Errol Spence Jr. simply needs to defeat the aging Leonard Bundu on Sunday to earn a long-awaited world title shot. Speaking frankly, though, “The Truth” says merely winning isn’t enough.
Spence knows Bundu took 147-pound champion Keith Thurman the distance nearly two years ago, dropping a one-sided unanimous decision for his first and only defeat. So Errol Spence Jr. (20-0, 17 KOs) would love nothing more than to one-up his unbeaten divisional rival and stop Leonard Bundu (33-1-2, 13 KOs) before the final bell when they meet in a title eliminator Sunday.
The 12-round clash from Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn, New York, immediately follows the Olympic gold-medal men’s basketball game in Rio (NBC, 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT).
“A win is always great, but I want to look impressive,” says Spence, a 26-year-old native of Long Island, New York, who now resides in Desoto, Texas. “If I look impressive against Bundu or even stop Bundu, it would be a huge statement at the 147-pound division, doing something that Keith Thurman couldn’t do.”
If he indeed finishes Bundu early, Spence would notch his eighth consecutive stoppage win. A victory of any kind would put Spence in line to challenge Britain’s Kell Brook (36-0, 25 KOs), owner of a 147-pound title who is moving up to face 160-pound champion Gennady Golovkin on September 10.
A resident of Italy who was born in Sierra Leone, Bundu will be fighting on U.S. soil for only the third time. In doing so, the 41-year-old will be facing a highly skilled southpaw who is 15 years his junior, has a three-inch height advantage and possesses a lethal combination of power, speed and slick defense.
The 5-foot-9½ Spence also sports a 3½-inch reach advantage over Bundu. Both fighters weighed in Saturday at 146.2 pounds.
“Bundu is shorter than Spence, and he’ll be giving up reach,” says boxing historian and Showtime analyst Steve Farhood. “He'll have to try and get close, and that will play into Spence’s strength.”
While Bundu seemingly will enter the ring with a host of key factors working against him—including the crowd, as several of Spence’s New York-based friends and relatives will be in attendance—he insists things won’t be easy for his unbeaten opponent.
“Errol Spence is a very complete boxer, but he has a few weaknesses,” Bundu says. “You have to test him out in the ring and check his chin, and I’m here for that. I’m ready to showcase my skills and play all of my cards.”
Against Thurman, Bundu was knocked down in the opening minute and lost in shutout fashion (120-107 three times). However, he’s rebounded with a pair of victories over left-handed Pablo Munguia in June 2015 (eight-round unanimous decision) and Jussi Koivula in April (ninth-round TKO).
“The Lion” also owns a split decision victory over another lefty, Frankie Gavin, whom Bundu defeated in August 2014 in Gavin’s native United Kingdom.
“Bundu has two wins in hostile territory going over to the U.K. and knocking out Lee Purdy [TKO 12, December 2013] and beating Frankie Gavin on points,” says former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi, an analyst for Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime. “He then got up from a knockdown against Thurman and proved to the American audience that he does not just show up for a paycheck.”
Malignaggi says Spence needs to be wary of Bundu’s “sneaky body shots,” and also be prepared to deal with his opponent’s occasional switching from righty to lefty.
Still, at least in the eyes of legendary trainer and ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas, Spence shouldn’t have much trouble with whatever Bundu throws at him.
“Bundu does subtle things. … I expect him to pick his spots, try to keep the more physically gifted Spence off-balance,” Atlas says. “In response, I would expect Spence to control, set up and stabilize things with his jab. “
Spence is coming off a nearly flawless performance on April 16, when he earned a sensational fifth-round TKO of former world champion Chris Algieri in Brooklyn. Displaying an even-handed attack, Spence scored three knockdowns and became the first man to stop Algieri, whose résumé includes fights against former titleholders Ruslan Provodnikov, Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao.
As solid a fighter as Algieri is, Spence expects Bundu to provide a stiffer test.
“Chris Algieri’s more of a pure boxer who tried to plant his feet and fight a little bit,” Spence says. “Bundu has more to his arsenal than Chris Algieri. He can move, box and come forward. “But this is my time. This is the most important fight of my career.”
For complete coverage of Spence vs Bundu, bounce over to our fight page.
Also, following the bout, tune into NBCSN at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT as Premier Boxing Champions presents continued action from Ford Amphitheater.
Rising contender Claudio Marrero (20-1, 14 KOs) will slug it out with unbeaten Derrick Murray (13-0-1, 5 KOs), while East Coast rivals Heather Hardy (17-0, 4 KOs) and Shelly Vincent (18-0, 1 KO) meet in a long-awaited 126-pound clash in PBC’s first-ever televised women’s bout. Both contests are slated for 10 rounds.