World title fight might just be Errol Spence Jr.'s springboard to Dallas fame

DeSoto, TX - When it comes to producing world champions, Dallas is a lightweight boxing town. The roll call is short. It starts with Hall of Famer Curtis Cokes, the great

welterweight warrior whose prime came in the 1960s. It ends with one-fight wonder Quincy Taylor, who reigned over a slice of the middleweight world for seven months as 1995 bled into 1996 before he faded into professional obscurity.

By the way, if you missed Taylor's two title fights, it could be because both the coming and going were on Las Vegas undercards, obscured by ferocious heavyweight knockouts courtesy of Mike Tyson. You also would have missed promoter Don King referring to Dallas' relatively anonymous middleweight champion as "Quincy Adams."

But now, come Saturday inside a soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, welterweight Errol Spence Jr. has an opportunity to add a seismic wallop to Dallas boxing lore. That will come against the considerable skills of hometown champion Kell Brook, sure to be backed by the roar of a partisan crowd in the neighborhood of 30,000 who will cheer his every feint and jab.2000 spence

Number one ranked IBF Welterweight contender Errol Spence, Jr. works out with his trainer, Derrick James on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at R&R Boxing Club in Dallas. The workout is in advance of his mandatory title shot against IBF Welterweight Champion Kell Brook on Saturday, May 27 in Sheffield, England. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)

Spence may be the best boxer Dallas has produced since fellow 147-pounder Cokes first tiptoed onto the scene in 1958, building his resume on regular local fight cards at the likes of the departed Sportatorium as well as Memorial Auditorium, now a piece of of massive convention center.

"There's no question Errol is the most promising prospect we have produced," said Taylor August, a longtime Dallas trainer who has worked with area boxers since 1979. That's "we," as in Dallas.

Full disclosure: Unlike Cokes, now 79, who was born and raised in Dallas, Spence, 27, was born on New York's Long Island. He didn't get to Dallas until he was 1, when his family moved to the southern suburbs and ultimately settled in DeSoto.

"Hopefully, people will be talking about me 50 years from now like they do Curtis Cokes," Spence said in tribute to Dallas' finest before a recent sparring session.

Although August is 83 now, he is connected to Spence. Once upon a time, August trained a local super middleweight named Derrick James, who carved out a 21-7-1 record before retiring in 2008.

James now trains Spence. That it most often in the relative obscurity of the R&R Boxing Club -- a sweat-stained throwback gym in a strip mall off Walnut Hill Lane, not far from Harry Hines Boulevard -- something James, a Dallas native, is used to.

"It's crazy," James said as he prepared last month to work with Spence. "One of the best fighters in the world trains here and yet nobody comes around to watch. Maybe things will change."

James was hand-picked to work with Spence by the fighter's father, Errol Sr., a now-retired FedEx contractor who remains a fixture in his son's corner.

Soon after Errol Sr. learned his son preferred boxing to playing football with the likes of fellow DeSoto athletes Von Miller and Cyrus Gray, the father began a search for the right laboratory and proper professor to teach the craft.

Father moved son from gym to gym in search of a serious atmosphere and coach who would give no quarter. He decided on a South Dallas gym and a then up-and-coming James, who often stopped in.

When Errol Jr. was still an amateur, James guided him all the way to U.S. Olympic team that competed at the 2012 London Games. And when the time came for Errol Jr. to turn pro, father insisted the local remain the trainer after the father oversaw the selection of a nationally known management team led by powerbroker Al Haymon.

A giant first step toward hometown fame would be a Spence victory in the title fight that will be available on Showtime, the premium cable network.

Spence (21-0 with 18 knockouts), considered one of the top welterweights in the world, has a solid chance to relieve Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) of the IBF's 147-pound title. Spence is left-handed and the harder puncher. He has been schooled by James in throwing body shots to soften up opponents. He's knocked out seven consecutive foes. But none have been the quality of Brook.

Brook's lone loss came in his last fight. He moved up to 160 pounds in pursuit of Gennady Golovkin's middleweight titles. The undefeated Golovkin knocked Brook out in the fifth round of their September fight in London.

Brook-Spence is rated close to even by most oddsmakers' websites. Promoter Oscar De La Hoya, a welterweight of note in his day, is not working this fight. Spence is his pick. "He knocks him out," De La Hoya said.

The mild-mannered Spence believes Brook is fully recovered from the beating administered by Golovkin and won't throw any verbal jabs.

"I think the (Golovkin) fight is in the past," Spence said. "He had nine months to recover...There are guys that have been in tougher wars than that. I'm expecting a 100-percent Kell Brook to come to fight."

Spence said he is not concerned about fighting in Brook's hometown, where the crowd might have an influence on the judges should the fight, scheduled for 12 rounds, go to the scorecards.

"I'm hoping the IBF will bring in fair judges," Spence said. "Besides, I'll have 20 to 30 people at the fight rooting for me."

Spence has a sense of humor. He also has a sense of purpose. Unsaid is his belief he will end the fight by knockout.

Then maybe his first title defense could be back home inside a packed 20,000-seat American Airlines Center, Spence said, looking around a lightly attended workout.

"And someday, who knows maybe I could fight at Cowboys Stadium in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people in my hometown," he added, ignoring the geopolitical reality of county lines. "That would be amazing."

Top Dallas fighters

Curtis Cokes: Was 62-14-4 in a 14-year professional career that ended in 1972. Was the best 147-pound fighter in the world when he owned both the WBA and WBC welterweight championships.

Quincy Taylor: Upset Julian Jackson for the WBC middleweight title on a card headlined by Mike Tyson's farcical first round demolition of Peter McNeeley. Lost the title in his very next fight to Keith Holmes on the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno undercard.

Errol Spence Jr.: One world championship short of slipping into second place.

Robert Byrd: Had a storied amateur career. A super featherweight, he won 20 of 26 pro fights from 1985 to 1992.

Robert Marroquin: Another terrific amateur career, he carefully was brought along as a super featherweight by promoter Bob Arum. Finally lost in his 20th pro fight. That was in 2011. He has since lost three of his past seven fights.


What: Champion Kell Brook (36-1) vs. Dallas' Errol Spence Jr. (21-0) for IBF welterweight title

When: Saturday, 4:15 p.m.

Where: Sheffield, England

TV: Showtime

Source: Dallas Morning News