Errol Spence Jr. was wearing a hoodie with “I’m Back” printed on it designed for his last comeback fight against Danny Garcia. The one he won unanimously after 14 months of inactivity caused by a car crash that could have claimed Spence’s life.
But it’s still apropos, because he’s ending another layoff Saturday.
He still wears it because “I’m back, part two. I’m fighting another top guy for a belt. And after I get that belt, it’s time to really take over the sport and stay active and stay on my grind and get more belts and accomplish more things.”
Spence ends the longest layoff of his career Saturday against Cuban turned Las Vegan turned WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, near his hometown of DeSoto.
The 32-year-old last fought Garcia on Dec. 5, 2020, winning via unanimous decision. He was supposed to fight Manny Pacquiao on Aug. 20 at T-Mobile Arena, but a torn retina forced him to withdraw from the fight — allowing Ugas to take his place and retire Pacquiao with a unanimous decision.
Spence spoke with the Review-Journal about the injury, the inactivity and his preparation for Ugas, a skillful fighter who thrives against southpaws like him.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
RJ: The 16-month layoff is now the longest of your career. What kind of perspective did it give you?
Spence: Patience is key. I might have thought it was my time for that fight. But it wasn’t my time. I couldn’t worry about training because I couldn’t train for two or three months. So it was just spending time with my family. Chilling. Relaxing. Enjoying some free time that I hadn’t had in a while.
RJ: How did you know something was wrong with your eye?
Spence: I’d seen a cloud under my eye, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. Going to the doctor for a checkup, they gave me a paper to sign and it was like “There’s something going on with your eye.” So I went to the commission in Nevada, the commission doctor. And as soon as he looked at it, he said “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, we caught it early. The bad news is you’re not going to be able to fight.” At first, I still wanted to fight. It’s basically the week of the fight. I’d been training and stuff like that. Looking at it now, I’m glad I didn’t fight because it could have been a career-ending injury.
RJ: Did you expect Ugas to have that kind of performance against Pacquiao?
Spence: It was a good performance. It was kind of a lackluster performance by Pacquiao. We didn’t see the Pacquiao who fought Keith Thurman or the Pacquiao prior to that.
RJ: Given that you’ve had the layoff you had, how do you avoid ring rust. You think that’s going to be a thing? Or is that something you’re not even worried about?
Spence: I’m not worried. Ring rust is basically whatever your state of mind is. I’m in the gym six days a week, training hard, focused, sparring, everything.
RJ: What’s the most fulfilling thing about fighting at AT&T Stadium?
Spence: Getting the support. Getting the support of my hometown fans and people going out to watch me fight. Saturday they can be doing anything in the world. But they’re spending their hard-earned money and putting on their Sunday best. Their best outfit. Money for tickets and everything like that just to watch me fight. That’s the best feeling for me.
RJ: What kind of fight do you want this to be? You want a war? Are you expecting a chess match? What kind of terms do you want to dictate?
Spence: Just the usual. Break him down and stop him. But I’m ready for whatever he brings to the table. If it has to be a war or if I can pinpoint him, break him down and knock him out. I want to dictate the pace. I want it to be a one-sided, all-action fight by myself.
RJ: How many additional fights do you want to have this year?
Spence: I want to have one more fight this year?
RJ: Terence Crawford?
Spence: We’ll see.