Multiple cuts and myriad head clashes couldn’t discourage Shawn Porter’s relentless onslaught against Andre Berto, resulting in a ninth-round stoppage win for “Showtime” that should lead to an anticipated rematch against welterweight champ Keith Thurman. But given how long it took for the first Thurman vs Porter fight to materialize, what should be the obvious next step for both men could be easily derailed by a protracted negotiation, or a deliberate layoff for either man. As always with 21st century boxing, the fans must gird themselves for delays and disappointments.
Both Porter (27-2-1) and Thurman (28-0) are flagship fighters in Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions stable, and Porter’s victory over Berto (31-5) makes him the mandatory challenger to Thurman. Simple, right? Indeed, it is possible that Thurman and Porter will meet next, but we’ll have to wait and see how long it takes to get them into the ring again. No doubt Porter’s cuts will need some time to heal.
The last time Shawn Porter stepped into the ring more than twice in a calendar year was 2013, which means that in the time when he should be taking full advantage of his athletic prime, he has had a grand total of six fights. Incidentally, Thurman has followed the exact same trajectory, with his last three-fight campaign also coming in 2013. When Thurman and Porter gave fans a scintillating, not to mention razor-close, battle last year, it ended up being their only scrap of 2016, which prevented them from capitalizing on a broader star-making opportunity.
Given that we’re already at the end of April, Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter should be ready to rumble again by August or September at the latest, which, in a perfect world, would give them the chance to battle again before the end of the year. But given the way their careers have been handled, it’s likely Thurman vs Porter II gets pushed to late fall, an entirely unnecessary delay that will have them enter the ring after another long layoff and will grind any momentum they’ve garnered to a screeching halt.
Against Berto, Porter reminded fans of the unique virtues he possesses as a punishing pressure fighter. Sure, “Showtime” tends to be in tilts with an obnoxious number of headbutts, and he can smother his own work and end up wrestling on the inside. But in out-landing Berto 175-81 and out-throwing him 448-254, Porter demonstrated again his unique ability to break the will of a credible opponent behind suffocating, unchecked aggression.
But Porter’s fighting style isn’t one that necessarily ages well. While he does possess quality boxing skills, the sheer physicality of his tactics could easily lead to his body rapidly breaking down in the near future. Although Porter is a supremely conditioned athlete, he would be best served by adopting Gennady Golovkin’s approach of fighting three or four times per year. Of all the elite PBC welterweights, including Thurman and Errol Spence Jr., someone could easily separate themselves in terms of popularity simply through consistent activity. Porter, with a fan-friendly swashbuckling fighting style, is probably the ideal candidate.
In fact, from the standpoint of raw talent, we could indeed be in the midst of a great era of welterweights. But for this potential to be realized, something in the collective attitudes of the fighters and power brokers needs to change, and prime evidence of this was Keith Thurman’s interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray after Porter vs Berto.
Thurman conceded that Porter had indeed fought himself back into position to challenge for a title — an objective fact — and was then asked whether he wants to face Porter next and if he would “instruct” Al Haymon to make that fight. But “One Time,” a supremely intelligent and charismatic athlete, was maddeningly evasive, stating that he was “still not thinking about anything right now, per se.” Alright then.
The most perplexing aspect of Thurman’s interview was that he went on to immediately admit that a rematch with Porter is a “great fight,” that they had a “Fight of the Year” type battle last year and should have another in 2017. Credit a grinning Porter for clocking Thurman on his ambiguity by directly proclaiming that all he wanted to hear was an unequivocal “Yes” that Thurman would fight him next. Thurman’s rebuttal directed the conversation back to the simple (yeah, sure) need to negotiate, which was, needless to say, deflating from a fight fan’s perspective. Back in the day, elite-level boxers didn’t talk about negotiating; they talked about fighting.
Ultimately, none of these words may matter, and fight fans could indeed see Thurman vs Porter II without a hitch in 2017, and perhaps earlier than this piece pessimistically anticipates. But without signed contracts for a rematch, words do carry some weight, and Keith Thurman’s are frustrating. Boxers obviously have to look out for their financial well-being and have to manage risk-reward calculations that few, if any, of us can fathom. But that’s what managers and promoters are ostensibly for, and as every PBC fighter likes to remind the public over and over again, no one is better at getting his charges a heaping piece of the proverbial pie than the mysterious Al Haymon.
So why the need to micromanage a post-fight interview the way Keith Thurman did with the sort of language one would expect to find in a pedantic legal document? Doesn’t he trust Haymon to broker a lucrative deal for him no matter who he fights? Thurman’s first fight against Shawn Porter begged for a rematch; both are stars (in a specifically boxing context); and Porter is a mandatory challenger. That Thurman couldn’t simply say, “Yes, I want that fight next, and as soon as possible” — even if it were only lip service — is a maddening trend of fans being denied even the promise of what makes complete sense for everyone.
Much like Keith Thurman’s fight against Danny Garcia, a Shawn Porter rematch is a crucial bout that remains a stepping stone — not a culmination — in what could be a special era at 147 pounds. But if fans are consistently made to wait for marquee fights, this generation of 147-pounders could be defined primarily by missed opportunities, hypothetical match-up debates, and protracted stretches of inactivity. Now is the moment for Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter to do battle again. Let’s hope everyone at Premier Boxing Champions realizes this truth before it’s too late.
— Zachary Alapi