R&R Boxing Club offers none of the respite its initials suggest. On a smoldering Tuesday afternoon, a dozen journalists are melting into their clothes, mouths agape at the sight of former Olympian Errol Spence (21-0, 18 KOs) on an assault.
The 27-year-old DeSoto boxer pummels through the mitt work of his trainer, Derrick James, like an angry mother bear, chasing his prey to and fro in the ring to land another dozen or so thunderous strikes that echo across the punching bags. The impact of a single landed punch is so loud it could be mistaken for a firecracker.
James is wearing a white T-shirt and black shorts. Beads of sweat form on his brow as he attempts to hold Spence, to no avail. He wiggles out and resumes thrashing until the bell rings.
Afterward, Spence sits ringside on the mat floor, holding court. He's surrounded by posters of greats like Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Miguel Cotto — and himself.
But the wide-eyed juggernaut seen in the ring is gone. In his place is a soft-spoken father of two daughters, ready to admit that his past fights were nothing compared to what's next.
"I usually don't get to show my full technique," Spence says. "But I plan to go all out," he says, referring to his upcoming title match against International Boxing Federation welterweight champion Kell Brook on Saturday, May 27 at Bramall Lane in Brook's hometown of Sheffield, England.
The boxing world is infatuated with Spence. He's cultivated a reputation for his leveling punching power since knocking out Jonathan Garcia in his debut fight Nov. 9, 2012. He's able to stop opponents veterans can't and has earned praise from none other than Mayweather, who called him the next boxing phenomenon. Rumor has it, Spence dropped Mayweather during a sparring match.
“Floyd Mayweather, he’s been champ for what, 18, 19 years?" James says. "Have you ever heard him talk about one of the guys he's sparred with, ever? I used to train with Floyd in Vegas; you never heard him talk about one guy ever, but he keeps talking about this one guy in particular. Why is that?"
Fans refer to Spence as "The Truth." His profile exploded after his fight against Chris Algieri. He knocked Algieri out within five rounds, after seasoned fighters Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan failed to do so.
Exhilarated after his sixth straight knockout, Spence challenged Kell Brook for his IBF welterweight title. Rumors that Spence had backed out of the fight, supposedly circulated by Brook's promoter, Eddie Hearn, only motivated Spence. His fury was evident during his match against Leonard Bundu, whom he dismantled in five rounds for his seventh straight and 18th overall knockout.
The highly anticipated Brook vs. Spence bout took around eight months to confirm because of Brook's fifth-round loss by knockout to Gennady "GGG" Golovkin, which left him with a broken eye socket. Spence was impatient, "sitting in the house, watching and reading [that] Kell Brook might fight this guy; he may vacate," he says.
Brook's decision to raise his weight class from 147 pounds to 160 pounds for the Golovkin fight made it seem like Brook was hesitant to fight Spence. He attempted to squash this implication in interviews and at the press conference for the bout, threatening his opponent with his "brownie" punch. Spence was unmoved.
In person, Spence rarely strays from his Zen-like calm and good humor, explaining his post-fight challenge to Brook as the result of a surge of adrenaline. His fighting style says otherwise: It betrays a precise, invasive fighter, easily one of the hardest strikers in boxing.
Boxing is a constant motif in the Spence household. When Spence was growing up, his father, Errol Spence Sr., regularly watched fights with him. They shared an affection for fellow Jamaican Lennox Lewis.
Eyeing the potential dangers that come with male adolescence in the summertime, Spence's father enrolled him at a local boxing gym. The conditioning initially turned Spence off from boxing, but he persevered, winning his first fight a few months later.
James, a former professional fighter, caught Spence and his father at a tournament. "I said, ‘Look at him, he’s doing the same thing over and over’ — double jab, no thought, no purpose," James recalls.
Spence's father asked if James could help his son. They started training together in 2008, forming a bond that strengthened as Spence went on to compete in the 2012 Olympics and signed to boxing promoter Al Heymen.
James molded Spence into a cool, assertive and sharp-witted predator with a versatile skill set. An online search for "Spence Bundu" reveals images of Spence lunging wide-eyed after the more experienced Leonard Bundu with a flurry of punches that backed him up against the ropes for an immobilizing uppercut.
James' older brother, Ahmad Alaajiy, is chief operations officer of Big Card Promotions. He predicts an easy victory for Spence against Brook. “’It's not gonna happen with Errol," Alaajiy says, referring to Brook's moments of success in the match against Golovkin. "Errol’s gonna try to win every round doing what he does."
Alaajiy credits his brother's balanced training method for developing Spence into a savvy, well-rounded opponent.
“It’s all about physics," James says. "If I’m training a guy, I focus on the way he punches and if it’s correct to where you use your offense as your defense, so even when you’re throwing a punch, it’s still on defense also. Every punch is about his hand being up and being able to block a shot or whatever’s coming afterwards."
He and Spence have an unusual in-ring philosophy.
"The shots that we practice and the shots that we throw get knockouts. I don’t practice combinations, I don’t do any of that, ‘cause you rarely see anyone land combinations more than one or two punches at a time," James says. "He opens up his next shot, so when he throws a shot, next shot he opens up with the first shot."
The interest in Spence continues to grow as the fight with Brook draws closer. During the London press conference, local fans begged him to knock Brook out, he says. Spence remains characteristically cool."If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll go for the knockout, but if it’s not there, we’re not going to force it," he says. "We’re just gonna let it flow.”
The word "if" is banned from use at R&R Boxing Club — as in, "if our fighter wins." It's meant to repel doubt.
Spence has already set his sights on fighting welterweight Keith Thurman after facing Brook. The Spence-Thurman relationship is contentious at best. Thurman has downplayed Spence's viability as an opponent, insisting that Manny Pacquiao, or even Mayweather, would be better suited to the task.
But after Mayweather endorsed Spence in April 2016, Thurman was forced to acknowledge him. Spence expresses ambivalence when asked about Thurman, not wanting a repeat of the delay he suffered with Brook. “If I have to wait on him, I’d try to fight Pacquiao or the next big name,” Spence says. “This is the first and last time I wait on somebody.”
Spence and James both expect to draw more attention to Dallas and its boxing talent with their next victory.
“We have never had a boxer from Dallas to grow to this level ever," says James. "You had Curtis Cokes as the world champion, Quincy Taylor as the world champion, but never to this magnitude to where this guy, pound for pound, even though he’s not a world champion, he's number 10 on everybody’s pound-for-pound list — [on] Teddy Atlas [for ESPN], HBO — so that’s a big feat. Once we win the title, we’ll see how they rate us after that."
Errol Spence vs. Kell Brook will be televised live on Showtime Championship Boxing at 4:15 p.m. Central.
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