Nearly three and a half years have passed since Al Haymon launched Premier Boxing Champions and his unofficial welterweight tournament is only now near complete. Unofficial, of course, because even the most optimistic of a consistently burned bunch would not expect Haymon to expeditiously deliver us a premier boxing champion. Not after Haymon spent years signing top talent on the promise of purses disproportionate to risk and a schedule in keeping with a millionaire’s ambition. Not when all his fighters were already, according to their banner, champions. Three and a half years later there is much clarity in the hierarchy of Haymon’s welterweights, though, and thankfully, not so much as to remove all intrigue.
One could now argue that Keith Thurman, inactive, and disinterested in the bloody racket as he may be, is the best and most accomplished member of the field (against which he has gone undefeated). One could also argue that undefeated Errol Spence Jr. is the best. Moreover, Spence traveled overseas to take by knockout the title from a fighter better than anyone Thurman has faced. As a result, “The Truth” may be the most accomplished PBC welterweight. There is intrigue in those arguments, in how they might be resolved should Thurman and Spence finally share a ring.
There is less room for argument among the second tier, and even less after the main event at Barclays Center on Saturday night, where “Showtime” Shawn Porter won a narrow, unanimous decision over Danny “Swift” Garcia. Porter and Garcia are good fighters; they made a good fight. Alas, it was a fight regrettably short on hurt; slow-motion replay and some explanation would be required to identify the one or two moments where either man was concerned about landed leather. But the fighters punched purposefully and effectively enough to swing momentum, responding to each other’s successes with a spirit befitting their trade, and if that makes only for a good fight, well, who doesn’t enjoy a good fight?
Especially considering it involved Porter. There is much to like about Porter: he invests fully in his preparation, maximizing his fitness and potential thereby. And he fights earnestly—there is a good amount of pit bull in Porter, which he unleashes with a relentlessness seemingly unencumbered by considerations of its effect, and not at all by aesthetics. When you sign on to face Porter, you sign on for a fight. And that fight, provided you can muster resistance, is ugly. Poor spacing, grappling, clumsy lunging, Porter is guilty of all. Yet he commits these errors in an effort to hurt, and there is some charm in watching a fighter with Porter’s self-belief accept—as consequence of his commitment to winning—his flaws and the criticisms he receives. Besides, he is not stinking the fight out; rather, Porter is trying to turn it into something more heated, more intense, and if he fails for a lack of craft, it feels right to at least applaud his effort.
Porter is also committed to improving, which is not something we can say of many fighters of his age and success. A few of these improvements were evident Saturday. There was the counter right hand he whistled usually past but occasionally into Garcia’s head, and the use of feints to goad Garcia into counters Porter could follow back to Garcia’s body. Porter, like a running back who has learned to wait for his blocks to develop, did not bowl ceaselessly into Garcia but used slips, level changes, and angles to give himself room to work and disrupt Garcia’s counters.
Which is not to say Garcia was dismayed. Garcia too is a fighter much maligned, be it for his ring attire, the dubious decisions that have gone his way, his boorish father, his failed image. But Garcia is a fighter—ask Amir Khan and Lucas Matthysse about that. He stared down Porter’s blitzes, responded with fight-ending intentions—his signature left hooks, well-placed body shots—and never with a flutter of self-doubt. He has steel nerves, which is why he commits fully to his father/trainer Angel’s counsel, however much risk involved. Where Porter, also trained by his father, works like a man seeking paternal approval, Garcia fights with the confidence of a son who already has it.
Confidence and a left hook are not enough at this level, however. At least not quite. What Garcia ultimately succumbed to was not a better fighter (Porter does very little better than Garcia), but a more determined one; one who, unlike Garcia, was willing to work three minutes of every round, every round of the scheduled twelve. That reflects a pattern throughout Garcia’s career: rarely does he turn in a complete performance even when (as was not the case on Saturday) the inhibitors to such a showing are rooted primarily in his own psyche. And that too is a reflection, a reflection of a fighter who, having lapped his fraternity in achievement early in his career, has been comfortable conceding that lead in the years since.
So, it is better that Porter won. Because Porter remains an ambitious fighter while Garcia is a perfunctory one. Upon being called out by Spence, who made his way to the ring post-fight, Porter responded by telling the crowd that a unification bout between him and Spence would be the easiest fight to make in boxing. And he’s not wrong—Spence was not ushered through the ropes to pitch a fight that will go unmade. Porter will fight anyone because he is a professional, and Spence when he is finished shaping and misshaping Mikey Garcia’s future, will fight Porter because nothing he saw on Saturday engendered any concern.
It will not take another three and a half years to crown the PBC welterweight champion.