Welterweight Errol Spence Jr. Promises Fireworks – Brooklyn, the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs, is – or at least was – known primarily for its citizenry’s unmistakable accent, an iconic bridge that opened in 1883, a beloved baseball team that moved to Los Angeles 59 years ago, and an amusement park that was the largest and most well-attended in the United States before a visionary named Walt Disney expanded and improved upon the concept in Anaheim, Calif. But Jackie, Duke and Pee Wee are distant memories of a cherished time in borough history, and many reminders of what constituted the “old” Brooklyn are as long gone as Ebbets Field.
Many Brooklynites began leaving for the suburbs of Long Island even before the Dodgers skipped town, and the fabled Cyclone roller coaster (built in 1927) and other fun-filled rides at Coney Island began to fall into disrepair following World War II. By and by, America’s most vibrant, diverse and distinctive urban setting – first settled in the 17th century as the Dutch-founded town of “Breuckelen” – began to show its age.
Welterweight Errol Spence Jr. Promises Fireworks
But Brooklyn has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years, transforming itself into what Wikipedia has described as “a hub of entrepreneurship and high technology setup firms, and of postmodern art and design.” Brooklyn’s shrinking population again is on the rise, from 2.3 million in 1990 to 2.65 million in 2012. Gentrification has significantly boosted property values, and along with a spate of new construction some familiar and culturally important landmarks, such as the Cyclone, have been restored at no small cost in an effort to retain some essence of what made the place so distinctive in the first place.
Interestingly, professional boxing has played a role in Brooklyn’s remarkable makeover, with the Barclays Center challenging and likely surpassing Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan as New York’s busiest and most currently identifiable fight site. Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark has pledged that the venue, home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and NHL’s New York Islanders, will continue to be a magnet for the biggest and best bouts under the aegis of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment.
A pivotal figure in the Brooklyn pugilistic revival is homeboy Lou DiBella, the Harvard Law School grad and former senior vice president of HBO Sports whose promotional company, DiBella Entertainment, has served as the conduit for staging most of the four-year-old Barclays Center’s signature fight cards. More new ground will be broken on Aug. 21 when one of the sport’s hottest growth properties, welterweight contender Errol Spence Jr. (20-0, 17 KOs), squares off against well-seasoned Leonard Bundu (33-1-2, 12 KOs), of Italy, in the first boxing event ever staged — also under the sponsorship of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment — at the open-air, 5,000-seat Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk.
The matchup – which won’t exactly serve as Spence’s Brooklyn coming-out party; the 26-year-old resident of DeSoto, Texas, stopped Chris Algieri in five one-sided rounds on April 16 at Barclays – will be televised at 5 p.m. Eastern Time via PBC on NBC, following the Olympic men’s basketball gold-medal match in Rio de Janeiro, also on NBC. That fact virtually assures a large viewing audience for the fight, especially if the seemingly invincible American hoops team serves as the lead-in. And although Spence-Bundu at least has the sheen of legitimacy, as an IBF eliminator for that sanctioning body’s No. 1 rating at 147 pounds and a mandatory shot at champion Kell Brook, it is probable that Spence, a 50-to-1 favorite over the 41-year-old Bundu, is even more of a sure thing than the NBA-superstar-laden U.S. basketball team.
Still Spence – a 2012 U.S. Olympian who inexplicably failed to medal in London, given his obvious wealth of talent – understands that one of boxing’s hoary axioms can’t apply in this instance. It won’t suffice merely to “win this one, look good in the next one.” If Spence, a southpaw with a big punch and high charisma quotient, is to establish himself as must-see TV and a future pay-per-view attraction, it will be necessary for him to make Bundu his eighth consecutive knockout victim, and 11th in his last 12 ring appearances.
“Of course I want the knockout,” Spence said. “If it comes, I definitely will take it. But I just look for, you know, a spectacular performance. Hopefully, I have another performance like I did with Chris Algieri. I’m a rising star and I want to look spectacular against (Bundu).”
