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Welterweight Champ Errol Spence Jr. Is a Light in Dallas' Sports Darkness

Errol Spence Jr. worked on his footwork Tuesday.EXPAND
Errol Spence Jr. worked on his footwork Tuesday.
Stephen Young

Dallas' biggest sports story of 2018 isn't going to be the Cowboys. Jerry Jones isn't going to fire Jason Garrett, so his team won't escape mediocrity. It's not going to be the Mavs, who are still a couple of years away from competing in the NBA's loaded Western Conference, or the Rangers, who are in the early stages of a rebuild. The Stars are probably a playoff team, but they're too shaky defensively to make a deep run. Jordan Spieth is primed for another great year, but he's a victim of his consistency. It wouldn't be anything new.

The biggest sports story in Dallas in 2018 is going to be welterweight champion of the world Errol Spence Jr. — if the city's smart enough to pay attention.

During a workout in northwest Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Spence, who fought just once in 2017, said he hopes to fight three times in 2018, starting with the first defense of his International Boxing Federation world title on Jan. 20 against former champ Lamont Peterson. The fight against Peterson, which will air on Showtime a week from Saturday, is a stepping stone, albeit a potentially slippery one, to two huge fights later this year. Spence's trainer, Derrick James, said he isn't having any issues focusing on the fight at hand over what could happen during the rest of the year.

"For me, it's very easy," James said. "I don't even look at video of a fighter until a contract's been signed, whether it's Keith Thurman [Spence's rumored next opponent] or anybody else.  It's not real until it's really real."

Like his trainer, Spence said he respects Peterson's skills, citing his former sparring partner's heart as his best attribute as fighter, and that he's focused on next Saturday's bout.

"I know that Lamont Peterson's a dangerous fighter, and if I don't beat Lamont Peterson, I can't get those fights," Spence said. "It's one step at a time: If I beat Lamont Peterson, then those other fights can happen."

Those other fights, potentially, are two showdowns with boxers considered by many to be top 10 pound-for-pound athletes in the sport. With a win, Spence would be set up to fight Thurman, who, like Spence, is an undefeated welterweight title holder. The winner of that fight could get a pay-per-view showdown later in the year with Terence Crawford, the supremely talented junior welterweight champion who's looking to move up in weight.

Spence, 27, was born on Long Island in New York, but he moved to southwest Dallas County before he turned 2, eventually settling with his family in DeSoto. Fighting out of the Dallas area, which had only produced two world champions before Spence's knockout win over Kell Brook last year, is a source of pride, Spence said.

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"Dallas is a sports city. We have great athletes coming from Dallas. I want to be one of those great athletes and go down in history as a great athlete that comes from Dallas," he said.

Spence worked the heavy bag in front of the media Tuesday.EXPAND
Spence worked the heavy bag in front of the media Tuesday.
Stephen Young

As Spence went through his paces at the gym Tuesday, showing the quick feet and thumping left hand that have made the southpaw a budding star, it was easy to understand his easy confidence ahead of his first title defense. The biggest key to success against Peterson, he said, is finding his groove in the ring, just as he did working the heavy bag to a booming old-school hip-hop soundtrack.

"It'll be a success if I'm able to catch my rhythm," Spence said. "If I'm able to catch my rhythm, which I'm sure I will. Training camp's been going great. Sparring's been going great. I'm in tip-top shape. I feel like if my jab's working and everything's clicking ... it'll be a good fight, but it'll be relatively easy."

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