The undefeated super welterweight is closing in on title contention but must first get past the toughest test of his career, Kevin Salgado Jr., in a battle of unbeatens Sunday, September 4 on FOX.
Joey Spencer's career nearly ended before it began.
Doesn’t seem like it considering that today, at just 22 years old, he’s 14-0 (10 KOs), a two-time PBC Prospect of the Year, and a soon-to-be contender in a crowded super welterweight division if he beats the undefeated Kelvin Salgado on Sunday, September 4.
All of that might not have happened if not for a fortunate twist of fate. Spencer was one of the world’s best amateurs, amassing a 90-10 record, winning nine national titles and being simultaneously ranked No. 1 in the country in two different weight classes.
Then, in 2017, the Minnesota native moved to California while nursing a left shoulder injury that required seeing a specialist over the summer. They discovered that he’d been boxing with a severely torn labrum for five years.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t even lift it. There was no more fighting for me unless I got it repaired,” Spencer recalled. “The surgeons (in Minnesota) misdiagnosed my problem, and if they would’ve repaired it the way they were going to, I would have been screwed up. I would’ve needed another surgery; I would’ve been off three years.”
In California, Spencer and his team connected with a physical therapist named Lisa, who had the credentials he was looking for to fix his ailment. It just so happens that she performed a similar procedure on Andre Ward, one of Spencer’s favorite fighters growing up.
“That was five years ago. My shoulder has been perfect ever since,” Spencer said. “I’d never planned to meet Andre out there, but (Lisa) surprised me. She had put in a word for me after I sparred with one of Virgil Hunter’s guys the next day at his Gym. We were supposed to leave that week. The next day, Verge called my dad and asked us to stay. It was just out of nowhere. I was supposed to go home. I was only 16; it was a no-brainer. So I lived basically the rest of my teenage years out there training and getting ready to turn pro.
“At that time, it was at its busiest when it was (Andre) Berto, (Amir) Khan, (Andrzej) Fonfara, and Kid Chocolate (Peter Quillin). Andre was fighting the (Sergey) Kovalev fights, and I got to just sit and be a fly on the wall for all those camps. Through that, Virgil hooked us up with Al Haymon, and the rest is history.”
Like many young fighters, Spencer gets routinely compared to any number of guys. As a Michigan native, he says he’s even been accused of trying to replicate Floyd Mayweather’s use of the shoulder roll. But the first two boxers he idolized were two he resembles with his all-business demeanor.
In a sport – really, a world – that continually emphasizes seemingly anything but the actual work, Spencer chooses to focus on the craft, depending on that to speak for his stardom. As a result, he’s been drawn to the aforementioned Ward, but there was another International Boxing Hall of Famer before him.
“Miguel Cotto was my first favorite fighter ever,” Spencer smiled. “If I’m tired, if I’m forgetting why I love the sport so much, I’ll go back and watch old Cotto fights that I watched growing up. It almost makes me emotional. He just had a spirit about him that was different.
“ I’m trying to break into the contender stages and put the division on notice. ” Undefeated Super Welterweight - Joey Spencer
“Andre Ward was my second favorite fighter. He did the Super Six around the time I was about 12 years old. And he had a big influence on me because he was a Christian, and I grew up in a Christian household. I looked up to him for that as much as the boxing. I wanted to be like him and the way that he carried himself.”
In a super welterweight class that features blue-chippers like 24-year-old WBC Interim Champion Sebastian Fundora and 21-year-old Jesus Ramos, Spencer believes that what separates him is his versatility.
“I really feel like the difference is that the fighters I fight in the division aren’t going to necessarily be able to prepare for the Joey that is coming to fight them on the specific night,” Spencer said.
“They all have different styles, but they’re all pretty consistent with the way that they fight. I feel like I can bring different styles to the ring depending on who I fight. That was the way that my dad trained me since I was a kid. He would force me to fight in different styles no matter what I wanted to do so that I’d be able to change it up depending on who I’m fighting.”
Up next is the toughest challenge of his career, a showdown versus Salgado in a 10-round showdown highlighting PBC action live on FOX and FOX Deportes (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
The fight will lead up to a stacked FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) headlined by the highly anticipated heavyweight clash between former unified heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and top contender Luis Ortiz meeting in a WBC Heavyweight Title Eliminator.
It’s a major opportunity for Spencer to shine on a big card.
“I’m trying to break into the contender stages and put the division on notice that I’ve arrived and I’m ready for those big fights, and I want those fights immediately after this fight,” Spencer said. “I think (Salgado) beat (Tony) Harrison. It was a close fight. So if I can go out there and make a statement against him and beat him in dominant fashion, then I feel like that puts me on a higher level.”
And if he wins, Spencer already has his next opponent in mind. “I personally think Tim Tszyu is a logical next fight for me if I what I want to and am preparing to do in this fight because we’re both kind of in a similar place. He’s probably a step further than I am. But at the same time, he’s kind of lobbying for a fight with (Jermell) Charlo. But I don’t really feel like he’s fully earned that yet. I feel like he’s got to fight someone else, so why not me?”
For a closer look at Joey Spencer, check out his fighter page.