Pressure of a sort was put on Spence after another prohibitive favorite, Andre Ward, was obliged to go the 12-round distance in scoring a scorecard shutout of 85-1 longshot Alexander Brand on Aug. 6 in Oakland, Calif. Although Brand talked tough beforehand, his fight plan clearly was to survive, and Ward appeared satisfied to allow him to do that so as not to jeopardize his impending megafight with WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 19.
Bundu, who won the vacant European welterweight title for a second time when he stopped Finland’s Jussi Koivula in nine rounds last Dec. 13 in Florence, Italy, would seem a possible candidate to replicate Brand’s safety-first approach in only his second fight on American soil. His first trip to the U.S. resulted in a 12-round, unanimous-decision loss to Keith Thurman for the interim WBA welterweight championship on Dec. 13, 2014, at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. It is that fight that defines not only Bundu, but, in this instance, Spence.
“The bigger the fight, the more motivated you are,” Bundu said of what might be his final opportunity to prove himself on a globally important stage. “These are the kind of fights I need. I know I can perform better than I did with Keith Thurman. What I like about Errol is that he’s coming to fight.
“I know I have something in me. I have something that people haven’t seen yet. I’m not a big puncher, but I’m a big volume puncher. (Spence is) a very complete boxer, but I don’t think he has yet to be fully tested. I’m here for that.”
Spence takes pride in the fact he floored Algieri, a former WBO super lightweight champ, three times, twice in the climactic fifth round, prompting referee Benjy Esteves Jr. to step in and wave a halt to the bludgeoning. It is a matter of pride to Spence that Algieri, despite being dropped six times, was able to make it to the final bell in losing a wide unanimous decision to living legend Manny Pacquiao back on Nov. 23, 2014. It will be another source of pride to Spence if he can do unto Bundu what Thurman was unable to do when he mixed it up with the 2000 Italian Olympian, namely end things in emphatic fashion.
“I study boxing,” Spence said of his place in a deep pool of welterweight standouts vying to fill the king-of-the-mountain slot abdicated by the retired Floyd Mayweather Jr. “I’m real familiar with everybody at 147. It’s been my motive to outdo other top welterweights. You want to look better than they did.”
But crushing Bundu as he did Algieri might be more difficult for Spence than many imagine.
“Bundu’s a real good fighter,” Spence allowed. “He’s very crafty. He gave Keith Thurman fits at different points in that fight.
“They’re way different fighters,” Spence continued in comparing Bundu to Algieri. “They have different styles. Chris Algieri is more of a pure boxer who just recently tried to plant his feet and fight a little bit. Bundu can move. He can box. He can come forward, too. I think Bundu has more to his arsenal than Chris Algieri.”
Adding to Spence’s imperative to continue winning in dominant fashion is the fact that he is a sort-of homebody, having been born on Long Island. Although he moved with his parents to Texas when he was just two years of age (DeSoto is a suburb of Dallas), he has numerous relatives in the New York area, and it can be a daunting thing to deliver big thrills when the crowd includes a raft of uncles, aunts and cousins. Just ask Kovalev, the “Krusher” from Russia who appeared to be a little tight in his most recent bout, a 12-round unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba on July 11 in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
“It means a lot to me, to be fighting in front of my family,” Spence acknowledged. “I have a lot of family in New York. I’m expecting a big turnout from both sides, my mom’s and my dad’s.”
So, is there a chance Bundu can do the impossible and derail the Spence Express? Or will Spence inhale his opponent as readily as Joey Chestnut did in winning the 100th anniversary Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4, just down the Boardwalk, when he consumed an amazing 70 wieners, and buns, in the allotted 10 minutes?
The guess here is that Spence will wolf down Bundu as if he were slathered with mustard and relish. If he does, not only will he increase the value of his brand, but also that of Brooklyn boxing, which is also becoming a hot commodity in its own right.
Welterweight Errol Spence Jr. Promises Fireworks