Maybe it shouldn’t have come as as a surprise. Perhaps to some, it didn’t. After all, Shawn Porter is 34-years-old and has been plying himself in the trade of the hardest of knocks for more than 13 years as a professional now. At that age, the road seldom gets easier.
And if you are a proud fighter like Porter, you don’t want to be anyone's stepping stone, or, as he put it during his postfight press conference, “gatekeeper” for those looking to ascend to the top level of the welterweight division. A place the two-time champion Porter has taken up residence in for nearly a decade now.
If this really is it (and as my erstwhile editor Michael Woods pointed out in his post-fight column on Saturday night, it may well not be), then what to make of Porter’s legacy? As always, the tale of the tape will supply much of the evidence with which to place a fighter’s place in history. In the end, it comes down to three things: Who did you fight? Who did you beat? And who did you lose to?
On the first score, it’s fair to say that Porter fought everyone.
No one can accuse Porter of ducking anyone. If you were among the best in his weight class, odds are, Porter found you at some point. The list of pugilists he has defeated is hardly unimpressive. Porter holds victories over top-flight scrappers like Julio Diaz, Devon Alexander, Paulie Malinaggi, Adrien Broner, Andre Berto, Danny Garcia and Yordenis Ugas—-formidable, A-list fighters all.
Now, who did he lose to while compiling a career record of 31-4-1? Porter lost to Kell Brook by majority decision, Keith Thurman by unanimous decision, Errol Spence Jr. by split decision, and last Saturday night by TKO to Terence Crawford in the tenth round when Porter’s trainer/father threw in the towel after his son and charge was dropped twice by one of the best fighters in the racket.
We historian types weigh these things out and some of us (not me) will one day vote on whether Porter deserves induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. What then to make of the career of Shawn Porter? I would say there’s seldom been an easier fighter to root for. Porter was (past tense until proven wrong) fun to watch, brave, skilled, and willing to fight the best in the biz.
And while he beat a lot of top-flight fighters, when up against the best of the best, he had a tendency to come close, but to fall short. I think it’s quite telling to note that perhaps Porter’s two best performances in the ring (against Spence and Crawford) resulted in losses. Porter was competitive in both fights. An eleventh round knockdown took away his shot against Spence, and we all saw how Saturday night turned out against Crawford.
In both fights, Porter was at his very best. I think it’s fair to say that neither Spence nor Crawford has been in a bout as tough as the one they had against Porter. But there was something very telling in the Crawford fight when Porter was sent to the canvas a second time in the tenth by Crawford. The first knockdown was closer to a flash, but the second was the kind that hurt. And as Porter pounded his fist against the canvas, you could practically sense what he was feeling: “I was so close to greatness, but, once again, not quite.”
It had to be terribly painful for Porter to have his dad (sensibly, I thought) stop the fight.
He wasn’t the kind of hurt that shouted out, “Please, someone put an end to this!,” but it was clear that not only could Porter, at that point, not win the fight, but that the hurt was coming. I believe his father saw that and protected his son from himself, because Shawn Porter was not going to quit.
Before the fight, in a group column where the NYF team shared their predictions, I suggested that Porter was like the boxing version of the film, “Almost Famous.”
Because that’s what Porter has been, “almost.” He was very, very good, but not quite great. In fact, if there were to be a Hall of Very Good, Porter would be a charter member. There’s no shame in that, but for a proud fighter like Porter, there has to be some pain in knowing that he got to the mountain top, but not to the promised land.
In every era, there are the fighters who define their weight class, and then there are the fighters just below that who allow the true greats to create their definition. Porter is in that ever so slightly lower (but still elite) class. Without boxers like him, we wouldn’t be able to take the full measure of the Crawfords. Spences, and Thurmans. It’s all a case of so close, but yet so far.
Porter was oh so close to being among the greats, but the distance betwixt the very good and the truly great, while being a hair’s breadth, is everything. And “everything” is what Shawn Porter was just a little short of.