Over the last two years, plenty has changed for Errol Spence Jr. outside of the ring.
On top of being a full-time fighter, the undefeated southpaw is now also a full-time father with two young daughters. Even while going through the rigors of training camp, he keeps his family close by, whether it’s feeding bottles to infant daughter Violet or doing push-ups in his living room with 18-month-old Ivy sitting on his back.
But not much has changed in the ring for Spence, except for the magnitude of his fights.
Just as he was already pegged as one of boxing’s future stars two years ago, the 2012 U.S. Olympian, nicknamed “The Truth,” has continued to live up to his moniker with a string of impressive knockout victories, including a sixth-round KO of Leonard Bundu last August before more than 6 million viewers on NBC.
But to go from rising star to established champion, the lifelong Dallas resident must take a big leap forward. In his first world title opportunity, Errol Spence Jr. (21-0, 18 KOs) is challenging Kell Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) on Saturday before 30,000 spectators at Bramall Lane outdoor soccer stadium in the champion’s hometown of Sheffield, England (Showtime, 5:15 p.m. ET/2:15 p.m. PT).
A victory would not only end Brook’s 2½-year reign as champion, it would launch Spence into worldwide stardom.
Before he flew across the Atlantic to finish his training camp in the United Kingdom, Spence took some time to talk about fighting in unfriendly territory, who's next on his hit list and how fatherhood has altered his lifestyle.
Going over to the U.K. for this fight, what do you expect to be the biggest obstacle you’re going to face?
Probably that he has home-field advantage. There will be 30,000 in the crowd and they’ll all be rooting for him, but I don’t see that as a disadvantage. In the amateurs, being in international competitions, I fought hometown guys and they had blowhorns and everything in the crowd. I have a little bit of experience with that, so it doesn’t bother me at all.
How do you stay focused in that type of environment with almost everyone in the stands against you?
I can’t worry about the crowd. It’s kind of going to be him fighting against the crowd, too. Fighting his emotions, they’re screaming his name, yelling for him and he wants to try hard to please his crowd, please his family and everyone who came to see him fight. I think there’s more pressure on him than there is on me.
What’s the best thing Kell Brook brings to the table as an opponent?
The best thing Kell Brook brings is his size. He’s a big welterweight, and I’m a big welterweight, too. I don’t think we’re used to fighting somebody the same size as us. His jab, too. He’s got a good jab and good fundamentals. And he can hold well, too.
Over the last couple of years, you’ve been labeled as “the most avoided welterweight contender.” If you beat Brook, how do you plan to approach getting fights with the other top guys in the division?
I think I can really press the gas now if I win this fight because I’ll be proven. I’ll have fought a guy in his hometown in the U.K., which is a place where everyone knows there are hardcore fans who will be yelling and screaming for this guy. I’ll have fought a big guy in his hometown and have beat him. I’ll have all the advantage because I’ll have proven myself to be a top-five fighter.
If you win this fight, what are three fights in the welterweight division you really want after this one?
The top three fights I’d want are Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao and Danny Garcia. Keith Thurman has two of the belts, and he beat Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, so he’s the No. 1 guy in the division right now.
Manny Pacquiao is a legend, a Hall of Famer. He’s the best fighter in this era except for Floyd Mayweather. He has a great name. And Danny Garcia, he’s only been beat once, by Keith Thurman, and he has a big name, too.
“ There will be 30,000 in the crowd and they’ll all be rooting for him, but ... I fought hometown guys [in international amateur events], so it doesn’t bother me at all. ” Errol Spence Jr., on challenging Kell Brook for his 147-pound world title in England
You’re a bit of a boxing historian. Looking back, of all the guys in or around your weight class, what’s one fight that would be your dream fight?
My dream fight of all time would probably be either Terry Norris or Sugar Ray Leonard. Those are the guys I looked up to. Sugar Ray, I look up to him for the way he went about things inside and outside of the ring. He’s still established now, still has his money and people are still asking for him. Terry Norris was one of my favorite fighters style-wise.
You fought on NBC multiple times in 2015 and 2016 with Sugar Ray Leonard calling the action. What advice did he give you in your interactions with him during those fight weeks?
He just told me to be me. He told me to stay clean-shaven. I had a beard one time, and he said “Man, cut that off. It’ll run off a lot of sponsors.” He was talking about being a crossover athlete to get endorsements and becoming the megastar you want to be. That’s the best advice he gave me.
What’s the toughest thing for you to sacrifice during camp?
The toughest thing for me to give up is probably the same as every boxer—it’s food. I’m still eating in camp, but I always want to eat bigger portions or eat late at night. I want to go and get a burger, some fries or eat at Wingstop, but I can’t do that. I’ve got to eat baked food, grilled food, no seasoning, no salt.
You’re a master on the grill, from what we hear. What’s your specialty?
My specialty on the grill is fish. I eat a lot of fish—salmon, red fish, all of it. I don’t eat the traditional filet. I eat the whole fish, with the head on there, the tail, the eyes, everything.
How has your camp life changed with two young daughters in the house?
With my little girl (18-month-old Ivy), I have to hide just to get some rest. I have to go in the other room upstairs, I have to creep around the house in the morning because she’ll wake up, pop out of bed and follow me everywhere. I don’t really get that much peace of mind unless I go off and hide and do my own thing, and not let her know that I’m there.
How does being a father now motivate you, though, when you lock down to train for a fight?
They’re who I do it for. They eat whatever they want, they have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs. It’s a constant reminder. If I’m sore, or I don’t want to go work out or don’t want to go run, just looking at them and seeing how comfortable they are, it makes me grind harder.
When you’re not in the gym during camp, how do you usually spend your downtime?
I’m either playing video games or watching TV. Right now, I’m watching Vikings. The Walking Dead is my favorite show; I watch a lot of AMC. I’m waiting for Game of Thrones to come back on, too.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you that would probably surprise them?
I thought it was weird that I watched the Food Network a lot, but then when I searched it on Twitter, I found out that a lot of guys watch it. So I really don’t know. I kind of torture myself with it. I watch it all the time during camp.
So what will be your first meal after this fight?
Hopefully, it’ll be a burger with cheese on it, some garlic fries, some seasoning and salt, and a soda.
What do you have planned for yourself after this fight?
Probably go get some peace of mind. Go to Jamaica, somewhere like that, or just go chill on the beach for a week or two. That’s about it.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: 175-pound world title challenger Andrzej Fonfara.