FRISCO, Texas — Welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr. has looked virtually flawless since he turned pro following a stint on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. He was widely considered the best professional prospect on Team USA.
Tabbed for stardom from Day 1, he has lived up to the considerable hype. He was the 2015 ESPN.com prospect of the year and won a world title 13 months ago when he traveled to Kell Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England, and impressively stopped him in the 11th round before a crowd of more than 30,000 at an outdoor soccer stadium.
In January, Spence battered his friend, former two-division titlist Lamont Peterson, who retired on his stool after the seventh round.
And now Spence, who has gained recognition as one of the best fighters in the world, pound for pound, will defend his title for the second time in a homecoming fight against decided underdog and mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo. The fight on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) is the main event of the first boxing event inside the Ford Center at The Star, which is the training facility of the Dallas Cowboys. There are potentially huge fights on the horizon for Spence provided he wins.
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:
Errol Spence Jr. (23-0, 20 KOs) vs. Carlos Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs)
Home, sweet home
Spence, a 28-year-old southpaw from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas, has fought only once in his home region, a 2015 fifth-round knockout of Alejandro Barrera, four fights before winning his world title. He is thrilled to finally be fighting at home again and especially to have the Dallas Cowboys, whom he dreamed of playing for when he was a kid, involved in the event.
“It feels good to be fighting back at home in Dallas. This is where I started and where my core fan base is,” Spence said. “It’s great to fight in front of my people and even better that I can do it as a world champion now. I wanted to make my first title defense in Dallas, but everything happens for a reason and now I have this great opportunity to fight at the Dallas Cowboys’ facility. It’s an incredible venue that has everything you would want. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
A sellout crowd of around 14,000 is expected.
“I think this is going to be electrifying,” Spence said. “There’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be a very lively crowd and it’s going to be a great event. I’m a hometown guy, and they get to see one of their hometown guys and not just somebody out of state. But I think it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be a great crowd and great atmosphere and great energy all around.
“It shows that a lot of my hard work, blood, sweat and tears paid off, and I feel like that’s the ultimate justification to be at home and have people come out and support you. It’ll be a great event.”
Spence hopes he can fight more often at home.
“Dallas already is a boxing town, just not enough boxing comes here,” he said. “I can be the star who has annual fights and bring the city out like we’re doing Saturday night. I’m going to prove we’re a boxing city in Dallas and that Texas is a boxing state, period. I do this for the whole state.”
Said Derrick James, Spence’s trainer, who is also from Dallas: “This city means everything to me and Errol, so to bring a great night like this and have this huge reception from the fans, is a little bit of extra motivation.”
Ocampo is a massive underdog. He is only 22, has never fought outside of his native Mexico and has never faced a notable opponent. If anything, Ocampo is a prospect rather than a contender, yet the IBF has him positioned as its mandatory challenger for Spence’s belt, meaning Spence had no choice but to fight him or risk being stripped of his title.
Spence had never even heard of him when told that Ocampo was his mandatory.
“I didn’t know who he was, to tell you the truth,” Spence said. “I didn’t know who he was. And I don’t really look at the rankings. So I think, like, two days after my fight [with Peterson], the IBF had ordered me to fight my mandatory. Then they said it was Carlos Ocampo. My original thought was just, let’s do it. I’d rather get it out of the way now so it’s not a bump in the road later on when I’m trying to get bigger and better fights. So I’d rather get my mandatory out the way right now.”
Whether Ocampo is ready for this kind of step up in opposition or not, he has embraced his opportunity.
“He can try to come and knock me out, but this is my dream. This is what I’ve trained my whole life for, and I’m not going to let this chance pass me by,” Ocampo said through a translator. “I’m going to use my height, distance and jab throughout the fight. The counter[punch] will be important for me. I’m going to look to catch him, so he better be ready.
“I’m going to leave everything in the ring. I’m going to show what I have and give everyone a great performance from start to finish. I feel like we have covered everything we would want leading up to a fight of this magnitude. I’ve taken extra motivation each day into training camp because this fight represents the biggest challenge of my career.”
Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza said Ocampo should not be dismissed.
“If you know of the tradition of Mexican fighters in this sport, then you know that Carlos Ocampo cannot be overlooked,” he said. “He’s coming to win, and that makes him very dangerous and should create an exciting fight.”
Spence is expected to defeat Ocampo and not to have much trouble doing so, which should set him up for major fights in perhaps boxing’s best division.
“I’m ready to line up those other champions. I’ve said that since I was 15-0. I want to fight every opponent and take them out, no matter who it is,” Spence said. “I’m here to prove that I’m the best in the division.”
The 147-pound class includes world titleholder Keith Thurman (currently sidelined by injury), former titleholders Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter (due to fight for a vacant belt in August), superstar Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford, the pound-for-pound entrant who entered the division last week and knocked out Jeff Horn in the ninth round of a one-sided fight to win a world title in his third weight division.
“I think I’m king of the hill and basically I just need to get the fights,” Spence said. “The next fight that I do want — and I’m not looking past Carlos Ocampo at all — but I would like to get the Danny Garcia-Shawn Porter winner for the WBC title and then after that get all the rest of the belts.”
With Thurman sidelined and seemingly in no hurry to fight Spence, a fight with Crawford has quickly emerged as the one most anticipated by boxing’s Twitterverse. It’s a tough fight to make, given that Spence fights on Showtime and is with adviser Al Haymon and Crawford fights on ESPN and is with Bob Arum’s Top Rank, but Spence believes the fight can happen after he “cleans up my side of the street.”
“That’s a mega fight,” Spence said of a match with Crawford. “I feel like it’s the best fighting the best. I think he’s going to keep his title, I feel like I’m going to keep mine. The fight is definitely going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. There’s a lot of politics, [but] it’s gonna happen. It’s a fight I want, it’s a fight he wants. He don’t duck anyone, I don’t duck anyone.”
Spence said he watched Crawford dismantle Horn with ease and liked what he saw. “I thought he was going to stop Jeff Horn. To me, he’s a good fighter, but Terence Crawford did what he was supposed to do,” Spence said. “Much credit to Terence Crawford. He looked good, he looked strong.”
Rafael’s prediction: Spence by easy knockout.