Truth or Dare - Spence versus Garcia

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The 2019 boxing calendar has gotten off to a slow start and is lacking the many marquee matches of the previous two years. With the exception of Canelo facing Danny Jacobs in a Middleweight unification bout on Cinco De Mayo weekend, the schedule is a bit barren otherwise.

Enter The Truth Errol Spence Jr. Welterweight boogeyman versus multi-weight titlist Mikey Garcia. A pairing that caused many to scratch their heads when it was announced though as it draws closer is steadily building momentum and fan excitement.

The Brutal Truth

Errol Spence Jr. the baby faced, smiling assassin is 29 years old and a married father but looks so young and unassuming you would expect his mom or dad to be picking him up from school on the way to dropping him at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas for his clash with Garcia next weekend.

It is less than an hour door to door by car for Spence Jr who hails from nearby Desoto, Tx. So one would assume he’s the favorite. However, the demographics of this bout favor both men. Geographically Spence has “home field advantage,” yet 2017 demographic information reveals that more than 47% of all live births in Texas, some 380,000 souls were Hispanic and 29% of all inhabitants of Texas who are non-english speakers are speaking Espanol!

I would expect the crowd to be raucous and mixed cheering for both fighters vociferously, it should be a great atmosphere, with an aesthetic more akin to two rival sports cities colliding on the basketball court or football field.

The fight should be entertaining, at least on paper it is compelling. Spence Jr. is a hungry, aggressive puncher who eats away at the bodies of his opponents like a gastrointestinal disease. Garcia is more the cagey boxer-puncher with one of the best jabs in the sport.

Many though are calling the fight a mismatch based on the raw ability and formidable power of Spence, not that he himself is a ‘limited boxer’ only that he’s quite young and inexperienced. Despite his record which stands at a perfect 24-0 and the eye-catching stat of a near 90% finish rate having stopped - brutally in many cases - 21 of those opponents. However, Spence has been a pro for less than five years and since the end of 2016 has actually been less active as the years wear on, a hallmark of the Al Haymon/PBC stable and the inactivity of Spence is no different.

Another dose of reality comes from more closely examining his resume. Spence seems to pass the eye test but he’s been graded on a curve, many boxing heads and media rank him in the top 10 pound for pound with regularity based solely on potential, merely the appearance of what it seems he might do as
opposed to what he’s actually done. So far his best win is his 11th round TKO of Kell Brook nearly two years ago to win Brook’s IBF title. Since then he has two solid defenses against Lamont Peterson more than a year ago and Carlos Ocampo nine months ago - that’s it!

Fair to say a win over Mikey Garcia would not only represent a quantum leap in class but would finally, truly represent potential actualized!

But there are some significant holes in Spence’s game. For one, he gets hit, a lot! The fight with Kell Brook being the best example of that. Though the cards didn’t reflect how close that fight was many media members had Spence losing that fight and it’s because he was there to be hit. Spence does not move his head much, does not give too many angles. What he does do really well is make his opponents pay dearly for every punch thrown and landed with a thudding body attack and a nearly indomitable will. Here the Brook fight is again instructive, every time Spence got hit once, he threw back twice and thrice. He absolutely refuses to give ground in fights and demands respect with his physicality and punch power… reminds one of a certain popular Kazakh fighter in that way and I’m not the first to draw the comparison.

What we have not seen, is much in the way of a ‘plan b’ from Errol Spence. When things are not going his way when he can’t simply press and beat up Mikey, if Mikey does not allow himself to get stuck into a ‘fight’ can Spence find an answer?

The Great Dare

Speaking of being graded on a curve and living (or not living) up to potential, Mikey Garcia embodies the notion. Mind you, this is a very unpopular position to hold, to be critical of Garcia’s resume or his strategy for the legacy he has been building has gotten me into many arguments. Ironically, one year ago virtually to the day, he is about to fight Spence I wrote about this, asking that very question; is Mikey Garcia living up to his potential? Is he a top pound for pound fighter as many argue? You can read my thoughts in detail here

After a long absence from the sport due to a messy and very public dispute with promoter Bob Arum Mikey burst back onto the scene nearly three years ago stopping Elio Rojas in five rounds. Rojas has not fought since then and the win was enough to secure Mikey a shot at Cinderella champ Dejan Zlaticanin for the latter’s WBC Lightweight title over 2 years ago which Mikey claimed after a skull-shattering 3rd rd KO. Mikey then faced Adrien Broner a weight class up for the WBC Diamond Super Lightweight belt - a meaningless trinket in a meaningless fight.

Resuming a familiar pattern, instead of defending the WBC 135 title more than a year after winning it, Mikey stayed at 140 to challenge Sergey Lipinets, the weakest champion in that division, to claim his IBF Super Lightweight title via an appropriately wide UD.

