Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/GETTY
Going into Saturday night’s bout between IBF Welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr and Mikey Garcia, there were two main narratives that were dominating the majority of social media debates and boxing journalism. Namely, the size and strength of Errol Spence would be too much for Mikey Garcia and that he “had to win” being the bigger man and that Mikey Garcia would ascend to #1 pound for pound should he win and capture what would be his 5th title in as many weight classes.
No one including myself could have foreseen the plot twist that went down last night.
Errol Spence Jr comprehensively outboxed, outworked and out thought Mikey Garcia for nearly every minute of all 12 rounds. He made it look easy in fact.
The scores were credibly wide. Two judges (Alex Levin & Nelson Vazquez scored the bout 120-108; Spence) & Glenn Feldman hung a 10-8 round on Mikey (the 11th) scoring the fight 120-107; Spence. I don’t like to get into the minutiae of punch stats as they don’t often tell the full story of a fight, here though they offer corroborating evidence supporting how masterful Errol Spence’s performance was. Dominating every metric: Spence threw 1,082 punches, landed 345 for 32% versus Mikey only getting off 406 for an average of four punches/round and only landed 75 punches for 18% an anaemic 6 punches/round.
Like many I cast Spence in the role of Slugger, I said he was there to be hit (if you look at the Kell Brook fight, his first step up, he was) Mikey was there to play the role of the boxer-puncher. It would be a classic case of Bull vs Matador. We could not have been more wrong. It’s though we forgot that Spence is an extremely accomplished boxer in his own right with numerous amateur accolades.
The first round was cagey, as one would expect, however, I gave Spence the first round based on forward movement, ring control and being busier overall. I expected a fairly fast start and Mikey to give away the first few rounds to download the data necessary to combat the champion. What I was watching was the reverse.
Spence starting tentatively to gain the measure of his foe and the tenor and tone of the proceedings would follow the precedent of the first. Mikey nicked the second round but it was all Spence all the time thereafter.
The cornerstone of the strategy seemed to be to out jab Mikey to begin with, no easy feat and seems obvious, after all on paper Spence has a five-inch reach advantage, not that he uses his jab much as he loves to work inside. Credit to Spence’s trainer Derrick James who harped on Spence to keep his composure and keep that stick in Mikey’s face. Next, there was the footwork and distance management which was nothing short of masterful. Most believed that if Spence would win it would be due to bullying physicality not due to near inch perfect ring generalship, Spence did the classic “stick and move” he landed 1-2s behind the jab seemingly at will and got out of dodge, Spence was never there to absorb anything of substance or much at all. Mikey’s hands were either at home defending the voluminous attack and/or Spence was dipping out to avoid Mikey’s one true chance - the counter punch and the numbers support this attestation.
The very fact that Spence didn’t have to be the bully is more impressive than had he sparked Mikey in two rounds.
I’d compare it to Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux from December 2017. Two well-regarded fighters at or near the top pound for pound. One bigger (Loma) one smaller yet considered more skilled (Rigo). In that case too the “bigger man” Lomachenko never tried nor needed to impose himself physically on Rigo, it was Rigo who attempted to grab, hold, wrestle and brawl. He was shown that night to be a class below Lomachenko for whom he had no answer for. So too, Errol Spence Jr never relied on his purported size advantage to beat Mikey Garcia, he didn’t need to.
To Mikey’s credit, he hung tough despite being dominated and avoided - narrowly - being pulled out after the 9th by his brother and head trainer Robert and 11th round where ref John Schorle was taking a close look. I initially thought that a lopsided loss for Mikey would damage his brand but I miscalculated, the crowd at Castle Jerry Jones was rocking for both fighters and the Mexican & Mexican-American fan base is the spine of all boxing fandom and they are generally fiercely loyal to their favourite fighters.
Mikey was however exposed to a degree, though he is a world class fighter to his core, I have been very critical in the past of him due to the fact that he’s been the beneficiary of some favourable matchmaking since his return to the sport. Those ‘easier’ matchups didn’t challenge Mikey enough and the gears he brought with him to face Spence were not high enough. One last observation is Mikey looked puffy and soft even at 147 pounds. Aside from the political roadblocks prohibiting any future bout between Lomachenko and himself at Lightweight where Mikey still holds the WBC title, I simply don’t see Mikey being able to make 135 pounds anymore. That does leave possibilities at 147 pounds though for Mikey, like Danny Garcia or even challenging Shawn Porter. The point is, Mikey Garcia will very likely win his sought after fifth division title - it just won’t be from defeating Errol Spence or Bud Crawford.
That brings me to Errol Spence Jr. Previously I stated Spence was 2-3 years away from being ready to face Terence Crawford. That’s a fight that deserves 2-3 years of build-up, however, I no longer object to Spence challenging Crawford based on a lack of skill or experience, after last night I believe Spence is ready and I only thirst more for that bout now not less! Again though, Spence is a PBC/Showtime fighter and Crawford is a tent pole fighter for Top Rank/ESPN. So hell will have to freeze over for this fight to ever happen nevermind within the next three possibly five years and that’s sad.
What already seems to be on the menu for Errol Spence Jr is living legend and WBA ‘regular’ champion Manny Pacquiao who was in attendance last night and expressed interest in fighting the winner. It’s a win-win for Spence - he gets to unify titles and add another major scalp to his resume, PBC keeps everything ‘in house’ as well. The big loser in that one is Manny Pacquiao. Though he’s resurgent, seeming to turn back time does anyone really favour a 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao against Spence especially after what we saw last night?
Errol Spence Jr has punched his ticket to the top 5 pound for pound list, I have no problem with anyone who places him there. He utterly schooled a four-division champion, one whom many believed was more skilled.
We are in a moment in time in boxing where fighters are labelled a pound for pound great with little critical thinking…
What a relief then, to see a fighter who deserves it.