Errol Spence Jr. Scouting Report

Alright, thank you everyone for joining us on our show, where we have a look at some of the sport's brightest young stars, and assess their strengths, weaknesses and current developmental status. This show is a well-oiled machine, where a team of top-trained technicians ensure that everything runs as smoothly as any automated process is expected to run.

In previous episodes we've covered:

Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol
Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka
Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez
Former 2012 US Olympian Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr., fighting at featherweight.
Argentinian buzzsaw light middleweight Brian Castano.
British giant super-middleweight Callum Smith
Olympic medalist and hopeful cruiserweight title challenger Evander Holyfield
Cossack otaman and rising cruiserweight contender Oleksandr Usyk

Today we analyze ESPN's prospect of the year and rumoured hottest ticket in all of boxing, Errol Flynn Errol Spence Jr.

Spence is a southpaw, a former multiple-time US National Amateur Champion and Golden Gloves winner and a member of the 2012 US Olympic team. He turned pro at the end of 2012 as a welterweight, he is already 19-0 (16KOs) and he is signed with Al Haymon's PBC thingy. While I personally don't care much for such things, he has has gained some notoriety on the Internets for apparently pushing Floyd Mayweather really hard in sparring when he was preparing for the Robert Guerrero bout. Floyd has repeatedly touted Spence as the next great welterweight.

Here are some of his bouts on Youtube:
His 5th pro fight was his first step up in opposition, annihiliating veteran Brandon Hoskins in one round.
His 6th pro bout was a one-round wipeout of a total nobody
His 9th pro fight was his first actual test, going 8 rounds against previously undefeated Ghanaian toughman Emmanuel Lartei Lartey.
And if 8 rounds was too much for you, here is another one-round stomping of 'Not Really A Professional Boxer'
His 13th pro bout was a full 10 round snuff film against needlessly tough Puerto Rican gatekeeper Ronald Cruz
His 14th pro bout are a few random minutes in the ring with random Mexican trailhorse Noe Bolanos
His 17th pro fight was an authoritative 3 round beating of former Italian-Canadian prospect Phil Lo Greco
His 18th pro bout was his best win, a dominant 8th round stoppage of actual welterweight contender Chris Van Heerden.
His most recent bout was a 5th round stoppage of Mexican-scene contender Alejandro Barrera, who was actually riding a slight hot streak coming into the fight.

If you don't have time to watch all of these, I suggest the Van Heerden fight, and then possibly the Lo Greco or Barrera fights. The Cruz and Bolanos fights are the most irrelevant in my opinion.

As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:

The Very Best

1) U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! Spence is the prototypical American welterweight of the Floyd Mayweather era. He is slick as fuck, has amazingly quick feet and quick hands, he is long, he is accurate, he has big power in both hands, he has great head and upper-body movement, his defense is based on slightly deflecting / dodging blows by a millimetre or rolling with them and his gameplan works best when he uses his opponent's offense against him. In the ring he is only as active as he needs to be on a bout-by-bout or round-by-round basis and he specializes at getting judges' attention by following up every big shot that he eats with a quick flurry of irrelevant success, just as long as it appears he gave as good as he got.

2) Can-man. The kid is clearly exceptionally gifted. He definitely CAN do a lot of things. All of the things that are mostly natural and not so much teachable are there: hand speed, power, reflexes, foot speed, punching from different angles, anticipation, athleticism, timing.

The Good

3) Power. Spence has real power. I usually say "don't let this prospect's KO percentage fool you because his opposition was soft" but in his case I am a believer.

4) Hand Speed. When he gets angry and punches out of instinct, Flynn's hands can be a blur.

5) Defensive ring movement. Errol Flynn can step back out of range of opponent assaults like he's on a hoverboard. You don't even see his feet move as he teleports out of harm's way.

6) Punch accuracy. The kid is a natural at finding the perfect angle and the perfect placement for each punch.

7) Body Punching. He really seems to enjoy hurting guys to the body and he always recognizes a good opportunity of using bodywork to open-up a high guard.

