Punching power is the one skill that separates the very good from the great in boxing. The ability to finish a fight with one or two shots makes the inevitable off-night every fighter will face a lot easier to handle.
There are few better punchers in the sport than Errol Spence Jr., who on Saturday in Dallas defends his IBF welterweight title against Carlos Ocampo in a bout televised on Showtime.
Spence is in a neck-and-neck race with WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford and WBC lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko for supremacy as boxing’s pound-for-pound best.
Crawford was brilliant last week in a ninth-round stoppage of Jeff Horn in Las Vegas, and that pleased Spence to no end. A Crawford-Spence match would be a modern-day equivalent of Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns. Though with nearly all fights in boxing now, when they’re not with the same promoter or the same television network — these two aren’t — it would be wise not to bet your life’s savings on it being made.
That said, Crawford and Spence have indicated they want to fight each other, when the fighters are adamant about a particular match, the business details often just take care of themselves.
This isn’t a fight to expect any time soon. Spence knows how big it can be, but it has to be built by growing the potential audience. Neither are household names yet, despite their enormous talents, and a loss or poor performance by either would remove at least some of the luster from it.
Crawford kept up his end of the bargain last week, out-boxing Horn and stopping him in nine one-sided rounds. Now it’s up to Spence to hold up his end of the bargain and beat Ocampo.
After Crawford did his thing, it’s up to Spence to reciprocate and put on a jaw-dropping performance against the unheralded Ocampo. He gets it, too.
“Everybody wants to talk to me about this fight or that fight or Crawford or someone else, and I get that,” Spence said. “But the reality of this is, I’m fighting Ocampo and if I lose my focus against him and slip up, all of that other talk means nothing.
“Ocampo is going to come to fight. I know he wants this badly. This is his one shot. So he’s going to be at his best and I have to be ready for that.”
Spence should win handily, but he’s right to shove aside the Crawford distractions until after the fight, when he can more easily consider them without taking a shot to the face from Ocampo as a result.
That’s where Spence’s power comes in, as well. He’s a great body puncher, and goes to the body early and often in a fight. When a fighter who hits as hard as Spence does goes to the body as frequently as he does, it often makes the opponent’s desire wilt.
Spence has recorded 10 consecutive stoppages and 13 in his last 14 bouts. He fixates on becoming the best boxer he can be, but knows that having that power he can turn to is a tool that can change the tide of a fight in an instant.
“Being able to punch and get a knockout, it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Spence said. “It’s a good thing to have that ability to hurt your opponent or force him to fight differently because he’s thinking about that power. It’s just a plus to have it.”
Crawford has that power, as well, though not nearly like Spence does. Spence admitted to being impressed by Crawford’s performance, but said he did as expected. Spence wasn’t particularly impressed by anything Spence did.
From that standpoint, it was easy for Crawford to look good, in Spence’s opinion.
“Jeff Horn is a good fighter, but he has limited abilities and he’s a guy who rushes in with his head down,” Spence said. “Crawford looked good in doing what he had to do, and congratulations to him for that.
“I hope the fans were impressed by him. If they keep being impressed by him and they’re impressed by what I do, that will make our fight bigger when it eventually happens. So I want people to say they like what they saw from him, because it only helps me.”
Assuming, of course, they both keep winning in the interim.
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