NEW YORK — He stood in the middle of the ring, his emerald green trunks blending in with his team’s matching jumpsuits, but in that moment no one in Shawn Porter’s world could have been feeling lucky. A close fight against Danny Garcia, the de facto house fighter? Porter doesn’t win these ones.
Except he did. On Saturday night at the Barclays Center, in front of a rowdy, pro-Garcia crowd of 13,000-plus, the workmanlike kid from Akron, Ohio, eked out a narrow — but unanimous — decision. Two years removed from losing on the cards to Keith Thurman and four from handing over his title to Kell Brook, Porter is a world champion again.
This wasn’t the instant classic some believed it could be, but for 12 rounds Porter, 30, simply wouldn’t be denied. A title was at stake, but there was more on the line. Win, and a pot of gold in the form of fights with Errol Spence and Keith Thurman appears in front of him. Lose, and it was opponent status and, Thurman told Yahoo Sports, “Shawn’s style makes him the kind of fighter guys won’t run to fight.”
Garcia was game, sharper than he was last February, against Brandon Rios, a rust removing tune-up Garcia needed after taking 11 months off following a loss to Thurman. Garcia tried to time Porter early, looking to land a crushing left hook when Porter charged in. Porter’s counter: Don’t do it. Instead of rushing Garcia, Porter kept the fight on the outside early, moving around the ring.
“We wanted to make him miss. Make everyone in the crowd, the judges especially, see that he couldn’t hit me,” Porter said after the fight. “It’s easier to score a fight from the outside than when guys are on the ropes. I’m no rookie to this.”
The fight turned more physical in the middle rounds, with Garcia landing with more accuracy (36 percent, per CompuBox) and Porter — who threw 300 more punches — nullifying it with activity. Before the eighth round, Kenny Porter, Shawn’s father and trainer, delivered a stern message: Step on the gas.
“He begged me,” Porter said. “He said, ‘You want this, you got to go get this.’”
Porter did, swarming Garcia, forcing him to fight moving backward, to clench to keep Porter from scoring on the inside.
“It was tough,” Porter said. “Coming back to the corner after rounds, my dad gives me the real. He tells me to push harder, he’ll tell me sometimes you won that round. Throughout the fight we know we had a hold of the fight [but] we have seen the outcomes of Danny’s fights. Lot of close decisions. When I heard unanimous decision, I just wanted to hear my name. When I did … it was so surreal for me.”
Surreal — and lucrative. Spence popped into the ring after the fight — and the news conference early in the morning — to declare his willingness to unify the division. Spence and Porter are both represented by Al Haymon, both fight on Showtime — or Fox, which recently inked a multiyear agreement with Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions — and both were clear they want the fight.
“First quarter of 2019,” Spence said.
Said Porter, “If the fight doesn’t happen, it won’t be because of Errol or me.”
Added Kenny Porter, “We want Errol Spence, Errol Spence, Errol Spence.”
Will they get it? It’s boxing — anything can happen. Porter may need to make a mandatory defense of his title, and Spence has been circling a fight with Mikey Garcia. Still, Porter won’t hide behind his title. “I don’t want to see Shawn fight until he is 40,” Kenny said. “We want the big fights now.”
On Saturday, he had one. Soon, he will have more.