8) Inside fighting. Early in his career Spence was more than happy to initiate some rough-and-tumble inside fighting and always came out on top. Nowadays he doesn't actively pursue it anymore but he is still successful if taken inside.

9) Head movement. Spence seems to enjoy anticipating opponents' blows and dodging them with subtle head movements / shoulder rolls without compromising his position. I will say this though: this skill seems to have decreased as he's gained muscle-mass in his most recent bouts.

10) Patience. Flynn is very composed, doesn't head-hunt, doesn't attack fighters who are still dangerous, takes breaks between attacks, never punches himself out, never abandons his position of balance to try and prolong an attack. Impressively calm, collected and patient for a young man.

11) Stamina. I have seen all his bouts that went into the later rounds and never for a second did he seem even slightly gassed.

12) Improvement. I think Spence has visibly improved in his last 3 bouts. He is tighter, he is more accurate, his body looks much stronger and perhaps as a result his power seems to have improved to downright spectacular levels.

The Decent

13) Work rate. He can be active when he feels he needs to be and there have been plenty of rounds where he's thrown more than the division average of punches. But generally he stays only as active as he needs to be to outpoint and gradually break down his opponent. He doesn't usually try to overwhelm anybody, just hurt them and let that pain accumulate over several rounds.

14) Jab. Errol Flynn does have a jab and it's quick and fairly accurate but he doesn't make full use of it. He mostly throws it as time-filler between attacks. I guess it's effective at randomly discouraging opponents' attacks but I don't see him use it to set up his power punches very well.

15) Size. I am absolutely convinced that his measurements on boxrec are way exagerrated. It did not seem to me that he had a visible size advantage over too many of his opponents. As a matter of fact several of them, Van Heerden included, seemed to be longer than him.

The Not So Great But Improving

16) Combination punching. Spence is not a very creative combination puncher. He usually throws one-twos or single power shots. Even when his combinations go more than 2 punches, there is a slight pause between each two shots. Frankly, he is more of a bruising, heavy puncher than he is a flashy / all-angles kind of puncher.

17) Closing distance. Flynn can't really fight from the outside, he is not a jabber, he is not a mover, he is not a long combination puncher. He is at his best when he manages to move in to mid-range or inside, where he can get some torque/body rotation into his punches as well. The problem is that he doesn't have a real strategy or go-to move for closing stance. He doesn't set his movement up with a jab very well, he doesn't bob and weave, doesn't explode forward off his feet like Brian Castano. He either casually walks up closer to his adversary or he has this annoying soft jab that he pins his opponent with (but does not retract), after which he steps in and loads up a left hand. There are several problems with this: a) he eats too many jabs going in; b) he is open to counters over his outstretched jab arm pinned to his opponent's chest; c) a truly shifty and mobile fighter should be able to get away from this very basic advance. Frankly, Errol is most happy when his opponent is stupid enough to either wait on the ropes and let him step in or, even worse, step inside Errol's kitchen himself in a misguided attempt at attack.

18) Loading up. Spence sometimes starts loading up on wide power punches when he is somewhere at mid-distance and feels he's got his opponent hurt. This doesn't happen too often though.

19) Chin out during combinations. He doesn't seem to be accustomed to withdrawing each hand back towards his chin after every punch. After each blow lands, the arm that delivered the blow remains somewhere in no-man's-land, not continuing to hit and not running back on defense either. So if he is still rotated, chin behind his own shoulder, he's good. If he's squared up during the attack, then his chin is rather unprotected.

The Bad

20) Lack of gameplan. I am having trouble classifying Spence as a type of boxer. I don't understand exactly what his plan in the ring is. He is not an outside fighter, he is not a mover, he is not a brawler, he has resorted less and less to inside fighting, he is not an active, flashy combination puncher, he doesn't seem very interested in dismantling a high-guard defense, he is not a counterpuncher, he is not a pressure fighter (not even a methodical, calculated one like GGG), he is not a technician in that he doesn't rely on a varied offense that he adapts to his opponent, he is not a spoiler... He just... patiently walks in the general direction of his opponent, trying to hit him with his power as much as he is permitted to do, without tiring himself out and without getting wild, making sure to step away or duck from return fire as much as possible. And then just slowly let his power take a toll on his opponent as rounds go by. I mean, as mentioned in 'The Very Best' section, Spence CAN do whatever he wants, he just generally... DOESN'T.

