Errol Spence Jr. survived his toughest challenge — now the real work begins

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The horrifying images of Errol Spence Jr.’s white Ferrari bouncing end over end down the street are hard to forget. You can watch the surveillance video of the accident repeatedly and not get numb to it.

Spence remembers little of the events from the early morning hours of Oct. 10, 2019, when, fueled by alcohol, he lost control of his sports car and nearly lost his life with it.

Spence is an elite boxer, one of the greatest in the world. Far more than that, he’s a father to three beautiful young children, who came thisclose to nearly having to live their lives without their father.

As he heads into his first bout since that fateful night, when he defends the IBF-WBC welterweight titles at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against Danny “Swift” Garcia, there is a noticeable difference in Spence.

He was never one to give much of himself to reporters, and so unless you were around him a lot more than boxing writers ever are, you don’t really know him.

But he concedes that he’s far more introspective now than he was prior to that night, when like many rich, fit athletes, he perceived himself to be nearly bulletproof.

“It changed my perspective on life,” Spence said of his accident. “Being as young as I am, you think you’re invincible and you’re going to live forever. Spending time with my little ones, especially, it changed my overall perspective knowing you’re not going to be here forever and that you need to get the most out of life that you can.”

Errol Spence Jr. is seeing things very differently since he nearly lost his life in an automobile accident. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez, File)

He began working out lightly three months after the accident but didn’t spar until September, a full 11 months later. He said he wanted to let his body heal and be convinced that he was fully recovered.

It was a wise decision, because there are on occasion fights where a boxer takes such a beating that he’s never the same. This accident was a hundred times worse than the toughest match he’s ever had.

So he resisted the urge to take punches until he was certain the time was right. He loves boxing and it’s been a big part of his life, but it isn’t the only thing in his life.

Fighting, of course, made him rich beyond his wildest imagination and has allowed him to take care of his family in a manner where literally nothing is out of reach.

He wondered many times, though, if it was all over. He was 29 at the time of the accident and admitted that there were more than a few days when he thought all that was left in boxing for him were the memories.

“Of course it runs through your mind, ‘Am I really going to be able to fight again?’” Spence, now 30, told Yahoo Sports. “I didn’t tell anybody that was running through my mind, but it was.”

He enters the Garcia fight No. 4 on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list and coming off of an impressive win over Shawn Porter in Los Angeles that unified the welterweight belts. He secured the win with a dramatic late knockdown of Porter.

He could have asked for a tune-up just for the opportunity to get his timing back and regain a feel for the ring, but he declined. He chose Garcia, who is criminally underrated and who has the punching power to end the fight at any moment.

Spence said he didn’t feel he’d gain anything from a tune-up. His trainer, the estimable Derrick James, said Spence is working with a determination in the gym previously unseen.

Whenever an athlete goes through what Spence has been through, there are skeptics. Spence seems to be determined to prove those skeptics wrong by the way he’s responded to James’ coaching in camp.

“He’s pushing himself as hard or harder than ever,” James said. “You can tell that there’s a competition within himself so that he can push himself to be the best he’s ever been.”

That’s a high bar to clear. Spence is 26-0 with 21 knockouts and ever since turning pro after competing on the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team, he’s been hailed as a potential superstar. Many called him the next Sugar Ray Leonard.

He’s largely lived up to the hype, but now the real work begins. Garcia is 36-2 and without much difficulty, could be 38-0. He’s a slick boxer and a hard puncher and always a hard out.

If Spence gets past Garcia — he’s a -450 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, with Garcia a +340 underdog — bouts with Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford loom in the distance.

The welterweight division is teeming with talent and there are a lot of great matches to be made. In addition, young fighters like Vergil Ortiz and Jaron Ennis are poised to break into that top group.

There will be a lot of competition for Spence to maintain his perch at or near the top.

Despite how talented those fighters are, they’re nothing compared to what Spence has already been through. If he proves he’s operating at his old levels against Garcia, that will be his biggest win.

Not many people come so close to dying and live to tell about it like Spence. The pressure is off after that and everything he does from this point on is like playing with house money.

It gets no better than that.

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