Even though the Barclay’s Center has become one of boxing’s hottest venues, you seldom see two fighters square off against each other that have each given the fans so many memories in one arena. Danny “Swift” Garcia, who started the Barclay’s saga nearly six years ago when he blasted Erik Morales into retirement, fought for a seventh time there as he took on “Showtime” Shawn Porter for the vacant WBC welterweight title.
The two competed for much more than a vacant title, despite Porter coming into the ring decked out in the WBC’s green and yellow. At stake was a chance to get back into the upper echelon of one of the most star-studded divisions after each had suffered close, heart-breaking defeats to Keith Thurman. While neither has had a chance to avenge those setbacks thanks to Thurman being inactive for going on two years, last night they had a chance to nullify the memory of those defeats by capturing one of the belts he left behind, thus putting them shoulder-to-shoulder with Errol Spence and Terence Crawford as 147-pound titlists.
In addition to the fight’s significance on paper, some bad blood was in the mix, starting when Danny Garcia knocked out Brandon Rios and Porter stormed into the ring during Danny’s post fight interview with Jim Gray, stealing the mic, the spotlight, and arguably the event by calling Garcia out. It wasn’t long afterwards that Garcia vs Porter was made.
In a nutshell, this match had everything going for it, including two styles that meshed together well, career-altering significance, and some animosity to boot. In one respect, it was the classic boxer vs puncher affair, as Porter has established himself over the years as one of the best physical infighters in the game, and Garcia had proved that his counter-punching ability was truly elite. At the same time, Porter had showed the ability to box and command distance against Adrien Broner, while Garcia was able to walk down the stronger Keith Thurman during much of their fight last March. With Errol Spence Jr. watching from ringside, Porter and Garcia were ready to give the fans a major welterweight showdown with major implications.
Despite their personal feud and the high expectations for a war, the match started out in a tactical mode, with Porter keeping his distance and using his footwork more than just about anyone had predicted. In the first two rounds, Garcia assumed the role of the aggressor while remaining the potent counter-puncher that he is known to be, getting within Porter’s punching range and catching Shawn coming in just as the Ohio native spurted out of his shell. Additionally, Garcia was tying up Porter well when the former IBF champion tried to make it rough in close, all of which seemed to give Garcia an edge through the first three rounds.
In the fourth, the Shawn Porter we have come to love over the years finally showed up. While Porter wasn’t quite the whirling dervish he was in his relentless blowout of Paulie Malignaggi, he exhibited controlled aggression, lulling Garcia to sleep with subtle movement before jumping in at unexpected moments. It became abundantly clear that Garcia needed to rely on more than clinching to counter Porter’s inside game. He needed to start stringing his punches together in close if he wanted any chance of thwarting Shawn’s aggression; easier said than done.
The first serious headbutt of the fight occurred in the seventh when Porter charged in. Garcia appeared both frustrated and bothered by the headbutt, as his father and trainer Angel Garcia had previously warned referee Steve Willis to look out for Porter’s cranium. While “Showtime” had an advantage in the middle rounds, Garcia began to mount a comeback in round nine, landing a hard double left hook upstairs. Porter began to stalk Garcia, which led to Garcia getting home a good counter hook and a pot-shot right hand later in the round. The ball had now rolled into Porter’s side of the court, and it was up to him to make the adjustments needed to regain control.
Round ten was perhaps the best of the fight and a true technical war, as each took turns doing what they do best: Garcia countering with well-timed, accurate shots, and Porter responding with combinations of his own. What made it even more fun to watch was the fact that both fighters mixed up their attack to the head and body, landing an assortment of hooks, uppercuts, and straight punches which would puzzle any boxer of lesser caliber.
Going into the championship rounds, many had the fight even with Garcia edging the early rounds and Porter winning the middle portion. Porter appeared to have a bit more energy in round 11, but Garcia came back strong in the final round with clean counter shots. In truth, nearly every round exhibited the same closely competitive back-and-forth fighting that made the bout so hard to decide. I scored the contest 115-113 for Porter, favoring his activity and fervor, but a victory for Garcia was definitely plausible. That said, when Jimmy Lennon Jr. read off the 115-113 and 116-112 scorecards, it was a relief to know the judges got it right. “Showtime” Shawn Porter once again owned a piece of the world title and he earned it the hard way.
Even prior to the post-fight interviews, you could see Errol Spence Jr. lurking near Showtime’s Jim Gray, just waiting to call out the winner. However, in contrast to when Porter did the same to Garcia, Spence and Porter were almost too civil for comfort. Porter promised that this would be “the easiest fight to make in boxing,” claiming he wanted to unify the belts with Spence as soon as possible. One wonders though if Porter, a veteran who’s engaged in several wars over the years, is mentally ready to face Spence, a young lion who appears in the prime of his career.
As for Danny Garcia, the manner in which he lost certainly doesn’t preclude him from a big fight in the future, but it does preclude him from being the A-side against any of the top welterweights. Danny seemed rather placid in his post-fight interview with Jim Gray, stating that he felt he did enough to win, but he seemed too dejected to complain vigorously about the decision.
With the win Porter erases many doubts that had grown following his defeats to Keith Thurman and Kell Brook. He showed far more versatility than we are accustomed to as he used his underrated boxing ability to out-hustle one of the best fighters in the division. He will certainly be a very stern test for either Spence or Crawford, if and when they take him on, or for a comebacking “One Time,” should Thurman ever return to the ring. — Alden Chodash