Pit bulls and video games keep Errol Spence Jr. grounded amid great expectations

Errol Spence Jr. has plenty of reasons to keep knocking dudes ironing board-flat in the ring: pride, bank and the desire to fulfill his considerable potential as a former Olympian, one who’s had boxing pundits fogging windows with hot talk about his future ever since he turned pro in 2012. That, and Rambo needs more room to roam.

Errol Spence Jr.

When not training for a fight, Errol Spence Jr. is just a regular guy who can beat you at NBA 2K.

A dog lover in addition to being arguably boxing’s top prospect, Spence is the proud owner of a pit bull named after a Sylvester Stallone-portrayed action hero fond of bowie knives and chest oils.

And then there’s Tyson, a massive 9-month-old Cane Corso that Spence expects to grow to be 150 pounds.

Hence, the need for a larger lawn.

“Hopefully, later on next year, I’m going to get a bigger backyard,” Spence says through a mild drawl that betrays his Texas origins. “Then, I can get more dogs.”

A few days before his next fight, against hard-nosed South African Chris van Heerden (23-1-1, 14 KOs) in Toronto on Friday night (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT), Spence is talking about how he decompresses from the pressure chamber of great expectations.

There’s his dogs, of course, and online video games with “The Dog.”

“I played Anthony Dirrell when I was an amateur, and he beat me in Madden,” says Spence, an avid gamer. “He just fought [last Sunday], so I know he’s going to have a lot of downtime. I’m going to catch up to him.”

This is who Errol Spence Jr. (17-0, 14 KOs) is: a man tabbed by some to be the future of the sport, but whose present is as down-to-earth as the canvas beneath his feet.

So many highly touted young fighters get ahead of themselves only to then fall behind the competition, blinded by the bright lights momentarily shined their way.

For Spence, though, any bluster is confined to briefly boasting about his NBA 2K skills.

“After training camp, after my fights, I just turn into a regular person, that’s what a lot of people fail to realize,” he says. “I like to just chill, play with my dogs, take them for walks.”

Spence’s words are telling: For him to say he turns into a regular 25-year-old following his fights is to imply that he’s not one leading up to them.

And he’s not alone in assessing as much.

Few fighters have been more hyped over the last three years than Spence, a blend of force and finesse, raw athleticism and highly refined technique who not only passes the eye test, he throws off the curve entirely.

He’s a prodigious talent and a quick study: Spence didn’t begin boxing until he was 15, a relative latecomer to a sport in which many guys are fighting long before puberty.

He got started out of boredom, at his father’s behest.

“It was summertime. I was laying around the house, doing nothing, and he wanted me to be active, do something productive,” recalls Spence, who was more into other sports at the time, namely basketball and football, where he played running back and safety. “One day he just told me to get ready, and the next thing you know, we were pulling up at a gym.”

Spence wasn’t into it at first. He didn’t like the rigorous, run-till-your-stomach-is-in-knots conditioning, and he got beat up during his first couple of sparring sessions.

That changed soon enough.

“Three or four weeks later, I was going to the gym every day,” he says. “I started beating the guys up who were beating me up.”

Spence has been on the fast track ever since, earning raves from the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., who Spence first sparred with in 2013, Sugar Ray Leonard and plenty of other notable figures within the sport.

Spence can appreciate their words, but he knows that they’re just that: words.

“A lot of guys feed off the fame or what people say about them, it’s kind of like a drug, but I don’t care about that,” he says. “I hear what people say, but I’m not going to take it to heart. I still have to prove people right with these high expectations of me. I’ve still got a job to do.”

Yeah, like feeding Rambo.

For full coverage of Spence vs Van Heerden, visit our fight page. 

Some #nationaldogday love for my bulls... my #pitbull Rambo & #canecorso Tyson. Gonna add a third soon.

A photo posted by Errol Spence Jr (@errolspencejr) on

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