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Errol Spence Jr is the TSS 2020 Comeback Fighter of the Year

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  • Errol Spence Jr is the TSS 2020 Comeback Fighter of the Year

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    It is not unusual for boxers – accomplished individuals in any field, actually – to return to what they know and do best after some time away and stress that they are not technically making a “comeback.”

    “I’ve never really been gone,” the prodigal usually points out in such instances.

    Given the fact that he never announced, or even hinted at a retirement from the ring, WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.’s impressive 12-round unanimous decision over two-division former titlist Danny Garcia on Dec. 5 might not qualify as a comeback per se. True, he had not been in a bout that counted on his record for a career-long 14½ months, the result of a potentially fatal automobile accident, but up until the night he stepped inside the ropes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to answer the sort of questions that had been posed by any number of skeptics, including, at times, himself, there was no way of knowing if it would be as the same evolving superstar he had been or as a clearly diminished version.

    The verdict is now in, and the truth about a man whose nickname is “The Truth” is that he has gotten the nod as The Sweet Science’s Comeback Fighter of the Year for 2020.

    Figuratively betting on himself rather than take a tune-up fight against someone far less dangerous than Garcia, Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) loudly announced his continuing presence atop the 147-pound weight division with wide point margins of 117-111 and 116-112 (twice) from the judges. Not that he said it in so many words, but what Spence had acclaimed with his performance was that, despite any suggestions to the contrary, he never really had been gone as a prime attraction and fixture on most boxing experts’ pound-for-pound lists.

    “It was a long, long road to come back,” Spence said post-fight of a rehabilitation process that was far more grueling than he cared to admit. “It was a lot of sacrifice and buckling down and staying focused and trials and tribulations to get to this point tonight. I got to that point, and it paid off.”

    Perhaps by its very nature boxing is rife with tales of fighters who shocked the world by refusing to give up on themselves when giving up was an option less-determined individuals might have readily chosen. Consider George Foreman, who ended a 10-year retirement from the fight game in 1987 and went on to win the heavyweight championship a second time, at age 45, seven years later. Or cruiserweight Craig Bodzianowski, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after a motorcycle accident yet, fighting with a prosthesis, went on to challenge for the WBA title. Or Vinny Pazienza, then the WBA super welterweight champ, who was told by doctors he would never fight again when he was diagnosed with two broken vertebrae in his spine and a third dislocated following a car crash. Fitted with a contraption known as a “halo,” attached to his skull with four screws, Pazienza’s dogged persistence (he legally changed his name to Vinny Paz in 2001) paid off and he was able to successfully resume his career.

    Spence has had a lot of time to reflect on what was, what is, and what will be after his $117,000 Ferrari flipped over multiple times and crashed in the early morning hours of Oct. 10, 2019, just 12 days following his hard-fought split decision over Shawn Porter, which earned him Porter’s WBC belt in addition to the IBF one he already possessed. Zipping along at a high speed, Spence – who was charged with driving while intoxicated, a class B misdemeanor –- was ejected through the windshield (he was not wearing a seat belt) and landed on the pavement about 40 feet away from his demolished car. Rushed to a hospital by ambulance, his injuries, although listed as “non-life-threatening,” were serious enough for him to be wind up in the intensive care unit with a bruised knee, twisted ankle, some deep facial lacerations and several broken teeth.

    In retrospect, Spence now admits that he had begun to buy into his own sense of invulnerability, a fairly common misconception among fighters accustomed to dominating their opponents. “I’m just blessed,” Spence, who has no recollections of the crash, said of the realization of just how fortunate he had been to have survived relatively intact. “What else can I say? I’m definitely going to heed the warning. You go through what I did, you definitely don’t take things for granted as you once did. When you’re young and an athlete at the top of what you do you think you’re invincible and nothing bad can happen to you. I definitely appreciate things now more than I used to. As far as boxing goes, maybe I was getting a little too comfortable. I’m more serious now about my life, my career.”

    Two months after the crash, Spence returned to the gym, the first baby steps back toward reclaiming what had been his. There were days when, he said, the simplest exertions made “everything just hurt.” But progress was made day by day, and he had already made up his mind that he would put himself to the test against Garcia (now 36-3, 21 KOs), so that he either would or wouldn’t rise to the occasion.

    The fact is, some undefeated fighters are never the same if they lose for the first time, especially by knockout. How much harder must it be for someone to be ejected through the windshield of a speeding sports car and jump back into a blood sport against someone with the credentials of a Danny Garcia? Even Spence wasn’t totally sure that he could live up to his usual high expectations.

    “I had a lot of self-doubt that I didn’t let anybody else know about,” he said. “I didn’t tell anybody about it. But it was in my head.”

    His head is now clear. He is 30 years old, the father of three children, two daughters and a son, and he is determined to provide for his family in a manner befitting a champion in life, not just in the ring. Not that anyone would wish such a thing for themselves, but he now considers the accident as “almost a blessing in disguise,” and maybe it will turn out to be just that.

    A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspapers sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2015. Last year, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020. This past April 30, Fernandez’s anthology, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    Excellent read with a solid rationale. I never even thought about Spence. Great stuff here!

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    • #3
      Spence was my comeback choice as well. 🤙

      Though I suppose a case could be made for Tyson Fury.

      I suspect a bigger award awaits after stopping the big dosser.

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