The name Jigoro Kano won’t ring many bells amongst our boxing fellowship. The small, weak, affluent Japanese primary school teacher went on to become immortalised after founding Judo – the first martial art from the country to be accepted into the Olympics. Kano is also attributed with creating the ‘black belt’ system often seen in martial arts and his creation is prevalent, worldwide.
What relevance does this have, to Errol Spence’s defence of his welterweight title on Saturday, in Arlington, Texas? Good question…
Judo literally translates to ‘the gentle way’. Its key principles were; maximum efficiency with minimal effort; softness controls hardness. It was designed, primarily, to close the gap between smaller, technical players and large, brute competitors. Breaking your opponent’s balance and timing your attacks is key, with ‘open weight’ categories becoming the norm at major events.
On Saturday evening, Mikey Garcia will attempt to dethrone the far bigger, far stronger champion, fighting two divisions and almost a stone heavier than his last conquest. The Oxnard man will rely on technique, speed and intelligence, battling the striking deficiencies between the pair, physically. He’s faced tough opposition before, outwitting Orlando Salido and smothering Adrien Broner. But Spence is a different kettle of fish.
Both men are unbeaten, so both are a mystery. The path to victory remains filled with obstacles and it will be fascinating to see which man emerges victorious. General consensus amongst members of the boxing media is that Spence wears down the four-weight champion, potentially stopping him late. He is just too big. However, in the last week, a surge of support for Garcia has swept social media with neutral observers favouring the upset. Could it be a masterclass?
Spence is ever the consummate professional. The former Olympian travelled to Sheffield, England to prove himself and snatch Kell Brook’s IBF world title on hostile, foreign soil. His performance when facing former champion, Lamont Peterson, was the catalyst for Garcia’s challenge, with him and his brother/trainer, Robert, exclaiming their superiority. Interestingly, Kano too had to travel. His school arranged a team of its best Judo players to face the Japanese police’s elite Jujitsu players in a battle for bragging rights. Kano’s crew wiped the floor with the law – who later took on Judo as their primary sport. Hostility was overcome, once again, by respect and fearlessness.
As we watch the fight week activities unfold, I’ve enjoyed Spence’s ice-cold coach, Derrick James, himself a relative rookie despite winning the Ring Magazine Trainer of the Year award two years ago. His exciting stable have caught fire, displaying loyalty and showing consistency at the upper echelons of a fickle sport. He stated, in an exclusive interview with Boxing Social, that he hadn’t been focusing on Spence’s natural advantages and was merely looking to improve his boxing fundamentals. Those advantages, though, would be apparent regardless as the fighters touch gloves in the eighty-thousand seater stadium.
Far, far away from strawberry picking in California, the Garcia family will propel themselves towards greatness. The smaller, weaker man will attempt to combine his education with occasion, upsetting the Southern crowd and leaving with some glowing red treasure sprayed across his waist. Can he topple Errol Spence? He couldn’t face many tougher tasks. But they must have seen something. Often, in Judo, a split second can be the difference between success and failure. On Saturday, you’d imagine Mikey would have to stick exactly to his gameplan for thirty-six minutes. What’s thirty-six minutes to an outstanding talent, frozen out out of boxing for two years, bound by its tarred contracts? This is his moment.
The Texan champion and American prodigy, Errol Spence, may find this is his coming out parade. If he can topple Garcia in devastating fashion in front of a partisan crowd on pay-per-view, he becomes a megastar. It’s a fight he should win, by all accounts. History can only tell us so much, before the next chapter is written and Spence is the author in Arlington. Big unification fights await him – if he can stand tall above the pressure.
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209