21) Cutting off the ring? I admit I'm nitpicking here quite a bit. The truth is that I haven't seen him against an opponent who is actually able to move laterally away from him (maybe Barrera a little bit). But his offensive footwork is so careful and deliberate to the point it maybe looks plodding. I haven't seen any indication from him that he has the tools necessary to cut off the ring against a theoretical fleet-footed foe (let's say, Erislandy Lara or the prime Devon Alexander)

The Downright Horrible

22) Open to lead right hands. Spence has a very predictable defensive strategy: he never dodges the first punch of his opponent's combination. He needs that punch to land in order to get a sense of distance and timing. He uses opponent's combinations like a metronome, he moves or reacts along with every punch of theirs. Every punch of a combination becomes a clock tick: a 3 punch combination is tick-tick-tick which he transforms into dodge-roll-counter or move-counter-grab or just simply dodge(left)-dodge(right)-dodge(left). He starts the movement of each of his reactions at the same time as each of his opponent's punches, thus before seeing them or knowing what they are. He knows that another tick/punch is coming now and he already starts his movement. It's the very definition of timing his opponent's attacks before they happen. But here's the thing, he doesn't time the initial punch, he doesn't have a feel for it based on his opponent's feet, stance, whatever. He always relies on catching the first punch with his glove/guard and then starts bobbing with every subsequent tick. Because most of his opponents are orthodox fighters, the most common punch he encounters is a left jab towards his front (right) shoulder, which he catches on said shoulder with no problem. And if the first punch is a right handed lead power punch, he is used to catching it with his back hand, which he keeps right under his chin. Because most of his opponents are shorter than him, lead right hands tend to come at his chin in an upwards trajectory, so to best catch them he keeps his hand under his chin instead if in front of his chin. By subtly moving his head back a little, he further insures that lead right hands are coming towards his chest rather than towards his chin. But here's the catch: that simply doesn not work against lead overhand rights or even lead right hooks. Spence eats at least half of all lead overhand rights that are thrown his way, which you will also recognize as the preferred power punch of pretty much every puncher out there. I highly doubt he escapes too many bouts without this being exploited at some point. Emmanuel Lartei Lartey nailed him with one just as a round was ending and had him seriously hurt.

Overall Impression

Well, initially I was very impressed with Spence, then I started to see holes in his game and began believing that he is ripe for picking and then in his last 3 bouts I saw almost all of those holes plugged. This is one fighter where his training and recent stepping up of opposition have paid huge dividends. At this stage in his career, he seems to have so much power, so much accuracy in his punches and he lets them go so quickly, that I think any opponent getting in the ring with him is almost guaranteed a painful, painful night. I don't think anybody should try to stand up to his power. Several of the longer bouts above turn into gruesome festivals of punishment. To beat him, you either have to counter him viciously, which can be done, or box his ears off, move, pot-shot, jab ... something... I don't know really. Much like with Gennady Golovkin, you just cannot just stand and trade with him for long stretches just because you manage so sneak in one power-punch for every four that he lands. I will say this though, he has gotten used to opponents entering survival / cover-up mode very early in his bouts. Almost everybody starts feeling his power around the second round and stop trying anything dangerous against him, and then he goes into this mode of slowly walking his opponents down and carefully digging one-twos and bodyshots into them as they fail to respond, after which it's almost a question of when the tree will fall. While it is probably extremely difficult to keep executing your gameplan in front of Spence's power, if someone would be able to avoid that high-guard / backing to the ropes mode against him, it would damn well be something very new, that he is unaccustomed to and I'd be curious to see what would happen then.

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