Picture, if you will, the most stereotypical and often used tropes in boxing – constantly repackaged for marketing purposes. Chances are you pictured a poor kid from the inner city, working hard and overcoming hardships of a system designed to work against them; manifesting the American Dream through brutal violence. After a fast rise, we typically see a fall from grace that normalizes their greatness, as they have fallen victim to the same perils of life that we all do. Most famous boxers would fit loosely-to-concretely into this construct.
“Most,” but then we have Shawn Porter.
I have known Porter for a few years, I wouldn’t say well, but I know how he acts, behaves and his habits. He has always been an albatross of the boxing world. Porter, a tough mauling fighter in the ring, is nothing short of a gentleman outside of the ring. He values your time, something I can attest most stars in the sport of boxing don’t. Beyond that, he’s also trained by his father, who seemingly is one of the closest people to his life.
I would be a liar if I told you I didn’t constantly doubt Porter throughout his career, but if anything, that is probably why he’s is so great. Though he has a fantastic amateur pedigree, and boxing skills that translate to the elite level – the biggest thing about Porter is his ability to want to take fights from other people. Porter is a story of grit, not the racist grit we hear about in which you hear that poor people need to be tough to make it in life, rather than looking at ways to optimizing the system – and less so blaming individuals who can’t pull themselves out of unbearable circumstances.
I sat with Porter after the Andre Berto–Victor Ortiz II weigh-in, on the stage where the scale had sat just thirty minutes prior. Porter did brief interviews with people, but because I asked if I could interview him; he told me to wait ten minutes so he could finish some sort of purchase on his phone then he would give me his full attention. It was jarringly real, something like your good buddy who’s now a superstar, but still similar to the person you grew up with.
Porter’s heart is unlike any I have ever seen. He can fight fighters who have every advantage over him, but his work ethic and fitness will simply break them. He is so mentally tough that he points out others’ weaknesses and breaks them as they might doubt how far they can go. The finest example of this is Devon Alexander.
Alexander is an incredibly tough and tactical fighter, but Porter had no regard for this. He pushed through Alexander’s attempts to hold and simply took the title from him forcibly. The performance was so dominant that he was compared to Mike Tyson, and a stoppage win over Paulie Malignaggi only furthered it.
For a time in 2014, Porter was a can’t miss star and a rare fighter, a rising figurehead of the sport. This was derailed by an awkward fight with Kell Brook that saw Porter lose his IBF title on the cards.
Knowing the boxing game, it was somber since I thought the narrative would be for Porter to be fed to the wolves since his style is not always fan pleasing, and hard to keep up with. I thought Porter was going to be used as fodder for the young lions who might be a bigger ticket draw. When this was seemingly attempted, Porter beat the breaks off Adrien Broner, who simply looked outclassed and unable to handle the pressure of Porter.
That leads us to the here and now and why I penned the prelude. Porter put forth a mini-classic with one of the best modern welterweights, Keith Thurman, a man who makes Porter look like a small man. Thurman’s nickname “One time” references the fact that simply one punch can change a fight Thurman is in, that is how real his power is. So the story was set once again with Porter in with one of the toughest or biggest names of his generation with cynics thinking he was outgunned once again.
What emerged was a game and tough fight that saw Porter come out to boos and leave to cheers. Though I slightly scored the fight for Thurman, I can’t take one thing away from Porter who fought nothing short of brilliant. It was a network TV fight that was worth the hype, and one that makes me wish that my grandfather had lived a little longer so he could have seen that the sport of boxing, which he loved, was in good hands with the new generation.
Porter would eat a big punch that would’ve dropped a mere mortal, only to come back with hard shots in return. Porter is a never ending barrage of punches, pressure, and toughness. That leads to another unique factor of Porter; his father Ken Porter, who is incredibly hard on his son, but at the same time a loving father who raised a mild-mannered, humble millionaire.
Ken Porter is the voice of Shawn often, as the younger Porter is more mild mannered and polite, while papa Porter is the proud parent telling all foes of the problems that they will face if they get in the ring with his son. Even with losses, it is never a hostile relationship, it is that of a closely bonded unit and one that reminds me of my relationship with my mom, who seemingly is my best friend. What draws me so much to Porter is not always his style, but the person he is, the authenticity of character and how real he is.
Porter is just as likely to wear a shirt from Target, as he is to wear a Gucci belt, the fear of not having material objects doesn’t phase him, and is not what he is about. Shawn and his father are incredibly reflective when asked questions and think about things deeply rather than cut and dry answers that appease the sponsors. Porter feels like someone from your hometown (if your hometown isn’t all that big), that made it, but still goes to the local parade and all that type of stuff. Not as someone who is being honored, but as a patron, because it is simply something he likes to do. My fondness for Porter comes from how rarely professional athletes make you see bits of yourself in them, but I think it is hard for anyone not see a bit of themselves in Porter.
Despite losing to Thurman, Porter is now as popular as ever. In an era in which fighters are doing what’s best for their brand , Porter is one of the few who is simply taking all the hard fights given. It seems hard to believe Porter would not be a hall of famer- at this point, when looking at what he has done and his lone losses are highly debatable and didn’t see Porter clearly beaten in either fight.
So often we talk about the quantitative in boxing, the winner and the loser, but rarely do we just appreciate someone who took a chance. Porter is a someone who, whether you like his style of fighting or not, will fight anyone to prove he is great. If that isn’t likable, I don’t know what is.