When Errol Spence Jr. returns to the ring April 16, the 147-pound contender will have plenty of familiar faces in his corner at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
That’s because the 26-year-old resident of Desoto, Texas, was born in New York, where much of his family remains. A lot of that family invaded Barclays Center nearly a year ago when Spence stopped Samuel Vargas in the fourth round.
Spence (19-0, 16 KOs) expects similar support when he returns to Barclays to face Chris Algieri (21-2, 8 KOs) in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT). No doubt Spence will take all the family backing he can get, especially since Algieri figures to draw a large contingent from his nearby hometown of Huntington, New York.
“The arena’s going to be packed with a lot of my fans and a lot of my family,” Spence says. “Being that he’s from New York, Chris Algieri’s going to have a lot of friends and family there, too, but I think I’m going to have as many fans as he will.”
One of Spence’s New York-based relatives won’t be in the arena, though: His 91-year-old paternal grandmother, Ivey, simply refuses to watch her grandson fight.
“She doesn’t like violence, and she not only feels for Errol, but she feels for the other guys,” says Errol Spence Sr., who is among nine children born to Ivey and Carlton Spence, moving with her to New York from Jamaica when he was 15.
Although Ivey Spence doesn’t particularly care for boxing, she’s nonetheless tangentially responsible for her grandson’s success in the ring. Errol Spence Jr. is regarded as one of the hardest-working and most dedicated young fighters in the game, traits that were funneled down from his grandparents to his parents to him.
“The way my father was raised has everything to do with the way that I approach boxing and life,” says Spence, who is widely considered to be the eventual heir apparent to retired legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. “My grandparents worked hard, and I never got anything for free or without working for it. … So that attitude became automatic in me.
“My grandparents passed that structure to my dad, and he planted it within me. So growing up with the lessons they taught me, that helps me today in the way that I carry myself.”
“ Being around my daughter and having her in my life motivates me to work harder. I’m not just disappointing myself if I don’t work hard, I’m disappointing her, too. ” Errol Spence Jr.
Spence’s foundation of focus was further emboldened by the recent birth of his daughter, Ivey, who is 4 months old and was named in honor of his grandmother.
“Now you have this huge responsibility, and you have to take it on,” Spence says. “I’m not just fighting for myself now; I’m fighting to put food on the table and to take care of her, as well.
“Being around her and having her in my life motivates me to work harder. I’m not just disappointing myself if I don’t work hard, I’m disappointing her, too. I’m twice as motivated as I was before.”
That’s quite a statement, given Spence’s meteoric rise up the 147-pound ranks. In 2015 alone, Spence scored stoppage victories over a quartet of opponents—Vargas, Phil Lo Greco, Chris van Heerden and Alejandro Barrera—who entered the ring with a combined 97-5-1 record and zero knockout losses.
Now he’ll take a big step up in class, as Algieri has enjoyed a stellar career with the exception of an ugly loss to superstar Manny Pacquiao. Algieri won his first 20 fights, capped by an upset of 140-pound champion Ruslan Provodnikov in June 2014 at Barclays. In that bout, Algieri overcame two first-round knockdowns as well as a right eye that was nearly closed shut to earn a dramatic split-decision victory and claim the world title.
He followed that with the six-knockdown loss to Pacquiao, then made his 147-pound debut last May against former 140-pound titleholder Amir Khan, fighting valiantly but losing a close unanimous decision at Barclays. He returned to the venue in December for the third time in four bouts and defeated Erick Bone by 10-round unanimous decision.
Spence understands the test that awaits him against Algieri, yet nevertheless hopes to come full circle in front of his family by scoring a knockout similar to that against the previously once-beaten Vargas.
“I believe that I’m one of the top talents in the sport,” says Spence, who moved to Texas as a 2-year-old with his parents. “But I have something to prove, and I have to prove myself in this fight.
“Going from prospect to contender is a leap, but you have to go through it. There’s a lot expected from me. There are a lot of questions that need answering. This is what I have to do to get into that top-five level.”
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