Rough Trade: Errol Spence Jr. Claws Out Split Decision Over Shawn Porter

Scoring a Shawn Porter fight is a thankless job. Over the course of his career, Porter (30-3-1, 17 KO) has developed an in-ring style seemingly meant to scramble the brains of anyone tasked with judging his performance. His mauling, face-first approach can appear as high-octane button-mashing until you glance down at your scorecard and realize you’ve got him up by eight rounds.

It is an unenviable assignment to say the least.

Here’s a short list I’ve compiled of things I’d rather do than score one of Porter’s fights:

  • Watch Adam Kownacki take a “Dumb and Dumber” shit all over my grandfather’s grave
  • Smell Bella Thorne’s Nuva Ring
  • Sit through a replay of Wladimir Klitschko vs. Sultan Ibragimov

(Okay maybe not that last one. No one should ever be subjected to that level of cruelty.)

The point is that Porter has a style that often leaves the outcome of his fights open to viewer interpretation. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book except every storyline ends with a violent head butt.

Going into his fight on Saturday night against perceived pound-for-pound entrant Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KO), this brutish, molesting style was thought to be Porter’s only hope against a younger, faster opponent: head first, elbows out and hopefully smokescreen the judges into a difficult decision.

Unfortunately for Porter, Spence has made a career of rendering judges’ decisions irrelevant. Porter has never been stopped but staring down the barrel of Spence’s 84% knockout ratio, including 11 of his last 12 opponents, is daunting proposition regardless of the hardness of your head.

Porter would need to get inside and stay there. Spence would need to find the space to exploit his massive speed advantage. Porter, the live but unmistakable underdog and Spence, the supremely talented but untested favorite.

This was the setup as the fighters made their way to the ring on a Fox Pay-Per-View televised card from Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Brief side note: Whether or not you agree that this fight deserved to be on PPV (it did not) it’s hard to argue that FOX’s production values simply weren’t commensurate with the $75 price tag. Putting aside the god damn ring falling apart moments before the main event (whatever, shit happens) the nauseating camera angles and the insufferable broadcast team rendered the entire production borderline unwatchable. I assume most fight fans streamed the card for the far more palatable price of zero dollars, but if you paid the full tab for this I assume you’re busy farting into a mason jar and affixing a postage label with FOX’s address to it this morning.

Fears of a clinch-filled foul-fest were immediately allayed as Porter’s aggression was of a much more effective nature than we’re typically used to seeing. His rushes were tactical and Spence’s response was violent. This was a chess match inside of a tornado, like doing origami with a leaf blower.

As Porter surprisingly found a home his short left hooks inside, Spence was, much like my prom date, doing his best work downstairs. Attempts to mute Porter’s attack were met with strategic counters and a further revving of his engine.

Any perceived fundamental shortcomings Porter may have are more than made up for by his seemingly un-drainable battery. He may be one of the best conditioned fighters in the sport and he can make it a long night for anyone.

In the 4th round, both men would find out just how long this night was going to be.

A fight that could already be described as “spirited” took a violent leap toward “savage” as both fighters decided to empty the tank at the quarter pole. Porter rocked Spence with a short left counter that appeared to have the younger fighter in serious trouble. As Spence composed himself he laser-focused his attack on Porter’s body and achieved the nearly impossible task of momentarily slowing him down.

Call it button-mashing all you want but what you can’t call it is boring. This is the bang you hope for when you drop your bucks on a fight. And somehow, there were eight rounds to go.

As the rounds piled up, the action never ceased — round after indistinguishable round of calculated slugging between two guys separated by little more than a smidge of natural talent. There was, as of yet, no perceptible edge to give to either man.

And then it happened.

In the 11th round, a logjam on the scorecards was unclogged by a perfectly thrown right hook from Spence that landed on the point of Porter’s chin. As Porter fell to one knee for the briefest of moments, it created the separation Spence would need to walk away with a split decision victory.

As the scorecards were announced in Spence’s favor (116-111, 112-115 and 116-111) the acknowledgement of the importance of that knockdown was all over Porter’s face. A single, momentary lapse of focus in an otherwise marvelous performance had cost him the official victory but the moral one might actually be more important here.

Performing simply “better than expected” brings with it the subtle insult of lowered expectations and the heavy underdog status Porter brought to the ring with him earned him a few apologies as he left it. He’s a class act both in and out of the ring and firmly solidified his place among the top tier of the welterweight division.

Spence’s talent is manifest. He sees things that few fighters can. What wasn’t certain before this fight was how he would handle himself when things got rough. Fears that he would crumble proved wholly unfounded. If you can survive Shawn Porter, there are few things left to surprise you in this sport.

A fight with Danny Garcia was dangled as next on tap for Spence and really, who gives a shit. It’s all downtime for Spence until he’s standing across the ring from Bud Crawford.

Porter elevated his stock in a way that even an unearned decision wouldn’t have done for him. He is there for anyone who wants him and after the hell he put Spence through I can’t imagine that line is too long.

Errol Spence proved his mettle. Shawn Porter proved he can use his head for more than butting.

And boxing proved that it can be pretty god damn fun sometimes.

(Stephanie Trapp/TrappFotos)