By now, over a year and a half had passed since Mikey won the 135 lb title without a defense. Calls for a unification bout with pound for pound star Vasyl Lomachenko began to grow cacophonous after Loma stopped Jorge Linares the WBA & Lineal Lightweight champ deep in the 10th round. In May 2018.

Instead, two months later, Mikey Garcia outpointed Robert Easter Jr. to unify titles back down at Lightweight. Again, choosing the weaker champion.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying Garcia ducked Loma, or Miguel Berchelt or Linares before them when he was still champion. I am saying Mikey’s path has been carefully calculated to minimize risk. He’s traveled up and down the better part of three divisions to claim titles, face decent - not elite level competition to stay sharp and has made good money doing so.

I don’t fault him.

After all the great (if mad) Chris Eubank Sr. once said Boxing is a mugs’ game.
He’s right. Get in, get the money and get out - mind and body intact if possible.

So all this begs the question: “why Errol Spence Jr?” I would argue, there is no better time. Spence will only get better, the real fight to make at 147 pounds is Spence vs Terence Crawford, everyone knows it. That’s the second coming of Hagler-Hearns on paper and everyone knows that and Spence is probably at least two - more likely three years from that fight to really make sense for him to avoid getting blown out and everyone definitely knows that.

So Mikey and Robert Garcia, his brother and head trainer two men with extremely underrated boxing IQ both in & out of the ring have made the calculation in my opinion that now is the time to take a young dangerous scalp, claim another title in fourth weight class against whom they believe to the ‘easier’ of the champs at Welterweight.

They were sure as hell not going to chase a fight with Bud Crawford who is at the height of his powers right now and is either #1 or #1A best pound for pound fighter on the planet who also happens to be promoted by mortal enemy Bob Arum.

Thurman is unattractive because, despite inactivity, the kid can really box when he wants to. That leaves Shawn Porter, a fight that is just as high risk/low reward as Spence but Porter does not possess that nice shiny “O” and like Mikey’s fight against Salido, a big nasty Featherweight way back in 2013, Porter is a big nasty Welterweight and that was a tough night at the office.

As I mentioned above, there are holes in Spence’s game, holes that will probably be closed with time. Like Floyd Mayweather when he blessed Canelo Alvarez, he beat a kid easily five years before he was ready to face someone like Floyd, Mikey and company may be thinking the same thing, he is experienced, he’s skilled and cagey and hits hard enough that Spence could lose rounds with his reckless style against a boxer whose educated jab can control a fight for 12 rounds.

Mikey is not perfect either and he’s no Floyd Mayweather, I was comparing the scenario like for like, not the fighters. Mikey has a great jab, good punch selection, and variety, I already mentioned the underrated fight IQ. Tactically, Mikey reminds me of Joe Louis in a lot of respects, that Jab, that mean streak and that piston right straight which Mikey “jumps in” with quite a lot. When it works, he drops a Sergey Lipinets or disrupts the rhythm fighter like Adrien Broner, when it does not, you get exposed like a Charlo Brother or get dropped like Mikey did against Rocky Martinez…

This is not a mismatch, this fight is more level than many realize partly because the accomplishments of both fighters and their potential for future greatness have been overstated. However, a bout like this is an important crossroads fight for both men as the victor will clock their most significant win to date.

A dominant victory, especially for Garcia will catapult him in the minds of many deep into the Pound for Pound rankings, end a notable fighter’s undefeated streak and secure a 4th world title in as many weight classes, no small accomplishment even if you don’t read the fine print.

If Spence wins, particularly via stoppage it only adds to his considerable threat level and a Super Fight with Bud Crawford becomes that much more enticing as both men are arguably two of the most avoided in boxing.

This fight is also a landmine for both as well, Spence, the naturally bigger man is expected to win by many fans and pundits, if he does not will he be considered “exposed” will it completely derail the hype train… such is the case to some extent with friends and stablemates Jermall & Jermell Charlo.

If Mikey loses, particularly if he gets stopped what then? Good chance any notion of staying at Welterweight would end after he is counted out. Moreover, going back down to Lightweight to face the likes of Mexican Buzzsaw Miguel Berchelt or Vasyl Lomachenko would appear to be the only logic next step to stay relevant and make bank, lest he avoid vacating his WBC & IBF titles as the accusations of ducking would only grow and Mikey would lose any leverage to squeeze more money from Bob Arum in the unlikely event we ever see Lomachenko - Garcia on the same bill anyway.

This is the most compelling fight of 2019 so far, each man has strengths and weaknesses the other can exploit and the risk/reward quotient is equally high for both and frankly they each need the test at this stage in their careers if for very different reasons.