There’s a word the Germans have gifted us – schadenfreude – that, in that uniquely American way, we have since deep-fried, tossed in buffalo sauce and dipped in ranch to turn into something else altogether. It’s not enough for us to take quiet pleasure in the misfortune of others. Nah, that’s for chumps. Our country asses aren’t happy until we’re recording cellphone video of you writhing in pain and bleeding out on the sticky floor of a strip club after your girlfriend tracks you down, leaves you with a .22 slug in the thigh and rides off on the back of the bouncer’s Harley. Call it eXtreme Schadenfreude Kickstart.
It’s nights like Saturday in Carson, California, where Shawn Porter defended a welterweight title against Yordenis Ugas on Fox, when we could use more direction from Deutschland in the perversely dark language arts. Schadenfreude wasn’t quite the right fit – it was we who were suffering, after all – but words consistently failed when, at every turn, another bar set excruciatingly low was wriggled over, all amid the finest in bloated boxing pageantry.
The failing forward began at Friday’s weigh-in, where Porter needed extra time and, supposedly, a sharp straight razor to carve off the last few ounces to make 147 pounds. It ended shortly after Porter (30-2-1, 17 KO), having struggled to solve the length and occasional counterpunching of Ugas (23-4, 11 KO), had backed into a 116-112, 115-113, 111-117 split-decision win. This wasn’t merely an un-pretty but tactical victory or a claw-hammered brawl in which grit substituted for a gameplan. It was a gilded whoopee cushion, a big, dumb oaf of an affair that was celebrated, hilariously, whenever a participant managed to put one foot in front of the other without falling into a manhole.
Boxing is a gauntlet. Anyone who subjects themselves to the sort of physical sacrifice and psychological coal-raking required to make a living as a professional fighter deserves a measure of respect. They also deserve the space for self-delusion that allows a human being to plant their heels, stiffen their back and brace for what’s to come, even while their id – tied up, muzzled and buried somewhere deep inside – is pissing down its proverbial leg.
But when the act extends beyond the self – when a confident swagger or a puckish wink grows into a Pink Floyd laser light show of bullshit – all bets are off. Do what you must to convince yourself. Mean-mug. Talk shit in the press conference. Wear the head of a freshly slain Tyrannosaurus Rex into the ring. Whatevs. Just remember: When the shit goes sideways and you’re still channeling Denzel Washington at the end of Training Day, expect memes. Expect many memes.
Porter’s crew set the tone when their man arrived almost two pounds heavy for the weigh-in, then, after he’d squeaked in under the limit two hours later, celebrated like he’d won a Showcase Showdown. Here’s the fun part: Porter reportedly was able to hit the number in part by cutting his hair. Because I’m nothing if not a diligent reporter, I studied Porter with a groomer’s eye on Saturday and – sure enough – found his trademark braids and a chest full of short-and-curlies to be fully intact. Call me old-fashioned, but if I have to shave my fighter’s back, ass, and feet for him to make weight, I’m going to err on the side of humility.
Lucky for all of us, Porter didn’t walk the path of the conquering hairless hero alone. Once the fight began, Ugas arguably won the first two rounds by deftly and gallantly not tripping over his own member. The Porter of three years ago would have attacked Ugas like a flaming boulder hastily catapulted at his opponent, all forearms and forehead. But because Porter chose to “box” (his word), Ugas stayed on the edges, waited for his counter opportunities and made a show of waving his arms whenever the inactivity seemed too great to bear – which was often. Never mind pushing forward and engaging himself. Ugas preferred to stare down Porter at the end of every round.
By Round 5, the fighters seemed struck by the notion that someone would have to not lose this fight. Porter showed flashes of his old style in spurts, charging and landing (though rarely flushly) lead hands here and there. Now and then, Ugas would counter (though never often enough) with a sharp jab or body shot when Porter’s defenses were down. It wasn’t much to look at as Porter was cut by a headbutt in Round 10, Ugas dropped him with the old fifth-grade bully takedown in 11 and, just before the bell, the challenger clipped Porter for a very legal knockdown – just not in the eyes of Jack Reiss. (Someone get that man a ref cam.)
When it was over, Ugas threw his hands in the air and Porter, with a wry smile, seemed to finally drop the illusion. Or was his reaction something else – a mixture of resignation and frustration, maybe? Sure, as the house fighter and reigning belt-holder, he’d get the nod in a close call. But if it was a steaming pile of a fight – one that neither man appeared prepared or all that interested in taking from the other – so damn what?
Shame is fleeting. When the scores were announced, Porter, a touch too smugly, soaked in whatever glory he imagined around him. Cut him some slack. The 31-year-old from Akron, Ohio, seems like an affable, well-meaning cat. Besides, he had just defended a welterweight title belt. So we shuffle on from Saturday without the comfort of our schadenfreude – and still with no expression for the bile-inducing sensation brought on by hubris in the face of mediocrity. At least it’s a short wait until Saturday for boxing’s next 147-pound title fight. And, to the best of my knowledge, neither Errol Spence nor Mikey Garcia speaks German.