There are the lights to contend with, their heat and burst, their merciless illumination. The pressure of the moment, too, pregnant with disaster, ready to rewrite, to unmake. And the dialogue, unpredictable, violent, violently unpredictable. Over and over this disorienting assault hunts for lies, falsity, and what it cannot uncover, it creates. A fight with Shawn Porter is an interrogation. You endure that interrogation with the truth; you sabotage it by being something more. Terrence Crawford is something more.
After his knockout of Egidijus Kavaliauskas, it was written here that while Crawford was a bad loss away from invalidation, he was but a few wins from being unassailable. Crawford has one such win now, a victory that ratifies the rest, one that should—but won’t—silence his critics. Why won’t it? Because Porter, offered a mild objection to his first loss inside the distance? Because he was conscious enough to do so?
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No one had stopped Porter, though the best had tried. Some endured him, some did not. But outcomes aside, Porter proved himself a roiling mass of fitness and volition, one who suffered the violence of opponents as a validation of his efforts. No one had ever stopped Porter. Until Saturday night, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Until his father did.
“If he sees what he needs to see, he’s gon’ do what he did.”—Shawn Porter
There is a moment before every Porter fight where he and his trainer/father, Kenny, press their foreheads together in a private exchange. Implicit in that exchange is the father’s vow to protect his son. Kenny Porter honored that vow Saturday.
The fallout of his decision to rescue Porter might figure in Kenny’s household, though Porter’s reaction to the stoppage and his announced retirement later that night should temper the saber-rattling on his behalf. Porter had but one fight left in him—his father acted when that fight was no longer winnable. But the fallout of Kenny’s decision will linger a little longer for Crawford. Because Crawford is too good for the devotees of a particular redhead to abide, because of an antipathy to one promoter, an affinity for another, because there’s nothing left to criticize.
Crawford looked ordinary on this night, or so the criticism goes. And yet what did he do to the best opponent of his career? What he’s done to all of them since Viktor Postol teetered and tottered to the final bell in 2016. Errol Spence—the man entrusted to reveal Crawford’s fraudulence in that fantastic realm where the two best welterweights on the planet do more than wiggle their triggers fingers at twenty paces—had a long night against Porter too. Spence was rightly applauded for turning back the most spirited of spirited challengers. Crawford upstaged him. Just ask Kenny Porter.
It is an indictment of promoter Top Rank (though not exclusively them) that Crawford, at thirty-four, has only now secured the win that confirms his excellence. He intends to leave Top Rank and is right to do so. But whatever the weaknesses of his resume (and every fighter’s resume can be made weaker if you want it to be), Crawford has proved the genuine article.
Porter was his best self against Crawford: controlled in his aggression, deceptive in his attacks, and rough at every opportunity. His showing makes Kenny Porter’s post-fight criticisms of his son’s preparation even more puzzling. Leaving aside the ethics of dressing down your child before the sweat dries (what looks indefensible to an outsider might be typical, even welcome, within the Porter dynamic), Kenny’s critique didn’t mesh with the effort Porter put forth. It may be that a fighter who retires immediately after a fight retired before the opening bell. But nothing about Porter through the years, and nothing about him on Saturday, suggests he fought expecting anything but victory. We have witnessed a handful of feeble challenges at the highest level of late. Not Porter. Porter fought to win. Porter always fights to win. And the harm done by suggesting Crawford fought a man who had already left the sport is done to Porter.
“Something lay coiled in him that at the slightest pretext might rise up and strike. His past was the serpent, and it never slept.”—John Banville, April in Spain
Before the start of the tenth round Crawford’s trainer, Brian MacIntyre, told him to up his intensity. Crawford responded. The bell for the eleventh never rang. That is what great fighters do—separate themselves from their rivals when asked to, satisfy requests for heightened predation to swift and ruinous effect.
All night Crawford sought the left uppercut and right hook from the southpaw stance. In the speed and deceptiveness of his attack, Porter not only evaded many of those punches but landed his own, an overhand right in particular. But then Crawford took a second step back as Porter rushed him, and with it created room for the uppercut he wanted. The hook that preceded it missed, but the uppercut put Porter on the canvas. Porter beat the count but was floored again soon after. This second knockdown courtesy of a right hook Crawford landed as he pivoted out after an uppercut. The uppercut and the hook—Crawford measured them for ten rounds and landed both when the moment demanded it.
There is no more lethal finisher in boxing than Crawford; his calm, craft, and cruelty set him apart. Curiosity about what another thirty seconds might have brought is rooted primarily in bloodlust, our craving for sport’s apex spectacle. A sort of noble empathy was left unsatisfied too: a fighter whose comportment is beyond reproach was denied the kind of loss he earned. We’d have had both. Hence the broadcast team suggesting Kenny Porter’s decision was motivated not so much by what had transpired but what it portended.
A spectacular finish was imminent because of Crawford; Porter was spared it because of Kenny. An excellent fight was denied a fitting conclusion, as were the aficionados, as was the best welterweight in the world. A welterweight who is something more.