Spence, Porter elevate their careers in a classic; create big opportunities

Boxing

LOS ANGELES — Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter gave boxing fans everything they could have asked for. Not only did they, their teams, Premier Boxing Champions and Fox do an A-level job promoting the fight, but when the bell rang the boxers delivered what will probably stand as fight of the year.

I know there are three months to go in 2019, and several good fights are still to come on the schedule, but they will be hard pressed to live up to what Spence and Porter displayed on Saturday night at Staples Center, where an enthusiastic crowd of 16,702 was treated to an instant classic.

Although Spence rightfully won the split decision and unified two welterweight world titles — 116-111 on two scorecards, while Porter got the nod 115-112 on one scorecard — both fighters shined in an all-out battle. To me, that’s one of the best parts of boxing: a night when two quality fighters and people put on a great show and give the fans their money’s worth, while each elevates their career.

Without question, the win is the biggest in Spence’s career, against his best opponent. His stock goes up.

In the buildup to the fight, some questioned Spence’s resume and wondered how he would respond when finally tested by a serious opponent, or how his chin would hold up when that serious opponent inevitably nailed him.

“They said I never been tested before or I never been hit with a great shot before or I never been uncomfortable before,” a marked up Spence said at the postfight news conference. “I think I showed a lot, that I’m a real dog and that I do have a lot of grit and I do have a lot of ability to take a shot and give a couple back.”

He showed that and more in the rousing battle, during which he dropped Porter with a left hand to the chin. But Porter, even in defeat, put on perhaps the best performance of his career. Spence (26-0, 21 KOs), for the first time in his career, really had to dig down. He gave two-time titleholder Porter credit for pushing him as hard as he has ever been pushed.

“It was definitely a tough fight. I knew that coming in. He’s a tough, rugged fighter,” Spence said. “He always comes in shape. He always comes ready to fight. And that’s what I was looking for.

“When I got the knockdown, I initially went in to score the knockout. Like I said, if I get him hurt, I’m gonna try to jump on him. But he has a lot of heart. He always comes to fight. He’s a true warrior and he came back swinging, so I didn’t expect nothing less from him than just to stand his ground and fight back.”

Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs) has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in a close loss to a prodigiously talented opponent. He also did what I wish more fighters would do in defeat: He showed class, made no excuses and didn’t complain about the scoring.

“We put on a fantastic performance tonight,” said Porter, seated just a few feet away from Spence at the news conference. “I’ll thank him again and again and again. He did a fantastic job, but I want you all to know ain’t nobody going to go at him the way I went at him.

“When I don’t win, I can’t hang my head. I can’t make excuses. This was a fantastic fight tonight. Definitely, I have to take a look back [at the video]. I felt comfortable the majority of the rounds. The one round I didn’t feel comfortable in, obviously, was the round my hand touched the canvas. But other than that, I felt very comfortable in this fight. Tried to stay poised and stay within whatever my corner was asking me to do and make the necessary adjustments.

“For me to say that was a robbery, you’re not going to hear me say it. Sorry. My dad [and trainer Ken Porter] can say it, [assistant trainer] Barry [Hunter] can say it, everybody else can say it. That ain’t gonna come from me.”

Given that it was such a great fight and so closely contested, a rematch at some point is certainly in order. It is unlikely to be the next fight up, but Porter would like one, and he does deserve it.

“For us to come up a little short, split decision, not exactly what I expected,” Porter said. “I wanted to hand this man his first [loss].”

Then he turned to Spence and whispered into his microphone, “Rematch.”

Porter is going to have to wait, because it seems obvious that Spence will face former titlist Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) next. Garcia lost a close decision to Porter for a vacant title last September, won his only fight since and remains one of the 147-pound division’s top contenders. Shortly after Saturday’s bout, there was already chatter about Spence-Garcia topping another Fox PPV card in late January.

Garcia, who is also with PBC, was in the ring after the fight to call out Spence. It was no accident he was part of the Fox broadcast team on fight night. Spence is open to the fight, but he has said time and again he prefers unification fights with either Manny Pacquiao (another PBC fighter) or Terence Crawford (a more complicated bout, given his alignment with Top Rank and ESPN). Spence also threw out another possibility, and, boy, is it interesting.

