Too True: Errol Spence

By Adam Berlin on August 25, 2016
Too True: Errol Spence
Spence has the kind of power that can’t be cultivated but is bestowed. (Ryan Greene/PBC)

Errol Spence is one of those rare, blessed few whose art possesses that indefinable but substantive weight. The Truth’s art is boxing…

Errol Spence Jr. isn’t identified by his ring name, not yet. It’s The Truth, in case you don’t know, and the truth is, to borrow another warrior’s moniker, that Errol Spence is the real deal, the true deal, a fighter with the innate talent and practiced skills to be genuinely great.

Four days ago, on a rare Sunday matinee performance against an aging but experienced Leonard Bundu, Errol Spence jabbed early, punished late, and stopped Bundu, putting him down first with a vicious uppercut, then with more vicious left-right. Though the final stoppage came from a two-punch combination, it was singularly clear that Spence has one-punch knockout power. Bundu had never before been down. Against Spence, he was more than down—the veteran from Firenze lay still as the marble David that graces Italy’s most artistic city. Spence’s ability to devastate with either fist was clear in his last fight against never-before-stopped Chris Algieri. In that fight, the truth was, again, twofold—Spence can box and Spence can punch. 

We live in a world of misused superlatives. Listen to any conversation between millennials and add up the awesomes—the final count will be, well, absurdly awesome. But Errol Spence deserves admiration bordering on awe for the way he fights. If Mayweather’s “retirement” left boxing with a skill-void (if not an excitement-void), Spence is filling the space with balance, with a keen awareness of ring geography, and with those tangibles that make great fighters great. His jab isn’t just a range-finder but contains bothersome pop. His cracking uppercuts start with effortless leverage, which means he remains well-protected. He throws body shots that not only pay dividends a few rounds later, but deflate his opponents immediately. His right hook is powerful. His left hand is fearsome. His eyes are open and focused at all times and while he does get hit more than Mayweather got hit (because he engages more than Mayweather ever engaged) he absorbs little punishment. So far, no punch has surprised the southpaw Spence. And when punches do land, Spence is usually rolling his head with those punches, rendering potential power shots ineffectual. 

Spence scores high on the tangibles. But what about the intangibles, those immeasurable mysteries that work beyond the anatomical and physiological and cerebral, that reside in a place where the muse also lives? In every profession there are those who are competent, who do the job that needs to get done. There are those who are more than competent, who excel because they have a touch of the poet as Eugene O’Neill might say. And there are those rare few who are blessed. I teach creative writing and edit a litmag so I’ve seen the work of thousands of writers come across my desk, most of them apprentices, most of them writing for joy and not from genius. And I have some firm opinions about which writers are great, and some equally firm feelings, albeit instinctive, about why Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Roth stand above those competent professionals whose names we know, whose books we read, but who aren’t literary champions. (Some may argue art is subjective, but great art, I believe, isn’t, certainly not completely. One look at Michelangelo’s David tells you all you need to know, objectively.) Still, it’s hard to define the why in greatness, the distinguishing characteristic that separates those golden few. The best I can say is that great writing has a weight to it, a weight in the words and under the words and in the rhythms of the words. It’s a weight that can’t be taught. It’s a weight that can’t be worked on. This harsh-sounding judgment goes against all those bullshit self-confidence-building ads and easy maxims that plague our awesome world. It goes against the very myth on which America was built—most Horatio Algers, no matter how hard they work, won’t make it the way they dream of making it, won’t ever be great. Awesomeness, true awesomeness, is a blessing. And Errol Spence is one of those rare, blessed few whose art possesses that indefinable but substantive weight. The Truth’s art is boxing.

I can’t define Errol Spence’s weight, but I can see the results of some of his intangibles. He seems uniquely great (or perhaps better stated, Spence shares some great attributes with some of the truly greats). 

First, he boxes like a boxer, never over-extending himself, yet Spence throws every punch with bad intentions. It’s not that he winds up before he throws his shots, but he does telegraph many of his punches. The problem for his opponents is that Spence pushes things non-stop—when forward-momentum is constant, even telegraphed punches become deceptive because his opponents are never quite sure which message Spence will indeed deliver, and which message will contain the most clout. In this way Spence reminds me of Aaron Pryor—busy, busy, busy, and always landing. As for Spence’s shorter punches, the ones he throws according to boxing’s classic textbook, they seem pre-wound, springing dangerously forward. His jabs sting. His body work breaks. And when he lands to the head, professional pugilists get badly hurt. Spence has the kind of power that can’t be cultivated but is bestowed.

Other intangibles: Spence’s controlled awareness as he moves around the canvas, his gauging and re-gauging, eyes always wide open, reminds me of Pernell Whitaker, for my money the best welterweight of the modern era, the one with the highest ring IQ.

