By the time boxers like Errol Spence Jr. reach that pay-per-view headliner spot and close in on 30 pro fights, they’re usually a finished product. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly - things for an opponent to avoid and areas where he believes he can pin a loss on a perfect record.
But the jury is still out on the WBC / IBF welterweight champion, who returns on Saturday to face WBA titleholder Yordenis Ugas in fight that will put three belts in the hands of the winner. Most believe Spence will be the one leaving the ring at AT&T Stadium with an extra title in his possession, with the only one left to take being that of WBO champion Terence Crawford.
It’s the SuperFight boxing needs, but one that doesn’t seem any closer to happening than it has in the last several years. If anything, there was at least some talk about it taking place a couple years back, with Spence telling me in 2018 that it was just a matter of time before he got to both Keith Thurman and Crawford.
“I stay focused because I know it's gonna happen soon,” Spence said of a Thurman fight. “As long as I keep looking good and putting on great performances and beating everybody in front of me, eventually they're not gonna have a choice. My main goal is to keep looking great and keep winning. The Keith Thurman fight is gonna happen. It's just a matter of when. I'm a pretty patient guy. I waited for nine months for Kell Brook with no fight, so I'll wait.
“The Crawford fight will happen too, but it won't happen before the Keith Thurman fight,” he continued. “Me and Keith Thurman, we have the same manager on the same network, same weight class. I have a belt, he has two belts, so that's gonna happen before the Crawford fight. Keith Thurman and me, that's a legacy fight, and so is me and Crawford, especially if he's able to beat Jeff Horn and get the belt. That would be an undisputed fight.”
Spence would go on to stop Lamont Peterson and Carlos Ocampo in 2018, and 2019 began with a shutout of Mikey Garcia and a hard-fought win over Shawn Porter.
Then life intervened and gave Spence the toughest fights of his career, and they weren’t with Thurman or Crawford. There was the late 2019 car crash that briefly put him in the intensive care unit. Then, after much speculation about his fighting future, he returned in December 2020 to beat Danny Garcia. A fight with Manny Pacquiao was scheduled for August 21 of last year, but a retinal tear scrapped him from the bout 11 days before fight night. Ugas stepped in for Spence and defeated the Filipino icon.
Once again, the big fight eluded Spence, bringing us back to the original thought that we have not seen the finished product when it comes to the Texan.
That’s rare for someone with two world titles, victories over a host of elite foes and 27 wins without a loss, but when your toughest opponents have been a car crash and an eye injury, there’s the feeling that either the best is yet to come for Spence, or that he’s already hit his ceiling due to no fault of his own.
So is Ugas, the Cuban battler who upset Pacquiao, the one to find out if Spence is past his prime or just entering it? We know where Spence stands on this topic.
“Even half of me would beat most of these guys at the top level,” he said. “I feel great now and I’m one hundred percent.. Physically I’m on point and everything feels real regular. If Ugas’ trainer (Ismael Salas) thinks I’m a different fighter now, we’ll see (on fight night) how different I am.”
That’s fighter talk, and Spence is a fighter. So is Ugas, who, like his opponent, has had his share of battles outside the ring to make it to this point. A 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, the 35-year-old Ugas should be on the tail end of his career, but he’s been a late bloomer, parlaying a disputed loss to Porter in 2019 and wins over Omar Figueroa, Mike Dallas and Abel Ramos into the biggest fight of his career - on short notice and with an arm injury, no less - against Pacquiao.
Is he on a par talent-wise with Spence? No. But heart and opportunity can make up for some deficiencies on fight night. Spence knows he’ll be in for a fight, but he’s not allowing Ugas to put that “1” in his loss column.
“Ugas always comes to compete,” said Spence. “With all respect to Pacquiao, I’m a way different fighter than Pacquiao and at this point I’m a better fighter. Ugas is a real warrior, but I’m hungry, too. I’m not letting this opportunity pass by me.”
This opportunity is to pick up another belt, establish his bonafides as a pay-per-view attraction and make his case as the best welterweight in the world. If he achieves all three, then maybe the talk of him not being the same fighter as he was before the car accident continue to fade, he pressures Crawford into a fight, and we start to get the final read on where Errol Spence Jr. stands in this world he has competed in for most of his life.
“At the end of the day, I want to be the undisputed welterweight champion of the world,” he said.
“This is another step toward that goal. I’ve been the shot caller. I’m the big fish at 147.
“I can’t sit back and fight a tune-up fight right now,” Spence continues. “I want to go straight in with the sharks. Ugas is going to push me to another level and that’s what I want. I knew that if I was fighting a tune-up I could sneak snacks in at night and stuff like that. I’m fighting someone on my level.”