DeSoto's Errol Spence Jr. is in a tough spot. Saturday night, the IBF welterweight champion of the world will take the long walk from one of AT&T Stadium's locker rooms to the stadium's 50-yard line before stepping into the ring for the biggest fight of his life. Spence is 24-0 in his professional career with 21 knockouts. Depending on the sportsbook, he's about a 4-1 favorite over his opponent, Mikey Garcia. Spence will have a vociferous home crowd behind him when the opening bell sounds on his first fight as a pay-per-view headliner.
So why is he in a tough spot?
Garcia, 39-0 in his own right, is taking all the risk this weekend. He's won world titles in four weight classes, all the way from featherweight (126 pounds) to super lightweight (140). At this point in his career, Garcia is probably best suited to fight at 135 pounds (lightweight).
Nevertheless, he's moving all the way up to the 147-pound welterweight division to take on Spence, one of the hardest punchers, pound for pound, in boxing. A Garcia upset would be momentous. Lasting all 12 scheduled rounds would be a moral victory for Garcia, even if Spence ekes out a decision.
Throughout his career, Spence has taken down every obstacle in front of him. He made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, the crowning achievement for any amateur boxer, and won his title by traveling to opponent Kell Brook's hometown in England before scoring an 11th-round knockout. In his first title defense, Spence forced former two-division world champion Lamont Peterson to quit on his stool after the seventh round. In his second, Spence sold out The Star in Frisco before subduing his undefeated challenger, Carlos Ocampo, with a first-round body shot.
To follow the trajectory he's set for himself, Spence has to knock Garcia out and make him look bad for stepping up in weight to challenge him. In order to do that, Spence, a tremendous body puncher, will need to work Garcia to the body throughout the fight to negate Garcia's speed and movement. The more Spence can fight Garcia on the inside and avoid the trap of trying to out-box, rather than out-punch, the smaller man, the better.
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Spence's best attributes, in addition to his outstanding power in both hands, are his fundamentals. He doesn't dance out of the way of incoming punches, he slips out of the way with superior footwork. It looks effortless, and it helps Spence conserve energy for turning offense into defense, which he does with aplomb.
Unless Garcia is perfect defensively, it's going to be hard for him to take punches from Spence for eight rounds, much less 12. The longer the fight goes, the more vulnerable Garcia's going to be to getting caught by a clean shot, something he can't afford if he hopes to end the bout on his feet. Spence, on the other hand, has shown no signs in his professional career that he can't take the best shot from a fighter like Garcia and keep coming.
A Spence victory Saturday night sets him up to clean out the welterweight division over the next two years. Manny Pacquiao, still around and still talented at 40, sticks out as a potential opponent this summer, ahead of a likely unification fight between Spence and WBC titlist Shawn Porter in late 2019 or early '20. If Spence can get his hands on at least two belts, it might be enough to overcome the promotional difference keeping him and Terrance Crawford apart. Spence vs. Crawford would be a matchup of two of the best welterweights of the last decade, a true "super fight."
Any chance of it happening starts with a knockout tomorrow night.