LOS ANGELES — Perhaps the only thing rarer in professional sports than a welterweight title unification bout is a clever one-liner at a pre-game news conference.
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the 1980s brawler from Youngstown, Ohio, who slugged his way into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, was speaking as frenetically as he used to punch about the bout.
“Oh man, I just love the fight,” Mancini, a part of the Fox Sports broadcast team for the fight, said. “Errol is so skilled. He’s on top of his game. But you can’t sleep on Shawn. No way. Shawn’s got that style that’s going to make it difficult on Errol. That’s why this is such a great fight.”
The bout is reminiscent in some ways of the 1980 classic between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, in which Leonard was perceived to be the elite and skillful boxer and Duran the aggressive, pressuring in-fighter.
Duran was able to lure Leonard into a gritty, down-and-dirty fight, much like Porter will try to execute against Spence.
“People know what to expect from Shawn,” his father/trainer, Kenny Porter, said. “He’s going to be there in front of Errol for three minutes a round for all 12 rounds.”
Porter’s style is by now so familiar that a number of experts threw out the same long-time boxing adage, “Pressure breaks pipes,” as a way of explaining how Porter can win the bout.
Spence, who from his earliest days as a pro has been compared to Leonard, isn’t buying it. He scoffed at the notion that Porter’s pressure will break him, or is even somehow effective.
“You fight like you drowning, and you can’t swim,” Spence said in the burn of the day to Porter.
The good-natured Porter laughed, but he had plenty of digs of his own. Spence is coming off a 12-round rout of Mikey Garcia in March in which he swept all 12 rounds.
Garcia was moving up in weight and never was able to seriously threaten Spence. Porter is an inch taller with an inch more reach than Garcia, but he’s a natural welterweight and a bull of a man. Porter is a physical specimen who Spence won’t be able to manhandle.
“He said he’s going to knock me out and he wants to hurt me and so on and so forth,” Porter said. “Well, he didn’t knock out 135-[pound] Mikey Garcia. If he couldn’t knock out 135 Mikey Garcia he ain’t knocking out 147-pound ‘Showtime’ Shawn Porter.”
Trainer: Errol Spence Jr. will be known as KO artist
Spence is a good finisher and has an 84-percent knockout ratio, winning 21 of his 25 bouts by KO or TKO. But he’s just now developing into a puncher. For much of his career, his knockouts came either against overmatched opponents or by sheer volume and punching accuracy. He’s such a sharp and precise puncher that he wears guys down as the fight progresses until they succumb and can’t take it any longer.
His trainer, Derrick James, believes the day is coming when Spence will be regarded as a knockout artist. Spence’s footwork is brilliant and he’s able to quickly get into position to throw punches, and his speed is above-average.
James, though, isn’t pushing Spence to finish Porter. A finish will come, he said, if Spence executes the things they worked on during camp.
“A finish is great, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what my focus is,” James said. “There are things Porter does we feel we can take advantage of and I want Errol to do that. We have a pretty good understanding of Porter and what he likes to do and we’re ready for those things. Errol doesn’t have to go out there looking to knock him out. He just has to stick with the plan and do what we laid out and a knockout could come.”
Former welterweight champion Keith Thurman, who is working as an analyst for Fox Sports on the show, defeated Porter in a classic 2016 battle. He said Porter’s style is difficult and won’t be easy for Spence to figure out. But he said Porter will have to take risks to defeat Spence.
Thurman noted that Garcia didn’t take those risks in Dallas in March and was never in the fight. Spence fought basically on autopilot and kept Garcia at the end of his jab. Porter can’t win a fight with that mindset, Thurman said.
“I feel the less risk he takes, the more he puts Errol in the fight,” Thurman told Yahoo Sports. “He’s got to be that raging bull as much as he can and try to dog it out. Shawn’s the guy with 100 percent grit and he can’t afford just to fight at Errol’s pace.”
Who’s next for winner of Spence vs. Porter?
No matter who the winner will be, the facts of modern boxing mean that this 11th unification bout in welterweight history won’t decide all that much. Because after this, the winner will need to contend with WBA champion Manny Pacquiao and WBO champ Terence Crawford.
Spence never seems all that eager to fight Crawford, though he said several times this week that he expects the Crawford fight to happen sometime next year. If he wins, he’s eager for a shot at Pacquiao.
Pacquiao, though, isn’t so intent on a shot at him any time in the near future. Sean Gibbons, the president of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, told Yahoo Sports that he suspected his next fight would come early next year against either Mikey Garcia or Danny Garcia. If Porter wins, “that’d be a nice fight.” Of Spence, all Gibbons would say is, “You know the Senator; he’s never ducked anyone and he’s certainly not afraid of Spence.”
But now, all that matters is whether or not Porter is afraid of him, and whether he is up for the challenge.
He said those who expect the bout to be a coronation of sorts for Spence are in for a disappointment.
“All my life, there have been critics telling me what I can’t do,” said Porter, who is making a name for himself as a boxing analyst on TV. “They tell me this guy is too big or that guy’s too good or this other guy is too smart or too fast, but here I am, the WBC champion of the world and on top of my game. If I listened to all of those people who doubted me along the way, who said in the amateurs I didn’t belong in there fighting Oleksandr Usyk until I went out there and beat him, I’d have quit a long time ago.
“But I believed in myself and I believed in my father and everything we have done together. It’s brought us together to this point where I think we’re about to open a lot of, lot of eyes and shock a lot of people.”
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