Errol Spence Jr. is ready to take the next step on the path to boxing stardom.
The 24-year-old former United States Olympian will return to the ring Friday night in Las Vegas, taking on young veteran Ronald Cruz in the first scheduled 10-round fight of his professional career.
It’s being billed as a step-up fight for the Texas native, and he’s well aware of the increased challenge level that Cruz will provide, but it’s something he welcomes.
“I think he’s probably the toughest guy I’ve faced. He’s a real tough, durable fighter, and he’s going to come to fight. I know he’s a pressure fighter, and I think he’ll be my toughest test to date,” Spence said Thursday.
“I think everything in this sport is about timing and preparation, and I think I’m taking this fight at the right time in my career. I’m going to show up tomorrow, and it’s going to be a great fight.”
Spence (12-0, 10 KO) represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Games in London. He didn’t medal—the entire U.S. team failed to reach the podium for the first time in history—but he emerged from London as the most promising young fighter to wear American colors at the Games.
He also found himself the subject of a fair amount of controversy during his time in London.
Spence was eliminated before the quarterfinal round, losing to India’s Krishan Vikas in a fight marred by all sorts of clutching, grabbing and seemingly illegal tactics. The American team protested the result and had it overturned but saw Spence drop his next fight to Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy.
Cruz (20-3, 15 KO) is a young, experienced fighter with good power. In his last bout, he dropped a close decision to a faded Kermit Cintron, but even so, he represents the most challenging foe of Spence’s pro career, which has spanned less than two years.
But that’s a positive thing for a young fighter. At this stage of the game, it’s all about rounding yourself into a complete pro, and the only way to do that is by seeing different things in each fight.
And besides, as Spence tells it, he won’t be the only one seeing something new Friday night.
“From the opponents I’ve watched, I don’t think he’s faced anyone like me before, anybody with my pedigree,” he said.
“He’s fighting someone new too, and he’s going to see a lot of new things from me. Kermit Cintron is a slower fighter than me. Of course he can punch, but he’s slower and at the end of his road. I wouldn’t have any problems with a guy like that.”
Spence has shown a great deal of power in the early going of his professional career. While he hasn’t been in there with world-class foes, he has been in there with a decent quality of opponent given his age and the relatively slow pace that many fighters take while acclimating from the amateur ranks.
But this will be his first 10-round bout—he’s never gone beyond eight rounds—and that alone will be a test. Sometimes it’s better for a young fighter to go the extra rounds, if nothing else for the experience.
Spence feels that no matter what happens, he’s ready for whatever comes on fight night.
“I’m going to take whatever comes in the ring. If the knockout comes, then I take the knockout. But if I have to go 10, I’m ready to go 10. I’ve been sparring 12 rounds in the gym with 30 seconds rest, so it’s not a problem,” he said.
And there’s a reason for the rapid stepping up of class.
Spence plans to make a big splash, and he plans to do it in a hurry.
In his view, he’s only a couple of fights away from challenging for a world title in an absolutely loaded welterweight division dominated by Floyd Mayweather—who Spence has sparred with in the past—and Manny Pacquiao.
“I think by early next year I’ll be ready for a shot at a title. After this fight, I’d like to have probably two more fights this year. And then, by early next year, I’ll be a contender and fighting some top-quality names like Shawn Porter or somebody like that,” he said.
That’s a lofty goal.
Will Spence be able to reach it?
He has the talent.
But first he needs to win Friday night.
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.