Unbeaten welterweight prospect Errol Spence Jr. just might have what it takes to be the next great boxer in the sport. All he needs is a chance to test himself against the big names.
Spence (17-0, 14 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian out of Desoto, Texas, returns on Friday to face Chris van Heerden (23-1-1, 12 KOs) at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum. The 10-round welterweight bout is the co-main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET) headlined by Adonis Stevenson-Tommy Karpency.
If Spence, 25, is victorious, the elite names he desires could be in his near future. He'll have to get past van Heerden, 28, a native of South Africa who fights out of Southern California, who is trained by Freddie Roach.
Spence recently caught up with ESPN.com ahead of Friday's fight:
Despite calling out unbeaten titlist Keith Thurman after your last appearance in June you were unable to land the fight. How disappointed were you?
I knew there was a good chance that a Thurman fight wasn't going to play out, especially this year. I'm fighting a guy who is a tough fighter and has the belt. It's a good level of fight for me.
Your willingness to call a top name like Thurman out showed a lot of people what you're made of. What led up to that decision?
I just want to fight the best fighters that are out there. I don't see the purpose of me fighting guys that I can knock out in the first or second round or whatever. I want to fight the best fighters in my weight class. I feel like I'm ready to fight them, so I just stated my opinion.
Thurman had a number of colorful responses for you each time I talked to him over the last few months, saying, "I'm not scared of the boy," and that you need to get in line. What was your response?
I expected him to say it. Sometimes he says nobody wants to fight him or this and that, but when somebody steps up you get all types of excuses. It is what it is. He said what he had to say. I'm not going to go out of my way. I don't need to fight Keith Thurman. It's not a fight that I have to have. There are other fighters out there who are willing to fight me. Once I get up there, hopefully sometime next year, maybe we'll fight or maybe we won't. But it's not something that will affect me.
I've been on record as saying that in the post-Mayweather-Pacquiao generation that you have the brightest potential to one day become pound-for-pound king. Do you welcome that kind of praise from critics? Or does it add unnecessary pressure?
It is a compliment because there are a lot of fighters out there, so for someone to mention my name it's a huge compliment, but it's not something I think about all the time. I just have to focus and keep working hard so I can live up to the high expectations that people have for me.
How would you describe your fighting style?
My fighting style is as a boxer-puncher. I take what my opponent gives me and I create openings. I can fight on the inside and I can counter-punch on the outside. I can be slick. Basically I'm an all-around fighter and that just comes from me working hard in the gym with my coach and working on the fundamentals and small things.
Were there any fighters you patterned your style after in the beginning?
I watched a lot of fights. I used to watch a lot of Terry Norris fights. I used to watch Pernell Whitaker. It's an accumulation of different fighters that I watched and picked up little things and smart things from them and just added them to my game.
Floyd Mayweather has also spoken very highly of you in recent months and you have had the opportunity to spar with him since turning pro. What have you learned from being around him that you can apply in the ring?
It has been great, especially when I sparred with him. It was my first year turning pro and a lot of guys don't get that chance when you only have three or four fights and you are sparring the best fighter in the world. And I actually did good with him, which was a big confidence booster. Just to be in the ring with him and spar with him and being in camp with him, just to get to see how a future Hall of Famer works out and trains and spars and just to see how disciplined he was. It was a huge confidence boost to see how a world champion conducts his camp.
How much have you modeled Mayweather's mentality of hit-and-don't-get-hit as a way to extend your career?
Defense plays a huge part. I think it shows why he's still in the sport at 38 and undefeated. It's all longevity because he doesn't get hit that much. He may take a lot of arm shots and forearms and stuff like that, but he doesn't get hit in the face that much. That's why he has been in the game 19 years and has been undefeated and fighting for so many world titles. You rarely see him with a bloody nose and that's a huge part if you want to stay in the sport a long time.
Speaking of your success sparring with Mayweather, there are plenty of gym rumors out there that you dropped Adrien Broner recently and gave Floyd all he could handle before his fight with Robert Guerrero in 2013. Can you confirm these stories are true?
I mean, like you say, it's everybody. ... I mean it's just good sparring. I mean, all of the sparring was good. All of the sparring was competitive. And all of the sparring I learned something. I'm just happy I got that sparring because maybe it has made me the boxer I am today.
Based on your styles, what type of fight are you expecting against van Heerden?
I think it will be a good fight as long as it lasts. He's a tough fighter, he's real gritty and he's not going to lay down. I think it's going to be a good fight.
What do you bring to the welterweight division that isn't there right now?
Welterweight is the talented weight class and I think that I bring excitement, knockouts, power and speed. I'm very technical. It's just old-school boxing. There are a lot of great fighters out there and I think we can make classic fights like they did back in the day. I think I bring a little bit of everything to the table.