And Spence maintains the low-key demeanor of an assassin, intent on killing but, again, consistently controlled. The only time Spence seems to get excited is when he’s about to deliver the kill shot. He may not stand on his tiptoes like Felix Trinidad once did, but Spence knows, innately, when his opponents’ wills have caved, when they’re ready, like bulls run board to board, to submit to that final moment. All fighters need to control their violence. Spence controls his with cool bordering cold.

Outside the ring, the cool demeanor remains. Spence never raises his voice. He never showboats. In every interview he displays the confidence of a truly confident man without the obvious tells of too much talk, or too many smiles, or too much false humility. He knows he deserves a title shot. He knows he’ll get his title shot. He knows he’ll win his title shot.

The current crop of big-name welters should be nervous. In the comments section of Robert Ecksel’s post-fight coverage, “Irish Frankie Crawford” correctly points out that IBF champ Kell Brook, the mandatory for Spence, made the smart move signing to fight Gennady Golovkin at 160. If Brook wins, he’s a star. If he loses, he needn’t feel shame for losing to the bigger, stronger man. Either way, fighting GGG keeps Kell from having to face Errol Spence, at least for now. 

As for the other welterweight belt holders, Spence should be able to clean out the division with relative ease. Keith Thurman may call himself “One Time” but he’s no knockout puncher, definitely not a one-punch artist. Plus his chin is suspect. Plus he’s not as skilled as Spence. This one wouldn’t last the distance. Danny Garcia surprised me, pleasantly, as he moved up and solidified his career, seeming to fulfill more than his potential, and he’s a solid, solid fighter, but in too many of his last bouts Garcia has looked too pedestrian. Herrera beat him, though not officially. Peterson should have beaten him. Spence will beat him. Jesse Vargas? Vargas works hard, but again, hard work can only get a non-great man so far. Spence beats Vargas. As for Kell Brook, that fight would be interesting and fast, and perhaps the most competitive of the four potential match-ups. But in the end, Spence would achieve the clean sweep.

Perhaps the real test would come against Triple G. The truly great fighters have challenged themselves, moved up in weight, and prevailed. Spence is an inch shorter than Golovkin. His frame appears smaller, his shoulders not as broad. But if and when Spence moves up to fight the glorified middleweight king, the quiet kid blessed with talent will have a real chance to secure boxing’s pound-for-pound throne. Triple G can hit. His heavy hands bludgeon and his opponents get broken. But I’ve yet, certainly not in his most recent fights, seen a fighter concussed by Golovkin the way Spence devastated Bundu. That was an eyes-rolling-into-the-back-of-the-head KO. That was a call-in-the-doctor-immediately KO. And the skilled doctor, New York’s excellent ring physician Nitin Sethi, seemed extra vigilant when checking over Bundu. Triple G may smile a lot, may talk a lot about big drama shows (even if he’s happy to fight the dramatically smaller instead of the dramatically bigger). Against Errol Spence, the Kazakh’s practiced smile will disappear.

There have been rumors about Errol Spence for a long time, rumors that come out of gyms about sparring sessions where Spence has hurt and floored some of the best. What we saw on TV last Sunday was not rumor. It was fact. Errol Spence Jr. is The Truth. And the truth is this: Errol Spence lives with the muse. He possesses the weight of great.

Adam Berlin is the author of the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). His other novels are The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil), Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Headlock (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). For more, please visit

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Errol Spence Jr. VS Leonard Bundu (Rounds 1-4)

Errol Spence Jr. VS Leonard Bundu (Rounds 4-6)

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:51am, 08/26/2016

    CRICKETS! Who’s calling this guy out? Oh yea, Guerrero will, but that’s because he’s become boxing’s version of a money hungry Robert DeNiro….but anyone else?! I have a suspicion that he has cleaned the clocks of some of the top guys in sparring and that when he was still a rookie… why should they call him out…this is a business after all.  I’d like to see him in with Shawn Porter, but then again Shawn may have been one of the guys he reamed even with headgear and big gloves, so not a peep from Porter’s dad.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:01am, 08/25/2016

    Pete The Sneak-The last time I got any credit from an English Professor was years ago at LACC and that cost me two tickets to a Dodgers game behind the dugout on the third base side. The bugger was a transplant from Brooklyn and a Dodgers nut. When I conferred with him about that C- grade at the end of the semester he said that he felt that he was being very generous.

  3. Harry Greb 06:14am, 08/25/2016

    Irish Frankie 2016!!

  4. Pete The Sneak 05:30am, 08/25/2016

    Any boxing article that mentions ‘Irish Frankie’ can’t be taken very seriously…LOL…Just kidding, I actually think it’s a great view point by Irish and yes, I think Ol’ Kell made the right move in facing Triple G as well…I would truly love to see a Spence/Thurman fight and yes, I agree Adam that Thurman would be outclassed and possibly Kayoed by Spence. This kid has a tremendous future and does have the ability to be one of the next great fighters. Nice write up!...Peace.

  5. The Thresher 05:22am, 08/25/2016

    “singularly clear” = Huh????

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