Montana

Steve Spark Finds Peace Amidst The Chaos Against Montana Love

Sixteen months ago, Steve Spark was at his job as a bartender, hurling drinks at the local pub, when he received a call that would change the course of his life and career. Ten days later he was offered a fight against Tim Tszyu, now considered one of the best light middleweights in the world. Even though Spark was a natural 140-pounder, he accepted without hesitation. He poured his drink, finished his shift and began preparing for a gigantic challenge.

As expected in this scenario, Spark fell short, but not for lack of effort. He sped straight at Tszyu, uncorking powerful shots until one of his opponent held him on the canvas for the ten in the third round. It was an unthinkable display of bravery to even take up the fight and one that was rightly praised by the boxing community, but it was also a calculated decision.

“We had discussions about whether it was 10 or 12 (rounds) or whatever, but I knew I was going to go out there and have a crack. In fact, Tim said I was one of the toughest hitters he’s ever been with,” Spark said. “It put me in a position where I can take this fighting game seriously. Since then I’ve been full time. I don’t have a job anymore, my job is boxing full time. I’ve weighed the negatives and the positives and here I am.”

Spark did the difficult calculus that fighters have to solve for themselves in such situations. Is the risk worth the reward? Is a potential loss still worth the loot, both financially and in terms of adding to your own shares? In Spark’s case, the Tszyu fight produced the best result he could have for him, barring a win. Fans understood that with just six full days of training and an extra 14 pounds to his physique, he went beyond what he was most comfortable with and thankfully he wasn’t terribly beaten to nullify any gains. The extra credit in his account allowed him to focus solely on training – from now on he would only be in the pub when he wanted to.

Having more money usually means having more influence in the sport and it has allowed Spark to have some fights where he was the A-side where the results were more beneficial to his career. In June of that year, he knocked out former world title challenger Apinun Khongsong, which helped him win a contract with Matchroom. Around this time Matchroom had also announced his first fight to be held in Spark’s home country of Australia and offered him a spot on that show. But Spark had bigger ideas and offered to face Montana Love in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

With additional resources behind him, Spark was able to wrap up his camp in Texas by sparring with former world champion Austin Trout, on top of the die-hard training he’s always stuck to, including weekend CrossFit sessions he hopes to attend when he retires from boxing.

On Saturday, Spark entered enemy territory against Love, as he had against Tszyu, and against Jack Brubaker in April 2021 in another trip on the scales in an opponent’s backyard. On some sports bets, Spark was a +500 underdog.

In the opening round, it looked like the bookies had something on their trail. Love increased his hand speed and rocked Spark back with a quick right hook and a lashing left uppercut. Spark briefly gave up ground on the first lap, the opposite of what he intended.

In the next round, however, Spark got a little more optimistic about his approach. Midway through the frame, Spark connected with a trio of hard right hands that sent Love to the canvas, changing the dynamic of the fight. Spark now had the certainty that he could injure his opponent and Love was now forced to fight with greater urgency, knowing he could be under siege at any moment and that a round was definitely off the table.

To his credit, Love recovered well and returned to his original game plan of countering Spark. Spark responded by attempting to impose his physical strength by lifting Love in the air more than once during a clinch. In the fifth round, Spark began to find his place with shots from longer range after discouraging some of Love’s inside work with his brutal approach.

But physicality would reach a crescendo in the sixth round. Spark collided head-first with Love shortly after the start of the round, causing a severe laceration over Love’s left eye. Love told the doctor he was having trouble seeing, at least at that moment, mentioning that his vision was “blurry.” Many doctors would have heard those words and stopped the fight immediately, but the doctor said he would monitor Love for a minute before making a decision and warned Love that if he was hit, the bleeding would increase.

Both men reappeared and approached each other, looking a little less in control. In Spark’s case he appeared to be trying to capitalize on an opportunistic scenario with a compromised opponent. In Love’s case he was perhaps acting out of frustration and also desperation, with an uncertainty as to what the scorecards were reading at the time – relevant information given the fight would be gone into the cards when the doctor stopped the right because of the accidental head impact. Had the fight been stopped at that point it would have been retrospectively settled as a draw as one judge had Love ahead and the others had leveled the fight.

Instead, Love was disqualified. Love drove Spark back against the ropes in a clinch, and Spark went over the top rope like he’d just been eliminated from the Royal Rumble. Miraculously, Spark landed on his feet, avoiding disaster in what could have been a disaster scenario. Spark immediately jogged up the ring steps, got back in the ring and was ready to continue the fight, but referee David Fields had already waved it off.

Despite the boos from the Cleveland crowd and Love’s vocal protests at the referee’s decision, Spark remained disarmingly polite.

“Thank you, Cleveland, for your hospitality. My job as a fighter is to come here and fight and I can’t thank Montana Love enough for the opportunity he gave a boy like me. It literally changed my life,” Spark told DAZN’s Claudia Trejos during his post-fight interview. “I’m just as devastated as you are, it was a fantastic fight. I come into this ring and fight with all my heart just like Montana Love does. We wanted to give you a damn good show, that’s how boxing goes sometimes.”

When asked to watch the replay of the incident with Love, Spark resisted the urge to discuss Love’s claims of dirty tactics or even to say definitively that the fight should have stopped. When Love continued to protest, Spark simply praised his own agility. “Damn good landing if you ask me,” he said. “Look at that landing!”

Perhaps more than some fighters, Spark is able to flip the switch between being a warm, everyday family man and a violent attacker in the ring. The unhinged attacker we see in the ring stands in dramatic contrast to the man who seems to loathe any hint of animosity created for himself and his opponents. “The fighting game thing,” he said. “We have so much in common, if you go around hating people, you might miss out on some of the best friends of your life. There’s no need for any of the animosity that’s going around.”

The understanding that combatants have for each other, even on opposite ends of controversial hand-to-hand combat, is that they will understand each other’s frustrations in a way non-competitors cannot.

“There are so many sacrifices that go into this sport. There are so many things that people don’t see from the outside. You see the bright lights, the glitz and the glamour. We go there to entertain the people who see violence. That’s what they see, but they don’t see the preparation, what some of us fighters go through, not seeing family, going to training camp,” Spark said. “Look, I’m not complaining, I love this sport, I love what it has given me. But we miss things. But it’s worth it when I can go out, do a great job and go home. I can spend Christmas with my family and friends, it will be 35 degrees, there will be a few beers in the sun, my little boy is now walking around and talking a little. I enjoy the finer things in life.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator from Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman

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