Phil Lo Greco sucked in a deep, futile breath, looking like he didn’t know what just hit him, even though the brute behind said blow was standing right in front of him, poised to deliver plenty more.
It was Round 3 of Lo Greco’s brief, brutal clash with Errol Spence Jr. in June, the latter bringing enough heat to rival the Las Vegas summer sizzling outside the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the fight took place.
Lo Greco had just been dropped by a right hand that crashed through him like a bulldozer razing a condemned house.
He’d beat the count, a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one, only to be bludgeoned for another 60 seconds or so until referee Robert Byrd stepped in and saved Lo Greco from himself, waving off the fight.
And so it went for Errol Spence Jr. in 2015: He fought four times, going a total of just 20 rounds as he stopped every fighter who climbed into the ring with him. For his outstanding performance, the editors of PremierBoxingChampions.com have selected Spence as the PBC Rising Star of the Year (The PBC broadcast teams also picked Spence.)
In April, Spence gave Samuel Vargas a beating just as unsightly as the Colombian tough guy’s garish, homemade-looking tattoos, landing 100 more punches than his outgunned opponent en route to a fourth-round TKO.
Following the Lo Greco beatdown came a September savaging of trash-talking Aussie Chris Van Heerden, who barked like a dingo but was reduced to a poodle in the ring.
Spence (19-0, 16 KOs) finished his 2015 campaign in November by finishing Alejandro Barrera at The Bomb Factory in Dallas, his fists ensuring that the venue lived up to its name on the day of the bout.
Through it all, Spence broke down one fighter after the next while seldom appearing to break much of a sweat.
It was business as usual for an unusual talent.
Ever since Spence turned pro in 2012, the former U.S. Olympian has been saddled with expectations as outsize as his native Texas.
When he had but three pro bouts under his belt, Spence was recruited by Floyd Mayweather Jr. to serve as a southpaw sparring opponent to help him get ready to face lefty Robert Guerrero in 2013.
Spence acquitted himself so well against Mayweather that the 147-pound kingpin has been effusive in his praise ever since.
Since then, Spence has been living up to the hype while mowing down the competition.
He’s made it look easy thus far, with a combination of speed, power and poise seldom seen in a 25-year-old.
As bigger fights loom for Spence in 2016, expect his star to continue to rise as his opponents continue to fall. Just don’t expect any of it to go to Spence’s head.
“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,” Spence said prior to the Van Heerden fight. “All I want to do is perform and look great every time I fight. I hear what people say, but I’m not going to take it to heart. I’ve still got a job to do.”
After the fight, though, the normally demure Spence sounded a different note.
He’s long been seen as one of the most promising prospects in the sport, but doesn’t consider himself a prospect any longer.
“I think I’m a contender,” he said. “I’m ready.”
He'll get no argument here.
Coming Wednesday: the PBC Knockout of the Year. For all of our editors' picks, follow our Best of PBC 2015 entries.