- Errol Spence Jr. and Yordenis Ugas fight in a three-belt world title match Saturday.
- It is only Spence’s second fight in three years as he’s had to recover from two freak accidents.
- It’s a long way back to the ring when you have to walk that road of recovery twice.
It’s been a long way back for one of America’s top boxers Errol Spence Jr. — but it’s a road he’s walked twice already.
Spence is a fighter. One of the very best.
And despite a car crash that could have cost him his life, and a retina injury that could have cost him his vision in that eye, Spence has shown an intestinal fortitude that has surprised even his trainer Derrick James.
Coach James always knew Spence had that burning desire to be great, but the mental strength he’s shown to fight his way back from a Ferrari wreckage, and a freak sparring injury, has been something else, he told Insider recently.
Regarding the 2019 car accident, James said he initially did not care if Spence could ever box again. “I wasn’t concerned about that,” he told us. “I just wanted him to be right. That’s really all it was.”
The unified super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo, another James student, was desperate to see Spence in the hospital. He’d call James and ask when he could see his friend.
And so when Spence was finally able to get back in the gym, and reunite with James and Charlo, things began looking up once again. “It was dope,” Spence said.
But James’ gym isn’t a place for clowning around. It’s a place to work, to grind. It’s a place to eliminate bad habits and fine-tune your assets.
“Derrick was just watching me close and making sure everything was in tact — my reflexes, my response to slipping punches and shots he threw. He could see how my body was responding, and I was getting back to 100%.”
Spence was happy to be with Jermell once again, who seemed relieved that Spence was walking, talking, and acting the same.
“Jermell is a bit like a brother,” Spence said. “So he was seeing if I was right. It was a warm welcome.”
The work, though, was slow as James wanted to ensure that, when he did get back into a boxing ring, it was with the same ability and intensity than before the accident.
The road back is long when you have to walk it twice
Spence was ejected from his supercar — which flipped multiple times — in October, 2019.
He did not fight again until 14 months later, when he out-pointed Danny Garcia at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on December 5, 2020.
He returns to the same venue Saturday to fight Yordenis Ugas — another 16 months since he beat Garcia.
This time, his return to the ring was delayed because of an eye injury. It was an injury that could have slipped through the net, and cost the fighter his vision in that eye had it not been for a routine check in Nevada.
“Had he not have went, we’d never have caught it,” James told Insider. “Life’s all about timing, and we were able to find out what it was.”
Spence told Boxing Scene that, had he fought Manny Pacquiao as scheduled while his retina had detached, he’d likely have lost and his career would have been compromised.
But when it came to his recoveries from both the car accident and the eye injury, he never once expressed a concern to James that his fighting career may not be the same. “He’s never talked to me like that,” James said.
The road has been long, but they were always sure they’d get back to this point. That is: Another stadium fight, another pay-per-view, and another top-tier opponent.
Spence is at home on his ranch
Spence spent his recovery maximizing the time he could spend with his family and his animals.
He’d wake up, take his oldest and middle child to school, and then return home with his littlest one where they’d check their chicken coop, collect eggs, and let the chickens out to play.
They’d feed their eight horses and hang out with ‘Lil Mama,’ Spence’s favorite horse as she happily trots up to the family whenever they want to say hello.
Spence would then pick his schoolkids up and sees it as his fatherly duty to ensure they do the opposite of what he does. He’d rather his daughters become heart surgeons rather than fight for a living.
Spence and James have grown together as boxer and teacher for years. But despite training for so long, and knowing each other so well, Spence still surprises his coach.
“I learned more about his fortitude and how hard he fought to get back,” James said, reflecting on his recoveries in recent years.
“That’s not to say I didn’t know he had it in him but he showed it even more. He’s very resilient and it was dope to watch.”
Boxing’s biggest fight awaits Spence, providing he defeats Ugas
Whisper it quietly but, after years of fan demand, a mega-match involving Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford could be on the horizon.
The stakes are therefore high Saturday night, as Ugas has the ability to wreck that world by upsetting Spence and claiming the Crawford fight as his own.
Spence has received criticism as he’s not fought Crawford yet. And haters seem to overlook the fact that he’s still been collecting impressive wins, and is in the process of clearing out a division should he keep on winning.
“They’re not acknowledging it because it’s not being done how they want it to be done,” James said of the criticism.
“How asinine would it be for him and Terence Crawford to fight, when Errol has one more belt to get after their fight. It’s crazy. How does that make sense?
“For a fight like that, it should be for the undisputed title. Not, fight for that title and then you have to fight someone else for undisputed. The request of the people … it’s asinine.
“Would it take away the magnitude of the fight? Yeah. You have two great competitors fighting for the unified title of the world. Or, you have this guy fighting that guy for undisputed. Those are two different things. It’s a bigger fight,” said James. “A bigger everything.”
The way James talks, it’s like the Crawford fight could arrive sooner rather than later.
“I’m not the matchmaker or the promoter,” he told us. “I’m just the trainer. I’m not saying that is what it is. The people are requesting something that doesn’t make sense, even if it’s what the fighters want. That’s all I’m basically saying.”
Spence doesn’t take the criticism to heart. “It’s always been like that,” he told Insider, citing Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“It’s never been about what’s going on right now, or in the present day. It’s always what everybody else wants. I can’t really just worry about [that]. I’m just doing what I’m doing and, hopefully, you’ll appreciate it when I retire.”
There’s a lot to appreciate already, though.
Few fighters get to headline massive events inside tens of thousands of fans at football venues like the Cowboys Stadium.
“It’s so difficult to get to this point,” James said. “It’s astronomically impossible to get to this point, to be the unified champ, and to do what we’re doing. It’s unbelievable. I could never have imagined this.
“There’s a lot of people who say what they want to do but few go out and do it,” said James. “So when I see him as the man he is, I’m very proud of him.
“For me, I’m just very fortunate to be the man who gets to fulfill his dreams and aspirations. I’m a part of that, happy with that.
“But the moments you start looking behind you and patting your own back, is the moment you fall behind. I don’t celebrate, party, or celebrate victories. I’ll do that when I retire.
“I’m just happy, man, being with the PBC and Al Haymon. I’m happy for that, and I’m happy for Errol,” he said.
“I couldn’t dream this great. As as kid, from the inner city, the projects, I couldn’t dream to be able to have a fighter in a fight at the Cowboys Stadium. So, it can’t be a dream come true because my dreams weren’t that great. My mind could never think of something like that that could happen.”
James continued: “This is a phenomenal fight and we’re going to see two good, tough and rough guys, very disciplined guys, hungry guys, going after one thing in particular — and that’s to be great. It’s going to be a dynamite fight.”
It’s one James expects Spence to win. “He’s cleaning out the division.”