The grin was the tell.
Even as his brow leaked and his mouth hung open for occasional gulps of air, Terence Crawford couldn’t suppress the smile curling the corners of his lips late in Saturday’s fight at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The world’s welterweight apex predator may have been made to labor and bleed by the perpetually game Shawn Porter, but the smile on Crawford’s face — knowing, at ease, with just the right amount of smugness — made clear who was in control.
That grin was planted on Crawford’s mug throughout the fight at least as often as Porter’s gloves — but by no means did that make the challenger easy work. Crawford endured multiple bullrushes, head clashes and strafing power shots before expertly counterpunching his way to a 10th-round corner stoppage, sending Porter into a retirement full of elephantine tie knots and leaving little doubt about the identity of the once and future king at 147 pounds.
Crawford (38-0, 29 KO) had received plenty of stick over the past few years for his failure to take on the biggest challenges in or around the division. Even if you’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt while he has been mired in the steaming cesspool of promotional politics — and you should, to a point — fans had grown restless watching Crawford take apart challengers like Kell Brook and Amir Khan, let alone the Jeff Horns and Hank Lundys of the division. With Bud having turned 34 in September, critics and supporters alike have in mind bigger game (Errol Spence, Josh Taylor, maybe Jermell Charlo) — and sooner rather than later.
Porter (31-4-1, 17 KO) wasn’t quite it. But as a former titleholder who has been taking on and putting the screws to top welters since the mid-2010s — even recently throwing a scare into Spence in a split-decision defeat — Porter felt like the very-next-best thing.
And he didn’t disappoint against Crawford. Porter showed more patience than usual, perhaps a bit more variation in pace and punch selection — but still brought to bear his signature physical style. A clash of heads opened up a cut over Porter’s eye in Round 3, and Crawford got the worst of another in Round 6. The fighters essentially traded rounds through much of the fight, with Porter landing some eye-catching power blows and Crawford sidestepping and countering the challenger with unmatched skill. At the time of the stoppage, Crawford was up on the officials’ scorecards — but not by much: 86-85, 86-85 and 87-84.
By the eighth, Crawford seemed to sense — yup, there was that smile — Porter’s growing frustration. Having trouble consistently landing clean, effective shots, the challenger gradually reverted back to his preferred style — something resembling a Tasmanian Devil that got cheated out of a C-note in a dice game. But that approach played directly into Bud’s deft hands. Crawford started thumping away with body shots and landing heavier counter blows as Porter dipped and lunged and barrelled forward.
In the 10th, Porter led with a right hand delivered from the Seventh Circle of Hell, then immediately followed with a screaming left hook. Nothing. Crawford, who has turned measuring distance into a black art, slid his right foot a half step back to escape the first punch. Then he dropped and planted the left to dodge the next — while at the same time gathering the full force behind a counter left hand that glanced off Porter’s chin and hammered his chest, the challenger attempting to duck out of trouble one too many times. The blow may not have hurt Porter, but it knocked him square on his ass.
What came next was a dissection. Without chasing or pressing, Bud went on the offensive. Lead jabs. A counter left cross and right hook combo after Crawford, the natural southpaw, invited Porter into the pocket. Finally, a counter left uppercut from a southpaw stance that just missed, which Crawford immediately morphed into an orthodox overhand right hand that he thudded behind Porter’s ear, dropping him yet again. It was the closest thing to some Wachowski Brothers bullshit we’re going to see in real life.
You can argue with the decision to end it, but you’ve either screened “Rocky III” on ‘shrooms one too many times or don’t have kids of your own. Kenny Porter, Shawn’s trainer and father, made a split-second assessment at the moment of truth: My son is 34, he’s being cut to pieces by a trained assassin and he otherwise has a long career ahead of him analyzing fights on the other side of these ropes. If you love your boy, that’s an easy call.
After the old man conceded, Porter was initially livid — but soon all but admitted to being outgunned: “He’s the best out of everybody I have been in the ring with,” he said of Crawford. “That man hit me with more than anybody I’ve been in the ring with.”
First, a quick salute: During his 13 years as a pro, Porter threw himself headfirst, in every way, into a career that included significant wins (Danny Garcia, Yordenis Ugas), well-contested losses (Spence and Crawford) and zero social media posturing, ducked fights or excuses. If ever a proverbial Real One stepped onto the canvas, it was Shawn Porter. May the gods go with him.
Crawford, for his part, is still going strong. For now. “Who’s No. 1 in the welterweight division now?” he asked the Mandalay Bay crowd after the fight, surely not requiring an answer. Unfortunately, it sounds like a Spence fight, which would truly settle that debate, remains a non-starter. And although a Taylor matchup would do big business for everyone involved and is a solid consolation prize, at what point do we dock Crawford points for settling? He may have another year — two, tops — to squeeze from his prime.
Crawford has the right to do whatever he damn well pleases with his most fertile earning years as an athlete. If his current track doesn’t change, though, fans will have the right to remember him as the savant who never tested the limits of his abilities. There are worse fates for a fighter, of course. But when you choose violence as a vocation, a stroll down the path of least resistance rarely ends in the sort of distinction fighters crave. Here’s hoping Bud starts baring his fangs for more than a smile.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)