Heading into Errol Spence Jr.’s defense of his unified welterweight world title against former two-division titleholder Danny Garcia the biggest question surrounding the fight was which Spence would show up in the ring on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Would it be the elite pound-for-pound star who 15 months ago dropped Shawn Porter in the 11th round and outfought him to win a split decision to unify titles? That was the version Spence promised to would show up.
Or would it be a diminished Spence, having lost something due to the horrific one-car accident he was in three weeks later in Dallas, where he flipped his speeding white Ferrari in the early morning hours of Oct. 10, 2019, was thrown from the destroyed vehicle onto concrete and miraculously lived to tell about it?
After imposing himself on Garcia and dismantling him with ease for a unanimous decision in his fifth title defense it was clear that it was the pound-for-pound elite version of Spence on display, having not missed a beat.
“The moment is surreal,” Spence said. “Coming back from the accident, I feel like I looked pretty good. There was some ring rust in there. I got a little tired but I shook off the cobwebs and I’ll be ready to fight again in the summertime.
“All training camp I felt good. I told people I didn’t want a tune-up fight, that I wanted to fight a great (former) champion like Danny Garcia, somebody whose name is known, somebody who will give me a fight. He gave me a fight and I proved to everyone that I’m the best 147-pound fighter in the world.”
Judge Tim Cheatham scored the fight 117-111 for Spence and judges Steve Weisfeld and Barry Lindenman each had it 116-112 for Spence, who was headlining a Premier Boxing Champions/Fox Sports pay-per-view for his third consecutive fight, the second in front of a hometown crowd at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, where a socially distanced crowd of 16,102 — the maximum allowed to attend the bout due to the coronavirus pandemic – turned out. The Ring scored it 119-109 for Spence.
“I proved that I’m back and here to stay,” Spence said. “I’m the unified champion of the world for a reason.
“Danny Garcia pushed me to the limit, especially in training camp. I’ve watched him fight since I was an amateur, so I know what he brings to the table. I knew he was a great (former) champion and I had to be 100 percent ready and that’s why I chose him.”
From the outset Spence looked like he was fine following such a harrowing car accident that hospitalized him for a week. Although Spence, who was charged with DUI, suffered no broken bones or significant injuries, his face was terribly bruised and swollen, he had several teeth knocked out and dealt with neck and hip pain.
But in making his return, Spence was very sharp. He went right to one his best weapons in the opening round as he worked to Garcia’s body and did so throughout the fight. He also relied heavily on his strong right jab that swelled Garcia’s left eye.
“His jab was rangy and threw my timing off a bit,” Garcia said. “That was the key to the fight. Everything else I feel like I adapted to. The jab was the only thing that was better than expected.”
Garcia, a former welterweight world titlist and the former Ring Magazine junior welterweight champion, dropped to 0-3 against top welterweights, having lost a split decision to Keith Thurman in a 2017 title unification bout and a close unanimous decision for a vacant belt to Shawn Porter in 2018.
But Spence defeated him far easier than Thurman and Porter did and Garcia did not dispute Spence’s victory.
“He was the better man tonight. No excuses,” Garcia said. “I fought a hard and tough fight. He had a good jab and that was the key to the fight. He was also a bit busier than me.
“I think Spence is physically stronger than Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. They’re all on pretty much the same level, but Spence is the strongest one.”
According to CompuBox statistics, Spence landed 187 of 707 punches (26 percent), including 84 of 419 jabs, and Garcia connected with 84 of 519 (16 percent), but just 14 of 362 jabs.
After a feeling-out first round, the action picked up a bit in the second with Garcia knocking Spence off balance, but he had very few of those moments overall.
A Spence left hand knocked Garcia back in the third round but he responded with a right hand to the head. But Spence beat the counter punching Garcia to the punch nonstop and continually outworked him.
The 30-year-old Spence (27-0, 21 KOs), a southpaw from the Dallas suburb of Desoto, Texas, landed so many clean jabs that Garcia’s left eye began to close by the end of the sixth round in which they traded many punches. In the corner after the sixth round, Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and trainer, asked for his son to pick things up.
Spence had a big eighth round in which Garcia looked discouraged for the first time. He forced Garcia (36-3, 21 KOs), 32, of Philadelphia, to the ropes and landed many unanswered shots as he continued to walk him down. After the round Angel Garcia pleaded with his son to stay off the ropes.
Garcia listened to his father, but Spence continued to land punches. By the end of the ninth round, Garcia’s damaged left eye was getting worse. Garcia had a burst of offense in the 10th round in which Spence clearly took his foot off the gas.
Spence went back to being relentless in the 11th round, nailing Garcia to the body and ramming his reliable jab in Garcia’s face.
“I was trying to be more active,” Garcia said. “He did a good job taking away what I wanted to do. Everyone is looking for my left hook, so I thought my right hand could be the difference. I had some success going to the body with it. When two champions fight, one guy is going to be better on the night.”
Spence’s trainer, Derrick James, was clear with his instructions going into the 12th round, telling him, “Do not play with him. This is not game.” But there was no real urgency in the Garcia corner and Spence did what he had done for most of the fight – bang shots off Garcia, beat him to the punch and outwork him with Garcia never having a closing burst.
Garcia was unsure what would be next for him.
“I just have to rebuild and see what we do next,” Garcia said. “I fought hard and I’m proud. All my losses were hard fights that I fought till the end, so I’m proud of my effort. I knew what he was bringing to the table. I just had to believe in my (left) hook more and throw it more. I can’t make any excuses. We can only get better from here.
Spence declined to call out any future opponent after the fight even though fellow titleholder Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) was on hand. Both have said repeatedly that they want to fight each other and they know their potential showdown looms as one of the most significant fights in boxing. But it’s hard fight to make because Spence is with PBC and fights on Fox and Crawford is with Top Rank and fights on ESPN.
“I’m gonna chill on my ranch,” Spence said. “I just bought a new ranch. I got a couple of horses, I’m getting some more horses. Get some chickens, some more cows and chill with my kids and my family and enjoy my time, and hopefully be back in the summertime.
“Right now I’m just gonna enjoy my family time after a long year-and-a-half and I need to rest a little bit.”
He certainly earned it.