s a little more complicated than just wailing away; professional fighters don’t just clam up for no reason. Spence is a southpaw, something that causes problems all by itself, and is unusually awkward. He uses that awkwardness to present ever changing angles, and those angles open up avenues for him to work.
Having those avenues is one thing, but the ability to drive down them is another. What impressed me most about Spence’s latest work was his decision making. To the casual eye, Spence is a monster that beats his man into submission, but that isn’t the whole story. What Spence does that separates him from the common brawler is to always make the right decisions.
Boxing is really just a series of choices. Jab, move, uppercut, cover up, hook, rest, attack; the decisions are endless. Great fighters, otherwise called complete fighters make the right decisions all the time. This creates an environment where the great fighter can feast upon his opponent, who is constantly having his every mistake exploited. Offensively, that is when he is on the attack, Spence shows an aptitude for making the right decisions.
One thing Spence appears to struggle with, and this is a product of his monstrous power, is defense. The Showtime broadcast spent a good deal of time praising Spence for what they called improved defense. There may well have been improvement, but there is still a glaring flaw – one that another great fighter can expose.
Spence wades in, often without regard for what could be coming back. Several times, this led to him getting tagged with significant counter shots from Peterson. They didn’t mean much in this fight because Peterson doesn’t have the power to bother Spence, but a bigger puncher can and will hurt him with one of those shots.
If the ultimate goal for Spence is unification at 147, he will likely have to go through Terence Crawford at some point. Crawford is the kind of fighter that redirects a fighter’s aggression back onto them, and Spence will have to be wary of that. He may call himself a “passive-aggressive” fighter, staying on offense without getting reckless, but he would be fooling himself.
What Spence is, is an apex hunter. He has the tools to break down opponents with his considerable arsenal, and he has the power to break whatever he hits. His commitment to body punching is impressive, as is his means of turning his opponents around into big shots. However, Spence is not without flaw.
His win over Peterson was illustrative of his talents as well as his deficiencies. He apparently made the observation (correctly) that Peterson could not hurt him, and he went forward devouring his prey. It’s worth watching what Spence does going forward to improve his defense, because so many power punchers have this problem. Selling out to destroy a target leaves you at least temporarily vulnerable to destruction yourself. Some fighters compensate with iron-clad chins, and some learn to temper their attack. Others develop defensive styles that neutralize any kind of counter attack without sacrificing much of their own aggression. Spence will have to do one of these things to ensure his potential reign atop 147 proceeds without hindrance.