Boxing’s schedule has obviously been heavily impacted by COVID-19. We’ve seen some major fights nixed due to the lack of a live gate to generate the revenue needed to pay the top fighters, and other matchups scrapped outright because they tested positive for the virus. With that said, December is shaping up to be one hell of a finale to a really awful year, starting with the return of one of boxing’s pound-for-pound best.
On Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, WBC and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr (26-0, 21 KOs) returns to the ring for the first time in well over a year. His opponent will be former welterweight and junior welterweight world champion Danny Garcia (36-0, 21 KOs), who’s looking to pull off the upset and become a champ once more.
The undercard... it’s not good. I suppose Francisco Santana vs. Josesito Lopez could be a banger, but COVID-19 positives certainly hurt what was already a so-so undercard, so we’re only focusing on the main event (as usual for boxing PPVs). Here are the key questions to be answered later this evening.
How will Errol Spence look after his car accident?
It’s the most obvious question and it’s the great unknown. If you’ve never seen the car crash, the CCTV footage tells you how serious it could’ve been but ultimately didn’t prove to be. Spence suffered only minor injuries but obviously had to stay on the shelf for a bit before resuming training.
Prior to the crash, Spence had emerged as a viable pay-per-view fighter with his wins over Mikey Garcia and Shawn Porter. While the Garcia fight was a blowout over someone who ain’t really a welterweight, Porter was a thrilling 12-round brawl that easily represents the toughest fight of his career. He was supposed to fight Garcia at the start of 2020 before the crash derailed the timeline.
Spence is very much a boxer-puncher instead of just a pure puncher (which is what his high KO rate would suggest). Fighting out of his southpaw stance, Spence really has developed a beautiful jab and he’s always had a penchant for going to the body early and often. He’s not an especially high-volume fighter but when he ups the tempo and starts pressuring his opponents he’s often too strong and physical for them to have an answer. I wouldn’t classify him as a more devastating finisher than, say, Terence Crawford, but he is an expert at breaking people down.
With all of that said, this is a 15-month layoff and he had a major scare that prompted some of that time off. We are working on the assumption that if he isn’t at his absolute best, he’ll at least be at 80 or 90% of peak Spence, which is still enough to beat just about any welterweight in the world.
Can Danny Garcia get his first signature win in a long time?
One of the rightful knocks against Garcia has been his lack of challenging opponents over the past several years, and he lost the only two really difficult matchups during that span. This isn’t to say he’s a bad fighter — he’s a very good one — but there’s a lot of goodwill that unraveled from about 2014-2016.
Garcia’s real emergence came not against a faded Erik Morales to win the vacant WBC junior welterweight belt, but in his unification with Amir Khan in 2012. The Brit was defeated by Lamont Peterson in his previous bout but got one of his belts back when Peterson failed a drug test. In the unification matchup, Garcia floored Khan three times en route to what was considered at the time to be an upset win. His next great win after that came against Lucas Matthysse in the co-main event of Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez. Garcia put Matthysse down for the first time in his career and prevailed in a thrilling decision.
But since then? Ehhhhh. He was fortunate to get the nod against notoriously hard luck fighter Mauricio Herrera, and he followed that up with the disgraceful Rod Salka fight that was such a squash match that it ended up not even being a title defense. His win over Lamont Peterson was also debatable but not really all that controversial.
In fairness to Garcia, the defeats to Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter were both close, but since 2016 those have been his only real fights of consequence. Brandon Rios, Robert Guerrero, Adrian Granados, Samuel Vargas, and Ivan Redkach were all B-level opponents at best. The Philly native has a huge opportunity in front of him to get his first elite win since Matthysse. If he doesn’t, then he’ll have firmly settled in 4th place of the big four longtime PBC welterweights (Spence, Thurman, Porter, Garcia).
With a win, will Spence angle for other PBC fighters, or push for Bud Crawford?
It goes without saying that the fight most people want to see Spence take on is Terence Crawford. The politics of boxing make that a lot harder to materialize any time soon, and the pandemic has only created more complications. Crawford clearly needs a big-time matchup more than Spence, who’s already had the aforementioned Porter and Mikey Garcia fights, in addition to winning the IBF belt off of Kell Brook in 2017. Spence benefits from a deeper talent pool on the PBC roster than anywhere else in the welterweight division. Keith Thurman is an option, perhaps Yordenis Ugas, and potentially Manny Pacquiao as well if Pacquiao vs. Crawford doesn’t get made.
While Top Rank’s broadcasts on ESPN usually make mention of every promoter, as well as champs and contenders from rival promoters, the PBC (especially on FOX)... tends to be more like the UFC. Actually even worse because it’s like Terence Crawford doesn’t exist.
Hard to have respect for @PBConFOX when they post this propaganda graphic on the #SpenceGarcia press conference show & leave out @terencecrawford. Give me a fucking break already. This is just so dishonest. WBA regular is a bigger belt than WBO? GTFOH. #boxing pic.twitter.com/1bgLGnjB7u— Dan Rafael (@DanRafael1) December 5, 2020
Apparently PBC on FOX doesn’t recognize the WBO as a sanctioning body, which is convenient because a lot of Top Rank champs have WBO titles.
Spence is still a heavy favorite and for good reason. If he wins and if he impresses, there will surely be increased interest in Spence vs. Crawford before it’s too late. Should the post-fight interview go in a direction that suggests not having this happen in 2021, that tells you all you need to know. I don’t think either fighter is ducking one another, but the powers that be like to steer boxers in certain directions as means of spiting rivals and “marinating” until it’s the right time to make the fight happen.
You can watch Spence vs. Garcia live on FOX PPV or Fite.tv ($74.99 HD/$64.99 SD) at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT. The main event should start around 11:30 PM ET/8:30 PM PT pending any undercard action running long. Bloody Elbow will have live round-by-round coverage of Spence vs. Garcia.