Entering 2018, boxing is desperately in need of a new American superstar. Floyd Mayweather’s brief return last year to face MMA champion Connor McGregor made for a big pay-per-view event. But it was a sideshow, not a true boxing contest. The biggest legitimate boxing match of 2017 was Gennady Golovkin vs. Saul Alvarez. Alvarez and Golovkin are both exciting, charismatic fighters, but both men also face language barriers that prevent them from gaining true media traction in the United States.
Mayweather himself played against type as a boxing star. He has a cadre of diehard fans and his phenomenal skills have always been appreciated by serious boxing fans. But the biggest driver of PPV sales for Mayweather were all the casual fans who despised him and bought his fights hoping, in vain, to see him get knocked out.
Errol Spence has the potential to be a more traditional boxing hero. His technical ability is formidable, but he also has the instincts of an assassin when an opponent is in trouble. Post-fight, when he speaks about having “true grit” in his Texas drawl, his likeable qualities are obvious.
There’s still a long road ahead of Spence, before we can really talk about him in the same breath as a fighter like Mayweather. The next step on that road comes this weekend in Brooklyn, when Spence faces veteran contender Lamont Peterson. I will be surprised if Spence loses that fight–I will be surprised if he fails to knock Peterson out. But I have been surprised plenty of times before. And Peterson upsetting Spence would hardly be the biggest surprise I’ve had as a boxing fan.
Beyond this weekend, Spence will need the right matchmaking to take his next step toward true stardom. If he does indeed beat Peterson, he should push as hard as possible to make a fight with Keith Thurman next. The winner of that bout would be the new Welterweight Champion of the World–the first man to legitimately claim that title since Floyd Mayweather retired.