When boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao fought at AT&T Stadium in 2010, a wide-eyed Errol Spence, Jr. sat in the audience largely as an obscure 20-year-old boxer from Desoto.
He was in the midst of a three-year run as the national amateur welterweight champion. But it was two years before he started to make a semi-name for himself as a 2012 Olympian before losing in the quarterfinals and deciding to turn pro.
As the laid back and understated Spence grew as a professional, he had to call other boxers out to get attention and fights. He had to go out of the country to make a name for himself.
But as Spence so fittingly posted on Twitter recently, the tables have turned.
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The boxing world is now descending on his hometown to watch Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) defend his IBF World Welterweight Championship against IBF and WBC World Lightweight champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“This is a dream come true fighting in my hometown at AT&T Stadium,” Spence said Wednesday in the final pre-fight press conference. “I can’t wait to put on a great performance. Seeing Mikey’s face here today, it’s got me hungrier than ever to put on a great performance.”
Garcia, already a four-division champion after starting his career as a featherweight, is stepping up two weight classes from 130 to 147 pounds in hopes of making history by becoming the sixth man with titles in five different divisions.
Those names are a who’s who of the sport, including Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar Dela Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, and the aforementioned Pacquiao, who not so coincidentally, will be in attendance at AT&T Stadium Saturday night.
But this showdown, already billed as the early fight of the year in boxing, is not about Garcia’s pursuits.
It’s about the formally unknown Spence taking his first step toward superstardom and replacing the retired Mayweather and Pacquiao as the new name of boxing royalty.
Spence is considered the heavy favorite over the skilled Garcia because of his superior size and punching power. A win on Saturday sets him up for a possible fight with Pacquiao, hopefully back home at AT&T Stadium, and then presumed matches with the best in the division, including Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Terrance Crawford, and Danny Garcia.
“The tables have turned,” Spence said. “I was the guy calling people out. Now people are looking at me. Pacquiao is coming to my fight. I am looking at the Pacquiao fight. This is another step to my greatness and my road to greatness beating Mikey Garcia. It goes back to my tweet. The tables have turned.
“I knew this day was going to happen. I just had to stay focused and dedicated to my craft. This is going to be my opportunity and my moment. Tables do turn. It’s time for me to be the cash cow, the guy everybody wants to fight.”
Don’t misconstrue Spence’s visions of greatness with him overlooking the talented and dangerous Garcia. He is just honest about his dreams and aspirations.
The powerful body puncher and deadly knock out artist has plenty of fire in his belly for Garcia, who actually called him out in search of his own step up in class and has spent much of the months leading up to the fight talking about how he was going to beat Spence.
“Mikey is supposed to think he’s going to win this fight,” Spence said. “He called me out, so they obviously think that they see something. I’m glad he’s as confident as I am. I hope he keeps that same energy inside of the ring.
“I know I’m the best fighter in the world and I’m going to show it Saturday night. I’m going to punish him and make him wish he took his brother’s advice to not take this fight.”
Garcia’s brother did initially try to talk him out of the fight. But the bigger picture prevailed for the fighter who grew up a Cowboys fan in Oxnard, California, home of Cowboys training camp, and feels right at home himself inside AT&T Stadium.
“Getting this victory will forever leave my name in the history books,” Garcia said. “No other fighter is daring to do what I’m doing. I’m here to make history and this fight does that. This fight is about big challenges and obstacles.
“I have all the tools and all the skills needed to beat Errol Spence Jr. When it comes to timing, speed, reflexes, and defense, you name it, I’m better. Saturday night, Errol is going to find out why I picked this fight.”
The drama is there. And so is the bad blood.
But this is just the beginning for Spence. And while he believes he will make quick work of Garcia, the popular lightweight champion represents a stepping stone to greatness.
“This will do it,” Spence’s trainer Derrick James said. “He fought a couple of other names. But this will do it. This is what it’s going to take to get the next level. We have dreamed about it. Dreams come true like this. This is our reality.”
Dreams and reality are running side by side for Spence these days.
And as Spence remembers how big Pacquiao looked on the jumbotron at AT&T Stadium back in 2010. He can already picture himself up there looking larger than life.
“I’m going to look huge on that,” Spence said with a wistful smile.
He is also trying to be huge in boxing.
“This win makes me pound-for-pound No. 1,” Spence said. “Mikey has a great record and a big fan base and I feel like winning this fight turns me into a star. Everyone wants to take Floyd Mayweather’s place as the face of boxing, and this puts me on the right track to become the face of boxing and the best fighter in the world.”
Pacquiao has certainly taken notice. That he is here for the fight suggests that he is eying the winner for his next fight.
This time the aging legendary champion will be in the crowd, watching Spence.