Unsatisfied with her performance following a majority draw against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes in December, Natasha Spence reached the kind of “go big, or go home” moment that usually occurs when a fighter hits a crossroad in his or her career.
The Ontario-born welterweight needed a change of scenery, so she called upon her former trainer / manager, Philadelphia’s Brian Cohen, a well-known boxing lifer lauded for his work with some of the world’s most successful female fighters, among them Ronica Jeffrey, Alicia Napolean and Rhode Island native Kali Reis, who fights for the undisputed female welterweight world title in May.
After training at home for the first Lopes fight, well within her comfort zone, “The Nightmare” Spence (8-3-2, 6 KOs) has instead spent the last three and a half weeks in Philadelphia alongside Cohen — doing things his way — as she prepares for her Friday, May 11th, 2018 rematch with Lopes (18-4-3, 1 KO), scheduled for eight rounds at Twin River Casino in the second installment of CES Boxing’s 2018 Twin River Fight Series.
Tickets are priced at $47.00, $102.00, $127.00 (VIP) and $152.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The event begins with preliminary bouts at 7 p.m. ET with the main card streaming on Facebook via FIGHTNIGHT LIVE beginning at 8.
Cohen had given Spence a little more leeway in the past, but that came back to haunt them following Spence’s self-described listless performance in a unanimous decision loss to Hanna Gabriels for the WBA world welterweight title in May of 2017.
“I sat down with him afterward and he said, ‘You know what? If we’re going to work together moving forward, your camp is going to have to be different,'” Spence said. “He wasn’t pleased with my performance and the stuff I was doing or not doing, so we just decided in the future if we worked together then he’d take the reins and take full control.
“I trust his opinion. I know he knows his shit just like you know he knows his shit. That’s why I’m here.”
Spence’s experience in this camp compared to her last is like night and day. Aside from being synonymous with boxing royalty, boasting legendary champions from Bernard Hopkins to Sonny Liston to Joe Frazier, the City of Brotherly Love is also notorious for the wars behind closed doors in some of the city’s most revered gyms, whether it’s the Front Street Gym or the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philly, home of CES Boxing’s “Hammerin'” Hank Lundy.
“The sparring I get here is unreal,” Spence said. “I’m used to being the top dog in Canada wherever I go in terms of sparring. When I came here, I realized I was on the same level, or if not below some of the people around me, so I had to work my ass off to get up to their level.
“I feel like I’m good now, but it was a very, very rude awakening and it was necessary, very humbling. It made me up my level. I feel I stood stagnant for so many years and then I came over and was like, ‘Wow, these girls can bang. They can fight!’ It’s awesome. It’s amazing.”
Spence has even gotten in a few round with Reis, usually finishing to a “standing ovation” in the gym. She’s also had the opportunity to pick Reis’ brain on what else to expect from Lopes since Reis fought her twice in 2009 and 2010. Spence expects her month-long pilgrimage to Philadelphia to add up to a much sharper, more decisive performance the second time around on May 11th.
“What you saw in December wasn’t at all even a fraction of what you’ll see come May 11th, and I promise you that,” Spence said.
“I’m not taking anything away from Aleksandra, but I just know that wasn’t me in there and I didn’t perform to even a fraction of my ability. Even without the change I made in terms of camp and without the amazing sparring I’ve been getting, even without all of that, I still underperformed.”
Spence’s biggest regret from the first fight in December is not starting faster, which she partly attributes to mixed messages from previous training camps.
“That’s where I feel like the old ‘Nightmare,’ with the knockouts I had earlier in my career, the old ‘Nightmare’ would’ve gotten the job done,” she said. “I’ve been molded lately the past few years to get out of those habits and box and move, but I think that was a bad approach for that style of fight. I didn’t expect her to run as much and as quickly as she did, so I think starting right away, with no respect, that’s the one thing I would’ve changed and that’s one thing I will change.”
In the past, real life always collided with boxing, preventing Spence from getting the most out of her camps and realizing her full potential. Now there are no more excuses. Once the calendar flips to May, she’ll have spent nearly an entire month in Philadelphia, a long way from all the distractions, just her and her coach focusing on what she needs to do in order to change the outcome the second time around.
“I was going through some stuff in my personal life, a breakup and some family stuff, and it was one of those moments where I knew it wasn’t going to be possible, but I’m past all of that,” she said. “I’m at an amazing point in my life and I’m happy and healthy. This time, it worked out. I’m just looking forward to being the best ‘Nightmare’ anyone has ever seen, myself included.”
Also on the May 11th card, Rhode Island’s Rich Gingras (15-5-1, 9 KOs) fights for the first time since 2015 when he battles Atlantic City’s Antowyan Aikens (12-4-1, 1 KO) in a six-round super middleweight bout.
Undefeated super lightweight Anthony Marsella Jr. (8-0, 4 KOs) of Providence returns in his toughest to date, a six-round showdown against Arlington, Wash., native Ricardo Maldonado (8-7-1, 1 KO), and Sicilian heavyweight Juiseppe Cusumano (14-1, 12 KOs) puts his 12-fight win streak on the line in a six-round bout against Bernardo Marquez (8-3-1, 5 KOs) of Riverside, Calif.
Also on the main card, unbeaten Worcester, Mass., native Jamaine Ortiz (8-0, 4 KOs) faces the dangerous Tyrone Luckey (9-8-3, 7 KOs) of Neptune, N.J., in a six-round lightweight bout and regional rivals Marqus Bates (3-2, 2 KOs) of Taunton, Mass., and Mohamad Allam (3-2, 1 KO) of Holyoke, Mass., battle one another in a six-round bout.
Featherweight Ricky Delossantos (4-0, 1 KO) of Pawtucket, R.I., puts his undefeated record on the line against Maryland’s James Early (3-2) in a four-round bout while cruiserweights Jake Paradise (0-1) of Worcester and Leandro Silva (0-1) of Sao Paolo, Brazil each search for their first career win when they face one another in a four-round preliminary bout.
Johnston, R.I. super lightweight Nicky DeQuattro (3-0, 1 KO) returns to Twin River to face Andy Aiello (0-1) of Bridgewater, Mass., in a four-round bout and Derrick Whitley (3-0) of Springfield, Mass., makes his Rhode Island debut in a separate four-round welterweight bout.