IT was 10 years ago now that Ashley Theophane first became aware of the talent of Errol Spence. He came to this discovery, he says, by first watching him spar Floyd Mayweather – in whose gym both were that month training – and then later when sparring the Texan himself with the Mayweather sparring all wrapped up.
“He was in camp with us,” said Theophane, who is currently in Las Vegas to watch the welterweight title fight between Spence and Terence Crawford this Saturday (July 29). “He came over to spar Floyd for the (Robert) Guerrero camp, so it was 10 years ago now. He had a fight himself the week before Floyd’s fight and he sparred Floyd and did great. They then asked me, ‘Do you want to spar with him?’ I was trying to get onto the TMT (The Money Team) at the time, so I was like, ‘Yeah, cool.’ It was his last spar actually. We sparred the week of his fight and it was good. He was much bigger than me. He always had the size. He was just very good and, because he had the size advantage, I was just trying to stay safe and pick my shots carefully.
“Even sparring him, I knew this man was going to go on and become a world champion. Not just any world champion either, but one of the best. He just had all the attributes. He had everything it took to be a world champion. It’s nice to see him confirm what I thought 10 years ago.”
In terms of what Theophane saw, felt, and thought, a lot of what there is to love about Spence today was true of him back in 2013, the Brit admits. Even so, there have of course been natural and vast improvements in the welterweight champion’s all-round game and indeed it’s for this reason there is so much excitement surrounding this weekend’s fight against Crawford. It is for this reason, too, that Theophane, keen to follow Spence’s journey to its conclusion, has booked himself two weeks in Vegas; a place he calls his “home away from home”.
“Spence is great at trying to break you down,” said the former British super-lightweight champion. “Just watching him last week at the open workout, it looks like he’s going to try to set a high pace so Crawford can’t make it a slow fight. He wants it to be fast-paced so Crawford can’t control the tempo himself. His strength is breaking an opponent down gradually over the course of the fight. But Crawford is crafty. If he sees the openings, and finds his rhythm early, he himself could break Spence down. It’s a high IQ fight like that.
“Crawford is a throwback but at the same time he doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves because he was on the other side of the street promotionally. When he did get the names, like (Amir) Khan or (Kell) Brook, they basically came as payday fights for those guys. They were at the end of their careers and those fights didn’t really mean a lot. That’s why Spence says he hasn’t really fought anybody.”
Ultimately, Theophane is of the belief that Crawford needs Spence as much as Spence needs Crawford. Only with this fight, in other words, can both get close to fulfilling their potential, both as boxers and as potential stars. Even then, however, there is next to no chance of them scaling the heights of others who have before them graced the rings of Las Vegas.
“They (Floyd Mayweather and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez) were both superstars,” said Theophane, who says their MGM Grand “Arrivals” was the biggest and best he has witnessed to date. “But this is a fight (Spence vs. Crawford) to become a superstar. They’ll get there, though. This fight is that good. For me, I think this is the best fight that could be made now. It’s the fight we have wanted to see for years and it’s now going down at the right time.
“I think it’s a 50/50 fight. Both can win and have the tools to win. It’s just down to who brings their A-game on the night. But if I had to pick, I’d pick Spence.”