Errol Spence Jr. is now a world champion, becoming one under circumstances not common to this generation of fighters. He took on the most talented welterweight in the division in Kell Brook, a massive step up in class from previous opponents, and he took his licks before finally closing the show when he battered Brook into submission in round 11. Not only did the 22-0 Spence win the title in thrilling fashion against a legitimate champion, but by doing so on Brook’s home turf, he made his arrival on the big scene even more significant. And no doubt he is headed to even bigger and better things. Indeed, just a few more moves may make Spence a true superstar, one of the defining fighters of this era.
Spence’s thrilling victory had shades of Sugar Ray Leonard’s title win over the great Wilfred Benitez where Leonard was tested early, forged on in the middle rounds, and then put it all together to earn a stoppage in a sensational bout. Like Ray Leonard back in 1979, Spence, with the attention and hype he generates, is in an excellent position to potentially become a foundational star in the post Mayweather-Pacquiao era, but he must do so against foes that will both test him and boost his profile, though not necessarily in that order.
The most obvious fights to make, unification matches with Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao, are easy to sell, but hard to make happen now. Thurman suffered an elbow injury that will leave him out for the remainder of the year, and upon his return he’s expected to make mandatory defenses of his WBC and WBA titles against either Shawn Porter or Lamont Peterson. Pacquiao has given up on testing his mettle after years of being one of the sport’s elite performers, opting to line his constantly thinning pockets with a series of sideshow exhibitions to round out his career, starting this summer with the unheralded and overmatched Jeff Horn.
Porter narrowly lost to Thurman last year and has been actively pursuing a rematch, so taking a risky detour with Spence is not in the cards. Danny Garcia would be a suitable opponent, but no doubt he will opt for a number of easy tune-ups until he has no choice but to take on a serious challenge. Promotional red tape also prevents Spence from making big fights at the next rung down with Top Rank’s Terence Crawford and Timothy Bradley, who have only been allowed to participate outside of Bob Arum’s stable in fights favorable to their circumstances.
A potential eliminator bout between faded ex-champs Devon Alexander and Luis Collazo is presumed to be part of the Mikey Garcia vs Adrien Broner card once it comes to fruition, but having Spence go up against either man is the equivalent of a walk-off home run with the bases loaded. Either match would be a foregone conclusion and would do him little good.
So where does “The Truth” go from here? To keep Spence on his momentum and to build his brand, he needs a dance partner that will turn heads, make headlines and attract interest from the hardcore faithful and casual fans alike, and in my view the obvious dance partner to make that happen is Amir Khan. Despite his lack of activity, the mere mention of Khan’s name draws interest and headlines, and the former champion was in fact ringside for Spence’s title-winning performance against Brook. No doubt he watched with a view to sizing up a fighter he may have to face in the near future.
Bolton’s Khan has transitioned into a part-time fighter in recent years, holding out for major paydays while having fought only four times over the course of the last three years. His last ring appearance was back in May of 2016 when he was shellacked by Saul Alvarez in a middleweight title fight. Khan carries the appeal needed to give Spence more visibility to fans that are still coming around to this new era of the sport and it is the kind of match, assuming the money is right, Khan should be willing to make.
Though it must be noted that “King Khan” likes to have things his way and can be risk averse. Over the last few years he proved extremely reluctant to make what seemed a natural fight between him and Brook, but from his point of view it didn’t make sense to settle for a parity split in a high-risk match that had the potential to do his image and his earning potential real damage. So that raises the question: if Khan was so unwilling to make the Brook fight, why would he bother with Spence?
Simply put, while Khan was not going to get the kind of favorable split he wanted in the Brook match, the likely financial terms of a clash with Spence might be enough to sway Khan into the ring, especially since Amir will have to fight again sooner rather than later. Unless a match with Pacquiao materializes, or Brook wants to give up the lions share to Khan, Spence is the fight to make.
While Khan hasn’t been busy, that’s not to say this proposed match-up would be a walk in the park for Spence and in fact, it could be a barnburner of a fight. Though Spence took care of business against Brook, Khan’s brand of speed and athleticism is something the young pro has yet to see at this stage of his career, making a potential fight between them genuinely intriguing. Even against Canelo, Khan was winning until he was caught by a counter shot from a much larger man, suggesting that he can still give anybody at 147 a serious run for their money.
Meanwhile Brook was giving Spence all he could handle for the first eight rounds of their bout until Spence’s body attack and pressure wore him down. But Spence having to trap a more agile opponent in Khan, a boxer who can hit as quickly as he can move, is a new challenge altogether. There are many fascinating subplots to explore while the name value alone makes Khan vs Spence the only truly big fight “The Truth” can take while waiting for Thurman to clear his schedule.
All things considered, a win over Khan would add the glitziest name yet to Spence’s record and the fight would no doubt command a global audience, allowing the new champion to reach more mainstream sports fans. It would represent a big payday for both boxers and give Khan a chance to suddenly become relevant again. The match makes sense for a number of reasons and would be a legitimate event for boxing fans on both sides of the Atlantic to get excited about. Yes, it does seem a bit ungrateful to ask even more of what has been a terrific year for boxing, but Spence vs Khan is the big match at welterweight that can and should be made. — Danny Howard