Welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr. knows what's on the line.
"If I lose, I'm going backwards, not towards my goal and my lifelong dream, winning more titles and unifying the belts," Spence says in the week leading up to his Showtime welterweight title bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn this weekend. "No one wants to fight me now. If I lose, that gives them a reason really not to fight. So, this is a do-or-die fight for me, too."
Spence, 28, of DeSoto, Texas, is largely seen as the next big star in the world of boxing. He currently ranks sixth in ESPN's pound-for-pound rankings and is undefeated in 22 fights with 19 knockouts.
The southpaw will fight Lamont Peterson, 33, of Washington D.C., on Saturday to defend his welterweight belt and perhaps springboard himself to more prominent fights against the likes of unified titleholder Keith Thurman or former junior welterweight titlist Danny Garcia.
"It is a great fight for me," says Spence. "A good judging factor for me, a measuring stick to see where I'm at.
"I pass the eye test, but I still have to prove it and display my skills against Lamont and beat him, and fight Keith Thurman and beat him, and whoever else that's in my way to the top of the welterweight division, so I can be the top guy, the No. 1 guy in the sport."
The speedy welterweight is a three-time national champion as an amateur and former Olympian -- he is still close with Claressa Shields, Marcus Brown and other former Olympic teammates -- who came into prominence when he stopped Chris Algieri in April 2016. He then won by knockout against Leonard Bundu four months later, setting up a long-awaited title fight with Kell Brook.
Traveling to Sheffield, England for the fight, Spence stuck to his game plan and displayed his speed and power, at one point dropping Brook, and eventually stopping him in the 11th round.
"That was a legacy fight for me," he says of the Brook fight. "It's really rare you get a fighter with my pedigree who has to go overseas and fight for a title against the champion and arguably the best in the division at that time. It showed a lot of people that I do have the skills and I do have the temperament to handle certain situations like that, fighting in front of 30,000 fans who are not cheering for me at all."
He'll have another shot to show that skill and temperament on Saturday. The southpaw believes his style matches up well with that of Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs), as both are fan-friendly fighters. He grew up watching Peterson, has sparred with him quite a bit and calls him a friend, saying it is an "honor to be fighting him."
Spence predicts the fight will turn very "in close and very tactical and tough and bruising" by the middle rounds.
"He's a veteran. I'm probably faster and stronger, but he's been there with Grade-A opponents...He sometimes throws a lot of wide shots, a lot of wide hooks, sometimes a couple of uppercuts in there. So, I just have to be defensively aware, especially when I'm on the attack."
Trainer Derrick James reiterates the level of strategy necessary to remain undefeated.
"Peterson throws different punches. He's a smaller guy, but he's very, very intelligent. We have to focus on his level of intelligence."
Spence didn't start boxing until he was 15 years old, when his father, Errol Sr., first brought him to a local boxing gym one summer. He fell in love with the sport as a kid, watching Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Terry Norris.
As he developed his own style, he tried to adopt different parts of many boxers' games, but he most associates himself with Norris' ability to both fight and box -- and there's a difference.
"[Norris] could be drawn into a fight easily -- the Simon Brown fight, the first fight he got knocked out in. Second fight, he just boxed and moved around, didn't make it easy and barely got touched. So, it's the same thing with me. I like to fight, I like to be in close, in the trenches, but I can box if I want to."
Spence will likely have to do a bit of each against Peterson, using his speed and power while also managing Peterson's expertise.
Saturday brings a chance to defend his title and take the next step towards a blockbuster brawl with Thurman to unify welterweight belts. From a 15-year-old who had never boxed to an Olympian to ESPN's prospect of the year in 2015 to the American who went to England to win the title, Spence has paved his way into the spotlight. And it all seems to be culminating with this weekend's bout.
"I think everything is coming together. Accolade after accolade, they are coming together. I think this Lamont Peterson fight will show a lot."