By Jeff Zimmerman
Photos: Noe Gonzalez
It was clear after Wednesday’s official media day for IBF welterweight champ Errol Spence Jr. (23-0, 20 KOs) and the relatively unknown and undefeated mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) out of Mexico who square off on Saturday, June 16th at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco and the home of the Dallas Cowboys and shown live on Showtime, that Spence Jr. is now calling his own shots or at least has a bigger seat at the table.
And what a difference a year makes for the 28-year old former Olympian Spence Jr. out of Desoto, who at this time last year was preparing for his first title shot against Kell Brook after practically begging for two years to fight the likes of Keith Thurman who recently relinquished his WBC belt and has been on the shelf with an arm injury and won’t be back anytime soon.
But when Spence Jr. brutally stopped Brook in front of 30,000 screaming Brits in the UK and finally captured his elusive championship, the tide finally turned for the even-keeled Spence Jr.
After earning the belt the hard way, he can’t wait to defend it at home in Dallas.
“I feel like I definitely earned it, to go over to another country and fight the champion in his hometown and win the belt, I deserve the opportunity to fight here, in my hometown in Dallas, my hometown, in front of my core fans so they can witness this fight.”
Spence Jr. is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and was ecstatic to be the first fight at The Ford Center, a practice facility used by the Cowboys and the host of other events such as concerts and high school football.
“It’s going to be great. When I was a kid I thought I was going to be playing for the Cowboys so it’s going to be great fighting in front of Jerry Jones, fighting in front of a lot of past Cowboys and present Cowboys now, it’s going to be a great event. I already got confirmation that a lot of Cowboy players are going to be there and can’t wait to see me fight. I can’t wait.”
Spence Jr. got to the top with hard work and superior skills but also by not looking past any opponent. And even though this will be a major homecoming for Spence Jr., he knows Ocampo will be hungry and try to do what he did to Brook, win the title in another fighter’s country against all odds.
“Ocampo has a good jab, tries to move around the ring, he tries to use his footwork and he tries to use angles. From what I have seen, he thinks a lot in the ring.”
Spence Jr. added, “he’s tough, he’s hungry so I can’t look past him. If I look past him, the fights in the future are not going to happen. I am going to fight him, beat him and then I am going to worry about the other belts in the division.”
His trainer Derrick James, who also trains WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo, knows his main job is to keep Spence Jr. focused and sharp.
“It’s all about enhancing everything he does already but at the same time keeping his tools and his skills very sharp. I’m looking for perfection and everything, that’s what I want, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s what he desires so it’s my job despite what he is doing wrong to enhance that.”
Spence Jr. is a great student as well with the desire to get better every day.
“I want to work on everything. You could always get better, you could always learn, so we’re working on improving everything like how I am throwing my jab or how I am throwing, my one, two, slipping or blocking punches. We can always learn each day.”
Like Spence Jr. James is a Dallas native and once a good fighter before becoming a trainer. He has groomed Spence Jr. since his amateur days into one of boxing’s pound for pound best.
“It feels great. I guess everything else, we traveled, we have a lot of fans everywhere else, but being home in Dallas is where we will get the most fans. We are home in Dallas so however it was before fighting everywhere else is going to change now, more visibility, more media coverage. I’m looking forward to it.”
With two world champions under his watchful eye in Spence Jr. and Charlo, James can test their world class skills against each other and Spence Jr. appreciates what it has done for him.
“That’s really the best sparring you can get, sparring another champion. He has the same mentality as you, the same mentality to win and things like that. You’re not fighting a washed-up sparring partner or a guy that has a sparring partner mentality where he is just going through the rounds, he’s just pacing through it. Jermell is trying to work too, he has a fight too so he’s trying to get better, so with that iron sharpens iron.”
Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones was not at the presser, but he was represented by his son Stephen who quipped, “It has been too long since we have been touching champions, I grabbed Errol in there and said let me touch that. It has been a long run for us to be able to be called a champion.”
Although Jerry was not there, Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Boxing was and told Fightnews exclusively his thought on Spence Jr. being perhaps the biggest name in boxing outside of Canelo.
“I would probably say so. You could argue depending where you are at some point down the line maybe Deontay, maybe Keith Thurman, but I think he has as good a case as any and particularly since Canelo doesn’t really speak English. When you talk about who has the chance to be the face of boxing, there’s only a handful of guys and Errol has as much upside as any of them and probably more.”
Spence Jr. has always wanted to clean out the welterweight division before moving to 154 and now that he is a champion, Espinoza is ready to make those unification bouts happen plus other mega fights.
“We got a little bit of a monkey wrench when Thurman got hurt because I do think it would have been on track for a unification fight at the end of this year. There are still other ways to unify the titles and I do think Errol will get unification fights in the near future. But the great thing about having this good, young deep class of welterweights is there’s not just one opponent, there are challenges.”
“Some of the things that have hampered GGG and others is they don’t have the depth [in their division] and Errol’s got a series of good fights whether its 47, 54 and maybe even 160. And there’s a list of 6 or 8 guys that could literally be mega fights for him and so I think we are going to be seeing and hearing a lot of Errol Spence over the next 3-4 years.”
On the possibility of a mega fight with Canelo at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think it would be a phenomenal event. There’s no question Errol at some point will be going to 154 as he matures. And beyond that, Canelo is relatively new to 160. It would be a challenge, but it would be a phenomenal opportunity, so Cowboy Stadium is as good an opportunity as any. So that is definitely a mega fight down the line in a year or two.”
And with Thurman out of the picture for the time being, Spence Jr. has his sights on the winner of Garcia vs. Porter.
“The ideal fight for me is Keith Thurman, but he has injuries and things like that. He is probably going to have two fights before he comes back and fights me as he already stated he’s not fighting me right now, so I want the winner out of Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter for the WBC belt.”
It was a big day for Spence Jr. not only announcing his title defense in his hometown of Dallas, but he also launched his own promotion company, Man Down Promotions, after the saying “man down” a phrase he started using early in his pro career while knocking out 20 of 23 opponents.
Spence Jr. took notice of Mayweather and De La Hoya in putting his promotion together.
“Yea man, from Floyd, Oscar de la Hoya and a few more. Floyd and Oscar de la Hoya basically set the blueprint. With them, they wanted to sign me, but I was like why would I sign with you all when you didn’t want to sign with anybody, so I am basically taking my own career in my own hands and doing my own thing.
“It’s exciting to have Man Down Promotions, especially early in my career as an undefeated young fighter and basically have my own promotional company which fighter is doing that. You have Adrien Broner, but he’s been in the game a long time, he has been a pro since like 2007.”
It may have taken Spence Jr. longer than he had hoped to be in this position and become a world champion, but it is clear from today that he was ready for the moment. And with his alignment with Showtime Boxing and the Dallas Cowboys, he’s not just in the room with the big boys, he has a voice as well.
“It feels good man the whole process taking control of your own career. That’s what I was trying to do from the jumpstart, that’s why I never signed with a promoter because I wanted to take control of my own career and fight when I want to fight, fight where I want to fight, do my own thing. It’s great.”
What a difference a year makes.