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  • Are we about to see the dawn of the next great welterweight era? The division is loaded and the future is stunningly bright for its biggest star.
By Greg Bishop
September 26, 2019

It’s fair to look at welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. and see both the future of boxing and its next pound-for-pound king. Spence might be that already. He’s at least in the discussion, up there with Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko. He’s 29 years old, in his prime and undefeated. He has registered 21 knockouts in 25 pro fights, all of which have built to now, to a career charting upward with what appears to be the highest potential ceiling.

What’s different about Spence compared to those other candidates is the sheer number of opponents who can help him solidify his claim. That starts on Saturday at the Staples Center, where Spence will face Shawn Porter in a welterweight unification bout on FOX Sports PPV. Should Spence retain his IBF title and snag Porter’s WBC belt, he'll have an abundance of options, and they're all all favorable. Manny Pacquiao. Danny Garcia. Keith Thurman. Hopefully, even Crawford, and the sooner the better. “I still have a lot of work to do,” Spence said in a recent phone call. “But that’s what I want. No other options. Just me.”

Spence turned pro in 2012, and so many of his bouts ended in early knockouts that he rose faster than he ever could have anticipated. In May 2017, he stopped once-beaten Kell Brook to win his first world title, only five years in. Since then, he has defended the belt three times, topping the always game Lamont Peterson, the overmatched Carlos Ocampo and the undersized Mikey Garcia. They fought at palatial AT&T Stadium, cementing Spence’s status as a rising star.

The question, moving forward, is whether Saturday’s bout will mark the dawn of the next great welterweight era, the start of something like what happened in the 1980s with Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran. (Or even the 2000s, with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and so many others.) Spence is familiar with his history. He has watched as many welterweight wars as he could find on YouTube. He cites Terry Norris and Roy Jones Jr. as boxers he respected growing up, because they fought anyone at any time. He realizes what is possible for him in the modern boxing landscape—which is to say, as much as there is for anyone.

Spence’s handlers would like for his next few years to resemble Leonard’s incredible three-year stretch from 1979-81. The modern version, anyway. Leonard fought 16 times in that span, winning 15 bouts, topping Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez, losing only to Duran in their first meeting.

That was boxing back then, before all the alphabet soup belts and champions who decided two fights a year was more than enough. Can’t blame them. The extra belts and lack of risk made a few boxers a ton of money. But that shift didn’t do much for boxing, for unification bouts or for the sport’s mainstream popularity. Like now, Crawford-Spence ranks among the best potential fights in boxing, and it’s probably a year or two away, at best.

That said, Spence possesses the most options of anyone outside of boxing’s renewed heavyweight division, which means his path to pound-for-pound supremacy is the most clear. Eventually, he believes he will move up to 154 pounds, but for the near future, he can entertain opponents in both divisions, which are both well stocked with challengers. “You see Pacquiao fight Thurman, then me and Shawn, then me and Pacquiao next,” Spence says. Asked if that’s his preference or his plan, he says he’s not exactly sure. But it makes sense, except maybe for Pacquiao.

Say Spence beats Porter, then beats Pacquiao, then beats Thurman or Garcia or both. Then there will be too much money at stake not to make the Crawford fight. Should Spence beat all four of those champions, he’ll have finished one of the more remarkable runs in the welterweight division. This being boxing, of course, that is a big if, both because of the quality of opposition and the machinations sure to slow any progress on negotiations for a Crawford fight.

Either way, Spence believes the time for ascendance is over. It’s time to win fighter of the year awards, win fight of the year awards; time to unify at 147 and move up; time to confront Crawford where it actually matters, in the ring. But all that starts on Saturday, in the PPV with Porter, who not only can boast of 30 victories, 17 knockouts and a suffocating fight style, but who also described Spence as unchallenged and arrogant in the lead up.

If you like boxing, pay attention. This bout could be the start of something that will be remembered, the moment when the Errol Spence Jr. era officially began.

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