Spence rolls in the waiting game

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By Jimmy Tobin-

Errol “The Truth” Spence made the first defense of his welterweight trinket at Barclays Center in Brooklyn Saturday night, comprehensively battering Lamont “Havoc” Peterson until Peterson’s trainer Barry Hunter could offer only what he has always offered his fighter: compassion. After seven rounds, with Peterson lost for answers and looking for the one opportunity he dare not request, Hunter waved responsibly his white towel.

So ended what was always going to be an easy first defense for a fighter who wanted anything but. Fights of the magnitude Spence desires (and is there any reason to doubt him?) require the type of opponents PBC practices have long discouraged such opponents from taking. Eight months have passed since Spence travelled to Sheffield and made a repeat capitulant of Kell Brook. That may be an acceptable amount of time to secure a unification fight, something at least with a whiff of intrigue, but it is months too long a wait for a conclusion both arbitrary and foregone. Peterson has a name, yes, is endearing in both style and character, but had done nothing in his career to suggest he might trouble if not the best welterweight on the planet, the best threat to the bearer of that distinction. One fight in two years is hardly sound preparation for such a challenge.

Dogged, fearless as he may be—and he is both in charming amount—Peterson was there to be run over by Spence and run over he was. A slow starter who acclimatizes to opponents behind a wide stance and a high guard is unlikely to prosper against Spence, who works without any consideration for his opponent’s pace. Peterson paid dearly for what he gleaned of Spence’s attack; there was no parsing, no rejoinder, just a man who crumpled further in the rounds he expected to compete in. When Peterson turned up his aggression Spence varied his assault. To his headlong abuse he added a more elusive, mobile, yet no less destructive attack, countering Peterson and cracking him at angles. This wrinkle served as testament to Spence’s versatility and willingness to listen to trainer, Derrick James. These are qualities that will serve Spence when something more daunting than the eye-test awaits.

If there was some solace in watching Peterson teeter ominously under even the punches he blocked it was that Hunter did not wait long to begin the conversation that would end the fight. It says very little about the matchup that that dialogue started as early as it did, but it speaks volumes about what Peterson means to Hunter. And if that is romanticizing the cruelest sport so be it. A sport that is propelled by what-ifs and glorifies sacrifice has room for such idealizing.

Idealizing extends also to who is next for Spence, though perhaps it is too early in the new year to issue loaded questions—especially in this column, which has resolved to gripe less about a sport that can be discarded easily for alternative entertainment, a sport that will always—if not quite frequently—deliver thrills however long the doldrums in between.

Besides, Spence, at least for now, resides in the unique position of being compelling regardless of opponent. Such an assessment is a criticism of his opposition, otherwise the emphasis would not be on what Spence does in the ring but who he does it to. That such a criticism can be issued one fight removed from his breaking Brook speaks to the penalty of inactivity, yes, but also to how very good Spence is. For any other welterweight a win over Brook would make a victory lap tolerable.

Such grace periods should be short-lived, of course, and it is hard to imagine Spence devouring a pablum diet remains compelling for more than another fight or two. But that soft stretch shouldn’t persist any longer than that. Keith Thurman, the object of Spence’s obsession for years, will return to the ring eventually, and Spence will be waiting, unlikely as he is to be unmade by anyone willing (or allowed) to fight him until then. The financial realities of the PBC are such that the Thurman fight should be delayed only as long as it takes for “One Time” to return. Despite his inactivity, Thurman has never shied from taking a stern challenge after a long layoff (so make what you will of any shuffling of his feet where Spence is concerned). If Thurman is more professional boxer than fighter, and there is some evidence that he is, Spence will show it, titles will change hands, and the what-if that really follows Spence will loom greater than before.

Because what it takes to diffuse Spence doesn’t appear to be a semi-active, uninspired pseudo-puncher with the unfortunate habits of both relying on his legs for defense and wilting from body punches. Rather, Spence’s nemesis is more likely to be a fighter who can fight him as a fellow southpaw, one whose power is predicated primarily on accuracy and timing, who can fight coming forward or backing up; a fighter with the intelligence to put himself in the position to win, and the malice to deliver a victory once poised for it. Incredibly, that fighter exists, and he too is running out of suitable opponents. There are significant obstacles between the two, of course, but this is the sport of what-ifs, right?

So fuck it, let’s make it explicit: Errol Spence-Terence Crawford. What if?

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