He did not have to do this. In his first fight in over a year, first fight since being hurled from his speeding Ferrari, first fight in a pandemic year, Errol Spence did not have to fight on pay-per-view.
If that sentence caught you off guard, feinted high and went low, it should have. Spence, who defends his welterweight titles against Danny Garcia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is indeed fighting on pay-per-view. But unless you have an ax to grind against Haymon Nation, the added price tag is irrelevant. Pay-per-view buy numbers reflect the number of people who watched the card about as accurately as they reflect the number of people who boycotted it on principle.
What Spence did not have to do is seek a challenge. Not before finding out what, if anything, he lost to the pavement of Riverfront Boulevard or left behind in the ICU of Methodist Dallas Medical Center (and what about broken teeth and facial injuries required such intensive care anyway?). Besides, Spence already has the upper hand in his proxy war with would-be nemesis Terence Crawford, and an opponent to rival the likes of Amir Khan or Kell Brook would prove fairly easy to secure and subdue. Yes, Garcia is both dangerous and popular enough to justify moving the fight from its original site in California to Texas, relocating it somewhere turnstiles are allowed to turn. But that move might have happened regardless of opponent, given the support DeSoto’s Spence enjoys in the Lone Star State and the financial relief a crowd provides.
So why pick up the march through his welterweight district? Here we might suggest something complimentary about Spence’s sanguinary bent, his desire to measure himself against the best. But there is that Ocampo on his ledger, the aged Peterson, that sorry transaction with Mikey Garcia. Each is evidence enough that Spence, charming though he is, might not be the fighter he threatened to be when he one-upped his stablemates unseating a champion overseas by knockout. Perhaps this judgment is a bit hasty. Perhaps. But for how long has Crawford been a welterweight?
There are the optics to consider too. One way for Spence, 26-0 (21), to put his accident and the DWI charge that accompanied it behind him is to return to the ring in a way that suggests a return to normalcy. And who would not welcome such a return this year? A softer opponent begets criticism; criticism demands an explanation. An easier opponent would give the impression of a comeback, and there is a good chance Spence is tired of discussing what he is coming back from. Those were painful days, undoubtedly. The more distance Spence puts between the night his children nearly lost him and the humiliating explanation for why the better. The ring is a dangerous place, but Spence knows he is one of the reasons it is so, and getting back to that type of danger is surely something he welcomes.
That Spence is open to facing Philadelphia’s Garcia when questions about how his face will withstand fists educated and evil is a sign that those questions have already been answered. Why imperil Spence, who is better and more popular than Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and Garcia (fighters who carried the division before Spence was unleashed on it) with the possibility of a Manny Pacquiao fight looming? If his brain trust found Spence fit to return to the ring, then it has determined, probably at the counsel of the best doctors money can buy, that the outlay of his profession is one Spence can pay. Team Spence could be wrong, of course, and the first “Swift” hook that lands might shatter the assessments of experts and Spence’s face alike. But if fights are won at the matchmaking level, and Spence is supposed to win, the vested parties have determined he remains fighter enough to do so. The possibility of a miscalculation here does inject some intrigue into the fight, though that is likely where it factors most.
But those hooks are coming, trust in that. Despite being maligned for his goofy behavior, for milking mismatches in exchange for a tough fight every couple of years, Garcia is all fighter. If not quite the force he was at junior welterweight, where he achieved peak villainy out-slugging Lucas Matthysse, Garcia, 36-2 (21), remains a long night for everyone. A tendency to fight to the level of his opposition explains Garcia’s rough stretches against Zab Judah and disputed victories over Mauricio Herrera and Lamont Peterson. But Spence, the best opponent of his career, should expect the best version of Garcia. What Garcia concedes in size and power—he is a crisp puncher at welterweight, not a concussive one—he compensates for in character. If father and trainer, Angel, tells Garcia to stand toe-to-toe with Spence, Garcia will do it. He is fearless, a product of his trust in his father’s instruction and his own toughness, and that fearlessness ensures that everyone Garcia faces is stripped of a pound of flesh. Garcia claims that bloody lump through timing and committing fully to his punches, and Spence, who can be countered, will concede one too.
Therein lies Garcia’s best chance at victory. Spence will likely outwork him, and his bodywork should slow down a fighter already slow of foot. But Garcia is going to land something big. The effect of that blow—thrown from the toes, perhaps even with eyes closed—will be augmented by being unseen. At that moment, “The Truth” will have to prove something about himself. Perhaps that he alone is fighter enough to put Garcia on the canvas and keep him there.
He doesn’t have to do that either. But he should.