Closer to the Truth: Errol Spence Wars with Shawn Porter

Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter exchange punches during their fight at Staples Center on September 28, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

We are closer to the truth now, a sign that what transpired in the ring in Staples Center this past Saturday had purpose and consequence. An exciting fight, untainted by scandal yet close enough to leave room for debate—this is what the welterweight unification between Errol “The Truth” Spence and “Showtime” Shawn Porter gave us. The action that made a unified champion of Spence was as good as we will see this year. For some, Spence is to inherit the sport. If Saturday was any indication, his bid for supremacy will be one to watch.

Closer to the truth—thanks to Porter. He was the known quantity Saturday, which made him the opponent too. But just as light dispersing through a prism reveals its colors, it was Porter who showed us who Spence is. Porter has played that role before, against the likes of Devon Alexander, Kell Brook, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and Yordenis Ugas. He hasn’t always won, but he’s always laid bare the other man. It’s a piece of sporting poetry that a fighter with an ugly yet honest style should furnish the actual.

In the leadup, Spence made a point of belittling Porter’s penchant for close fights, a dig at the Akron, Ohio, fighter’s struggles to separate himself from the very pack Spence had a priori been elevated above. What Spence is likely to understand now, should he take the proper lesson not only from the 115-112 scorecard judge Larry Hazzard Jr. submitted in Porter’s favor but also from glancing in the mirror on Monday morning, is that Porter’s record reflects as much the quality of his opposition as his class. We know who Porter is because any effort to conceal himself would’ve failed by now.

Spence also learned that unlike many of his PBC peers—whose collective complacency has produced scant moments of genuine peril—Porter does not strip half-naked and weaponize his hands to simply complete a transaction. To Spence’s credit, on this night neither did he; and in answering Porter’s call for violence, Spence put more than months between him and the stillborn event that was his March farce with Mikey Garcia.

More important, Spence, 26-0 (21), revealed a poise and grit he hadn’t shown in lumberjacking his way through the welterweight deadwood. Porter brought his signature pressure, his signature volume, and Spence, like a savvy quarterback, recognized the blitzes and exploited them. Rather than be goaded into a firefight against an opponent with inferior firepower—the kind of arrogant miscalculation Porter has encouraged to alter the geography of a fight to his advantage—Spence refused to abandon his role as the boxer.

Porter, 30-3-1 (17), has run boxers out of the ring before, however, and eventually his pressure broke through. Provided he moved his head before and after his bursts, Porter managed to tag Spence with leaping hooks. Once inside, the bullish former middleweight went to work according to his idiom: submission holds sprinkled between slugs to the guts and headshots of almost purposeful inaccuracy. If he expected to have an advantage here—and he might not have, given the fighters’ sparring history—Porter would soon be disappointed. Spence did not shy from the infighting, using it as an opportunity to inflict his vaunted body attack. Even here, though, Porter had an answer. Rather than concede Spence’s superior skills, lock an arm and await the referee’s orderly intervention, Porter would spin out to either side, turn Spence, then bore into him anew. And Spence? He welcomed it all.

Despite its excellence, Spence‒Porter was short on one of the hallmarks of a great fight: momentum shifts. It lacked these shifts primarily because neither fighter could secure sustained control of the action. Each man’s efforts to preserve his fleeting control, however, under siege as it was, sustained the bout’s drama. Porter, dealing in discomfort and the tremors of resolve it produces, worked tirelessly to unnerve Spence. Meanwhile, Spence, programmed to destroy, sunk his fists into Porter with relish, looking for some sign he’d fissured his indefatigable opponent’s armor. Of the two, Spence appeared more likely to find success, if only because withstanding the version of his assault Porter tempted seemed too much for even the toughest, most durable fighter in the division.

When Spence hits you flush, you go—so the narrative has read. So when he short-circuited Porter with a roundhouse left in the eleventh round, Spence might’ve expected his night to end. And yet Porter never left his feet; indeed, despite having his head nearly unscrewed, only one of his gloves touched the canvas. And when he was again allowed to engage, rather than evade further punishment, Porter waved Spence in before tearing into him. And so went the remainder of the fight: Spence trying to prove that however slim the gap in class between him and Porter, it was one the latter could never close, while Porter ignited his final fumes in a last-ditch effort to undo the effect of the knockdown.

If Spence is better than Porter, and it feels as though he proved as much Saturday, he is not so much better than him or the other top welterweights in Al Haymon’s stable as to make a fight with any of them indefensible. So some might have been pleased when even before Porter had been interviewed, Danny Garcia was in the ring to announce his upcoming fight with Spence. Garcia will do something Porter could not: hit Spence with clean, hard counters, testing Spence’s chin in a way Porter could not. There was, of course, not a hint of genuine animosity between them; not in the ring, not afterward when Spence was interviewed by Garcia and Keith Thurman (who for years was first on Spence’s hit list). Perhaps you have to check your animosity before you board the Haymon entitlement train, lest it disturbs your fellow passengers.

Beef or no beef, Garcia is next for Spence, and then maybe Pacquiao, perhaps junior-middleweight Julian Williams after that. Not Terence Crawford, though. Not now, not later. Some people will tell you that’s defensible. Ask yourself how close they get to the truth.

 

About Jimmy Tobin 45 Articles
Jimmy Tobin is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in The Cruelest Sport, 15 Rounds, Undisputed Champion Network, Esquina Boxeo, El Malpensante, The Queensbury Rules, and The Fight Network. Jimmy is the author of the forthcoming book, Killed in Brazil?: The Mysterious Death of Arturo Gatti, published by Hamilcar Publications. Connect with Jimmy on Twitter. He teaches at George Brown College in Toronto.