A boxer rarely appreciates winning by disqualification. Compared to the physical finality of a knockout, or the statistical superiority of a points win, the DQ is a decidedly inferior outcome; inevitably an anticlimax, and seen more as a fight that one boxer lost than the other had won.
So, when Steve Spark’s biggest fight finished on a foul, he did initially feel hard done-by; that he had been deprived of a stoppage he felt was forthcoming, in front of an international audience.
But then, if Spark’s aim was to generate attention and earn new fans, the wild finish to his November fight with Montana Love – live on DAZN, from Love’s Cleveland hometown – ensured just that.
Love had already been given a hard night’s work by Australian underdog Spark, including a second-round knockdown, when he was cut by a head clash moments into the sixth. He barely survived a medical inspection – the doctor telling the referee “I’m going to watch him for one more minute” – and looked flustered upon the bout’s resumption. He grabbed Spark and pushed him across three quarters of the ring to the ropes, where he shoved a forearm into Spark’s face with such force that the 26-year-old was sent tumbling over the top strand to the floor in a forward-roll.
As the latter offensive manoeuvre came after the referee had told him to stop boxing, Love had left the official with little choice but to throw him out. And almost as quickly as the fight had finished, the video of it went viral – making Spark the recipient of a great many more views than a more customary conclusion would have generated.
“At first I thought it was a shame, because I was on the way to getting a stoppage,” he says. “But then it got a lot of views because of the craziness from Montana; it definitely got my name out there more than even a KO victory would have.”
And despite Love’s protests, Spark feels the ruling was fair. “Two metres I’ve been thrown over the ropes,” he says. “Luckily I didn’t land on the concrete on my head or neck. It could have been catastrophic. You have to discourage stuff like that.
“But it was good all these fans got to see I got a knockdown and I showed glimpses that I’m a top-tier fighter. I’m in a good position because of that.”
Indeed, positions don’t come much better than the one Spark now finds himself in. The Love win earned him a contract with Matchroom, which in turn led to a spot on the Canelo Alvarez undercard this weekend, when he will face 26-3-1 Mexican Gabriel Valenzuela in a super-lightweight 10-rounder.
Valenzuela is also a Matchroom fighter, but has one distinct edge: he’ll be fighting in his Guadalajara hometown, in a stadium that holds 50,000 people. That’s more than a third of the population of Spark’s own hometown of Toowoomba in Queensland, but he’s thrilled, not daunted, to be on such a big stage.
“Canelo is the face of boxing, so when the opportunity arose, we jumped at it,” he says. “We know Gabriel is a hell of a fighter, but it’s the best way to get my name out there and really show the world how good I am. All the stars will be there watching. It’s bloody exciting. It’s the kind of opportunity people would kill for. I’ve got it and I’m going to take it with both hands.”
Before the Canelo spotlight, and before the US debut against Love, the biggest fight in Spark’s 16-2 (14) career was a July 2021 domestic showdown with Tim Tszyu.
Given he was not only facing Australia’s hottest boxing property, but doing so at late notice and two divisions north of where Spark usually operates, it’s no surprise Tszyu won in three rounds.
“I’d fractured my hand in my last fight [a points win over Jack Brubaker in April 2021] and due to Covid it was hard to make fights in Australia, so I wasn’t doing a lot of training, just shadow boxing and a few runs, and I was working in a pub. Brendon [Smith, manager] called me and said ‘we’ve been offered Tim Tszyu seven days from now; [Michael] Zerafa’s pulled out’. I just asked how much money, and then I accepted. I was gonna give it my all for as long as I had gas in the tank.
“I just had no conditioning. The head shots weren’t bothering me, but the body shots started sinking in, and when you’ve got no conditioning, they hurt a lot more.”
Still, ‘The Viking’ has no regrets. “Not at all,” he says. “I knew I was going straight back to 140 [pounds], it put a lot of money in my bank and got my name out there.”
Now, that name will be put out there in front of a viewing audience in its millions, as well as the tens of thousands of notoriously partisan fans in attendance.
“Fifty thousand Mexicans are going to hate me for knocking out Valenzuela,” he says. “But they’re going to love my style.”