“I’ve been calling out Danny for a long time. Now they step in the ring trying to fight me, so we’ll see,” Spence said. “We’ll see who the next good available opponent is. If I can’t get Pacquiao or nothing happens with Terence, then we’ll fight Danny Garcia. Me and Shawn had a great fight, so we might do that again. We’ll see what happens. I’m the big fish. I’m the shot caller now. I can move up to 154 and fight Julian Williams.”

All five of those fights are interesting. I’d definitely be down for either unification fight or a Garcia meeting, and the prospect of Spence, as a unified welterweight titlist, moving up to challenge Williams, the unified junior middleweight titlist (who is also with PBC, meaning it’s an easy fight to make), is also extremely exciting. Even if it’s not next, I do hope that matchup happens at some point.

But Spence-Crawford is the legacy fight for both men, and unfortunately it’s nowhere close to reality for now. Spence (and adviser/PBC chief Al Haymon) both know Spence has several marketable, interesting, competitive and lucrative fights available to him in the PBC universe without having to fight Crawford, who has no major opponents available to him in the near future. Spence knows it and tweaked Crawford about it.

“Last time Crawford fought on pay-per-view he did 100,000 buys,” Spence said, understating the total for Crawford’s April stoppage of Amir Khan, which generated a little over 200,000 buys. “I’m not worried about Crawford right now. They don’t promote him like he should be. It is what it is. We’ll worry about Crawford when we get there. Crawford needs me more than I need him.”

They need each other to cement their legacies, actually, but Spence does have plenty of attractive alternatives. Whomever Spence (and Porter, for that matter) fights next, we can only hope that the promotion and fight are both as good as what we got Saturday night.

Prospect watch: Daniel Dubois

British heavyweight Daniel Dubois (13-0, 12 KOs) is nicknamed “Dynamite” for a reason, apparently, because of his obvious knockout power. Only veteran Kevin Johnson, with one of the best chins in the game, has heard the final bell against him.

Dubois, just 22, already owns the British heavyweight title and added the vacant Commonwealth belt to his collection with an impressive first-round knockout of Ebenezer Tetteh (19-1, 16 KOs), 31, of Ghana, on Saturday at the famed Royal Albert Hall in London. Dubois dropped the dynamite on Tetteh in a hurry, knocking him down twice before referee Mark Lyson waved it off (seemingly a tad prematurely) at 2 minutes, 10 seconds.

Tetteh was not a quality opponent despite his glossy record, but the way the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Dubois lashed him with combinations and let his punches flow was impressive. His jab is stiff and his right hand is explosive. Dubois looks like he could go a long way in a very interesting heavyweight division.

The next step: Promoter Frank Warren will continue to keep Dubois busy, and while the eventual aim is a world title fight and perhaps big showdowns with countrymen Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, there also could be an eventual high-stakes meeting with another English fighter, 2016 Olympic silver medalist Joe Joyce (10-0, 9 KOs).

Fights you might have missed

Saturday at Nantes, France

Heavyweight Tony Yoka (7-0, 6 KOs) TKO3 Michael Wallisch (20-3, 13 KOs).

In 2016, Yoka, 27, of France, won the Olympic super heavyweight gold medal. That means big things are expected of him as a professional, and Yoka was off to a great start until he was forced into a 13-month layoff because of a suspension for missing three French Anti-Doping Agency drug tests between July 2016 and July 2017. Yoka returned to knock out Alexander Dimitrenko in the third round on July 13, then did the same to Wallisch, 33, of Germany, in his second fight back since the suspension.

Yoka dropped Wallisch to a knee with a beautiful right uppercut-left-right combination in the third round. As soon as the fight resumed, Yoka blasted him with eight unanswered shots, he went down again and referee Pierre Derval waved it off with 1:42 remaining. Wallisch dropped to 1-3 in his last four.

Saturday at Magdeburg, Germany

Heavyweight Tom Schwarz (26-1, 18 KOs) TKO7 Ilja Mezencev (20-2, 17 KOs).

On June 25, Schwarz, 25, of Germany, came out of obscurity as the hand-picked opponent to challenge lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and got blown away in the second round. Schwarz returned on Aug. 17 to score a first-round knockout against a novice opponent, and now he has won two in a row since his big opportunity. He took out Mezencev, 23, of Germany, in a rematch of Schwarz’s seventh-round knockout win in November 2015. In the rematch, Schwarz was in control of the fight all the way, and after a rough sixth round, Mezencev retired in his corner with an official time of 3 seconds of the seventh round.

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