Friday Matters

The Al Haymon Boxing League rolls on for the second weekend in a row. Last Saturday, Haymon and his protégés took over Las Vegas, where Keith Thurman emerged as the biggest winner. “One Time’s” defeat of Robert Guerrero ranks right now among the best performances of the year so far, and it may prove instrumental in taking Thurman’ s career to the next level, not only in terms of opposition, but also in name recognition, thanks to his showcase being broadcast on NBC’s free-to-watch airwaves.

This Friday’s show will take place in Ontario, California, and while the headliner represents a last shot at relevance for a couple of famous losers (more on that bout later), many fight fans will tune in to watch Shawn Porter. Like Thurman, Porter is a young, strong, versatile welterweight eager to prove himself in this packed weight class. But unlike The Thurmanator, Porter is on the rebound following his loss last August to Brit star Kell Brook. His opponent on Friday, Roberto Garcia, can kindly be referred to as accommodating, but it will be up to Porter to show he can bounce back from defeat and still put on a show.

“Showtime” Porter has had a pretty tough run of opponents over his last three fights: Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, and the aforementioned Brooke. Neither Amir Khan, nor Thurman, nor anyone else of the new generation of welterweights can match that run. Contrary to the common practice among champions to take the path of least resistance to preserve their records and keep their belts, Porter defended the title he attained from Alexander against a cagey veteran in Malignaggi—whom he completely destroyed—and then took on the challenge of another young, talented champion like himself in Kell Brook.

Crucially, Porter seems to be learning the right lessons from his loss to Brook, namely the need to recognize and adapt to changing patterns from opponent to opponent and from round to round. On taking on the crude Roberto Garcia, the old Porter would be salivating at the thought of going to war against a like-minded brawler. But in recent comments, Porter has hinted that on Friday he’ll be looking to exercise some restraint and try to outsmart Garcia before taking him down.

Porter walked down Alexander
Porter walked down Alexander

Focusing more on boxing in his return bout following his first defeat sounds like a good plan, but “Showtime” will have to find a way to give fans watching from home something to talk about, either a thrilling performance or a knockout ending. Spike TV will broadcast the show, and just like last Saturday’s show carried by NBC, the objective of appearing on mass-appeal networks is for Haymon’s fighters to leave viewers wanting more, not reaching for the remote. As long as Porter takes this directive to heart, his natural talent and fighting intensity should carry him over the unheralded Garcia with relative ease.

The main event of the evening will feature Josesito Lopez and Andre Berto, who will trade leather trying to prove something or other. If that sounds disrespectful, just consider the fact that the biggest names on both of their resumes all have a big fat “L” next to them, and those losses did not even come against elite talents. Berto put together a career thanks largely to the backing of Al Haymon, but came up short far too many times for him to still be headlining anything: Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass all beat him decisively.

Josesito Lopez, on the other hand, came up the hard way, fighting on ESPN and without much backing to speak of. He scored a major upset with his win over Mike Dallas Jr., but then dropped a split decision to Jessie Vargas. A fight against Victor Ortiz—which was supposed to be mere protocol before “Vicious” faced “Canelo” Alvarez—saw him put the performance of a lifetime, making Ortiz quit on his stool and stealing the “Canelo” date from him. Alvarez pummeled him for five rounds, Marcos Maidana took him out in six, and ever since, the Riverside Rocky has been making the rounds in the minor leagues awaiting his next break.

Can Josesito revitalize his career with a win over Berto?
Can Josesito revitalize his career with a win over Berto?

Which comes this Friday in his meeting with Berto in a bout that—although largely irrelevant to the welterweight division at large—has some serious entertainment potential. You take Berto’s half-assed impression of the shoulder roll, you mix it with Josesito’s penchant for warfare and complete disregard for defense, you throw in Berto’s proven courage in fighting through adversity, and just like that you got something worth buying a six-pack for.

There’s little doubt that Haymon’s motivation for putting this headliner together is to recycle the winner and make him a future opponent of a more relevant name. Since he couldn’t make up his mind about which one to back, he decided to let them figure it out in the ring. Normally I would gag at the thought that valuable airtime will be wasted on a couple of guys who had their share of opportunities and simply couldn’t take things to the next level. But the more I write, the more I start to feel that Berto vs Lopez may end up being a very entertaining scrap. Then again, Berto vs Soto-Karass was an entertaining fight too, but that doesn’t mean it needed to happen, or that I would ever want to see a replay of it.

And just like that, I’m back to running around in circles. Tell you what, let’s forget about the headliner and focus on Porter, who unlike Berto and Lopez, still has a future ahead of him. Hopefully it involves Keith Thurman, Amir Khan, or a rematch with Brook. To get there, however, Porter needs to take care of business this Friday. I’ll be watching, because guys like him deserve to be watched. The man’s got skills and heart, and he’s as feisty as they come in the ring. Let’s hope he delivers, but even more than that, let’s hope he leaves us wanting more.

–Robert Portis

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