Errol Spence vs. Carlos Ocampo: The fans, the sport, and the fighters merit more

Tired of mismatches?
Errol Spence Jr. walks away after halting Carlos Ocampo in the first round.

I’m sorry. I’m sick of it. Tired too. Too many endless match-ups where the result is, completely, a foregone conclusion. Saturday’s Spence/Ocampo setup was just the latest in a seemingly never-ending procession of utterly predictable, suspense-free, fistic encounters this year. I’m not a dummy, nor am I a casual. I know how the game works. These fights have always and will always be a part of the sport. And, they have their place. Had the Ocampo fight been made for Spence in the middle of a true championship schedule, it would have been acceptable. But, presented to us, the fans and followers of this once-great, once-mainstream sport, as it was—on the heels of another setup fight against Lamont Peterson—is absolutely atrocious. It’s also a complete disservice to Errol Spence Jr. who is as fine a young champion as we have seen in many, many years.

Errol Spence Jr. is 28 years-old. That is, generally, the very best year a fighter will ever have in their career. 26, 27, 28 and 29 are, typically, the very best years, physically, in a fighter’s career. Spence will not get another decent fight until he is 29. At the ages of 26, 27 and 28, he has faced Bundu, Algieri, Brook, Peterson and Ocampo. Four setups and one very good win that will be a full two years old by the time he gets his next high-profile fight—likely the Porter/Garcia winner, again, in 2019, when he will be….29. Spence isn’t in danger of seeing his absolute prime slide uneventfully past him, his absolute prime is sliding uneventfully past him. Considering he shares a promoter/adviser/manager with them, Errol Spence should have already beaten both Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. In both fights the Texan would be favored to win, but they would be the kind of reasonably competitive, challenging contests a fighter like Spence needs to grow. If you think Spence Jr. is good now, how much better would he be today if he had already fought Garcia and Porter? None of this is Errol Spence’s fault, he only fights who is put in front of him.

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Let me tell you what I mean by a setup. A setup is a fight in which the underdog has been chosen to look decent, maybe even a step up for the favorite, on paper, but who stylistically has none, as in zero chance to win. Typically, these setups have in common little to no power, boxing’s biggest x-factor. Not that power is everything, we all know it isn’t, but when the favored fighter is measurably, either, better, younger, bigger, etc.—maybe all the above—removing any “puncher’s chance” from the equation causes the odds for an upset to plummet to, well, zero. By choosing opponents who already are fighting an uphill battle, who also have no chance of landing a fight, or momentum altering punch, let alone keeping the favorite off them, the promoters might as well be fixing these fights as they are 99.9% safe. For us as viewers they are 99.9% without any suspense or drama, two of the characteristics of a good boxing match and two of the things that made us fall for the sport in the first place. The epitome of this type of “setup” fight was Spence vs Chris Algieri. Algieri had been around, had a name, but stylistically, in no way could one craft a realistic scenario in which he could win that fight. 99.99% safe.

The only danger, the worst possible outcome for the favored fighter, as Jermell Charlo recently found out, is to be made to look unimpressive. Combined with obviously deferential judging, a ‘W’ is virtually guaranteed before the bell rings for round one. I’m sorry, but I do not consider whether or not Austin Trout can survive 12 rounds with Jermell Charlo, or, can Charlo look better than Jarret Hurd against Trout, “suspense” in the classic sense. Trout isn’t good enough to outbox Charlo for 12 rounds nor has he ever had the punch to change the fight dramatically in his favor. A setup. While I’m on the subject, I like Trout, he seems like a nice guy. I hope I never have to watch him fight a top-5 154-pound fighter ever again. If a match like that with him is made, I swear, I will not tune in.

Thanks to the promoters and advisers, prizefighters are no longer elite practitioners of a sport. Instead they’ve become elite risk-managers. They are advised to duck/avoid, not only remotely risky opposition, but to, essentially, duck us, the fans who want, who crave, to see the good fights made. It seems like 90% of what we, the consumers of boxing, get anymore are these setup fights. Golden Boy does this. Top Rank does this. It effectively eliminates upsets. But, of late, the worst offender is the PBC. Be it Garcia/Rios, Charlo/Centeno or Charlo/Trout, the PBC has made an art form of producing fights that look better on paper than they actually are. What makes it so abysmal on their end is that they use this to keep their fighters “running in place” from a career standpoint. I’m certain there are more, but in the last year, the only two PBC main events that I can think of, in which the outcome was in doubt, was Wilder/Ortiz and Stevenson/Jack. PBC boxers are, to nearly a man, chronically inactive. And after all that time, we wait, for a setup.

The sport deserves better. The fans deserve better. Errol Spence Jr. absolutely deserves better.

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