Twenty-six-year-old Errol Spence Jr is the brighest prospect on Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions roster. On Saturday night, the 2012 U.S. Olympian (he was defeated in the quarter-finals in London) obliterated Chris Algieri at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, raising his professional record to 20-and-0 with 17 knockouts.
Haymon likes to keep his favored fighters away from punchers. In that regard, Algieri was a safe opponent. The 32-year-old Huntington, Long Island, native entered the ring with a 21-and-2 record and has shown a willingness to go in tough. He moved into the spotlight with a gutty split-decision triumph over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2014. Next, Manny Pacquiao turned him into a yo-yo, knocking Algieri down six times en route to an unanimous-decision verdict. Then, going in tough for the third time in less than a year, Chris lost a unanimous decision to Amir Khan. He was brought back against trial-horse Erik Bone in December 2015 and prevailed in a less-than-stellar performance.
Equally important, Algieri had scored only eight knockouts in his ring career. And the only stoppage in his last nine fights was a seventh-round KO of Wilfedo Acuna (who has lost twelve of his last fourteen bouts and been knocked out eleven times).
In sum, Spence-Algieri was made for Spence. The thought process wasn’t, “Who can we bring Algieri back against who will make Chris look good?” It was, “Paulie Malignaggi is out. Who’s a name without a big punch that will make Errol look like the next big thing in boxing?”
The conventional wisdom was that Algieri represented a step up in class for Spence and a test that would indicate how far the prospect has progressed. Errol reinforced that view, saying, “I think I’m one of the top talents of all the young guys. But I’ve got to prove myself. Everybody wants to see what I’ve got. They’ve got a lot of questions that aren’t answered, and they want to see me answer those questions. He’s just a measuring stick to see how good I really am. Every time he stepped up, he lost. That’s my stepping stone. I’m ready for it. I’m looking for a coming-out party.”
Two fights preceded Spence-Algieri on the NBC telecast. Based on their presentation, it looks as though some belt-tightening is underway at Premier Boxing Champions. The huge set that was symbolic of last year’s telecasts was missing. More significantly, Kenny Rice and B.J. Flores called the action, a far cry from last year’s NBC-PBC “dream team” headlined by Al Michaels, Marv Albert, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Former cruiserweight beltholder Steve Cunningham faced off against Krzysztof Glowacki in the first featured fight of the evening. Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) was toiling in near anonymity last June when he climbed off the canvas to knock out Marco Huck in the eleventh round and claim the WBO cruiserweight crown. Cunningham (28-7, 13KOs) is three months shy of his fortieth birthday and, over the past five years, has won only four of eleven fights.
After a slow first round, Cunningham came out aggressively in round two, got sloppy on the inside, and was decked by a straight left . . . Twice . . . That put Steve in a hole that he was unable to climb out of. He fought well in spurts and rocked Glowacki with straight right hands from time to time. But he couldn’t sustain a fight-winning effiort for three minutes a round.
In round ten, Glowacki dropped Cunningham again; this time with a right forearm that referee Arthur Mercante Jr mistakenly called a knockdown. In round twelve, Krzysztof did it again, this time with a body shot while Cunningham was flurrying on the inside.
The CompuBox totals were roughly even, with Cunningham outlanding Glowacki by a 124-to-117 margin. The judges’ scores of 115-109, 115-109, 116-108 were a bit wide of the bullseye but hit the target.
In the second featured fight of the night, Marcus Browne (17-0, 13 KOs) squared off against Radivoje Kalajdzic (21-0, 14 KOs) in a light-heavyweight bout. Browne, like Spence, was a 2012 U.S. Olympian (although he didn’t make it as far as Errol did, losing in the first round). He almost lost to Kalajdzic, and arguably should have.
Midway through round one, Kalajdzic visited the canvas on what was clearly a slip. And Browne clearly hit Kalajdzic with a jolting straight left when he was down. Instead of warning Browne for his transgression (and possibly deducting a point), referee Tony Chiarantano mistakenly called a knockdown. That loomed large on the scorecards later on.
Kalajdzic isn’t a big puncher. But he’s a tough guy who can take a punch. Browne landed hard again and again in the first three stanzas. Then, in round four, Marcus got rocked by a right and the momentum of the fight changed. In round six, another right deposited Browne on the canvas, and he was slow getting up. Kalajdzic ran the table from that point on.
In the end, Browne was saved by the bell. In an unusual way.
Browne-Kalajdzic had been scheduled for ten rounds. But because Glowacki-Cunningham went the full 12-round distance, Browne-Kalajdzic was cut just prior to the bout to eight rounds to accommodate the time restraints imposed by the NBC telecast. Even then, it looked to this observer as though Kalajdzic had eked out a 76-75 triumph. The judges ruled otherwise, giving Browne the victory on a 76-74, 76-75, 74-76 split verdict.
Then it was time for the main event. Depending on where one looked, Spence was listed as a 12-to-1 to 20-to-1 favorite. With good reason.
Spence was in control from the opening bell, digging to Algieri’s body and going upstairs with hard punishing blows. Errol was faster, better schooled, and hit harder than Chris.
In round four, a straight left put Algieri on the canvas. Twenty seconds into round five, another straight left dropped him for the second time. Chris rose on wobbly legs and looked to be in no condition to defend himself. Worse, more than two minutes remained in the round.
At that point, referee Benjy Esteves (whose refereeing credits include Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Mike Perez and Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache) allowed the fight to continue. Fifteen seconds later, with Algieri pinned against the ropes, a brutal lefthand put him on the canvas for the final time.
Spence outlanded Algieri 96-to-36 with a 73-to-33 edge in power punches. It wasn’t that he beat Algieri so much as the way he beat him that was impressive. Errol did what Pacquiao, Provodnikov, and Khan were unable to do. He knocked Chris out.
“It was pretty one-sided,” Spence said afterward. “I want a title fight next. Hopefully, it’s Kell Brook, I’m his mandatory and I want him. Danny Garcia and all the rest of the welterweight champions; I want them all.”
It’s too early for a coronation. By way of comparison; Andre Berto blew out a lot of guys early and was extolled by his proponents as the future of boxing. When Berto was 26 (the same age Spence is now), Andre’s record stood at 25-and-0 with 19 KOs. But he fizzled when things got tough.
We don’t know how Spence will respond when he’s in the ring with someone who forces him to walk through fire. But for that moment to come, the opponent has to be good enough to test Errol in ways that he hasn’t been tested so far. Spence has speed, ring savvy, and power. The fact that he’s a southpaw makes him even more difficult to deal with.
More than a year after PBC began – and after scores of time buys on multiple networks – no PBC fighter has made his way into the consciousness of mainstream sports fans. It’s possible that Spence will. But to get there, he’ll have to fight more challenging opponents.
And a closing note . . .
Refereeing a fight is one of the most difficult jobs in sports. It’s also one of the most important.
Arthur Mercante and Tony Chiarantano can be forgiven for calling two knockdowns that weren’t. Sometimes a referee simply isn’t in position to clearly see a moment in time unfold.
The fact that Chiarantano didn’t penaliza Browne for hitting Kalajdzic when he was down and Esteves allowed Spence-Algieri to continue for as long as he did is more troubling.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (A Hurting Sport) was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.