LOS ANGELES — There was Kell Brook, in England.
Then Mikey Garcia, in Texas.
Errol Spence Jr.—ex-U.S. Olympian, white-hot prospect, 147-pound titleholder—has checked a lot of boxes in his pro career. On Saturday, he checked another, outmuscling Shawn Porter to unify two pieces of the welterweight title.
Good card, supported by David Benavidez’s return to the ranks of world champion. Great fight. Spence entered Saturday’s showdown at Staples Center a solid favorite—as high as 10-1 in some sportsbooks. But Porter wouldn’t be easy. He’s never easy. What Porter lacks in talent he makes up in sheer will. He’s relentless. You can always identify a Shawn Porter opponent. He looks like he's been in a car crash.
And for most of the 36 minutes this one took to settle, this was a Porter–type of fight. The first round was a feeling out. The next 11 were a war. Porter pressed Spence against the ropes. When Spence applied pressure, Porter spun him. When Spence opened up, Porter was there to counter. In the fourth round, Porter battered Spence around the ring. The crowd, some 16,000 strong, roared. Suddenly, this felt like a fair fight.
Said Porter, “The fight played out 90% of the way we wanted to.”
Then Spence was, well, Spence. The talent packed into Spence’s sturdy 5’9”, 147-pound frame is undeniable. He’s a savage body puncher, and the 113 he landed on Porter, per CompuBox, more than half his totalpunches landed, took a toll. He landed 44% of his power punches, taking the most punishment of his career to do it. In the 11th round, Porter leaned into a looping left hand that buckled him, forcing his gloves to the canvas.
The knockdown gave Spence some breathing room. Two judges scored the fight 116-111, for Spence. SI.com scored it the same. Larry Hazzard Jr., no stranger to the quizzical card, was the outlier, awarding Porter a 115-112 win.
Whatever. In an era where records are becoming more and more meaningless, Spence’s is starting to matter. Porter joins Brook, Garcia, Lamont Peterson and Chris Algieri in Spence’s quality win column. Earlier this week, Porter’s father/trainer, Kenny, said he wanted to see how Spence reacted in a dog fight.
Turns out, pretty well.
“I’m a naturally aggressive fighter,” Spence said. “Mikey showed I can box. Usually I’m moving forward. Shawn, he is awkward like that. He tries to make you uncomfortable in the ring … It was a tough fight. I knew that coming in. he always comes in shape, he always comes ready to fight.”
“They can’t question that I’ve never been tested, that I’ve never been hurt before, never taken a shot before. I showed I can take a shot and give a couple back.”
Indeed. He blitzed Brook, outskilled Garcia and now has a war of attrition with Porter under his belt. Skeptics of Spence—and there weren’t many to begin with—have been silenced.
There is still the matter of Terence Crawford, of course, a fellow 147-pound titleholder, a top pound-for-pound candidate and the equivalent of a four-letter word in the PBC universe, for as often as its invoked. Crawford-Spence is the biggest fight in the division, perhaps in all of boxing, and despite the political divide—Crawford is promoted by Top Rank, Spence by rival Al Haymon—is one fans will continue to clamor for.
Spence? Before the postfight press conference devolved into a shouting match between two fighters unintelligibly shouting about Bobby Brown, Martin Lawrence and which of the two boxers was more appealing to NFL teams, Spence shrugged at the suggestion that Crawford could be next.
“The last time Crawford fought on pay per view, he did 100,000 buys,” Spence said, refencing Crawford’s win over Amir Khan last April. “I’m not worried about Crawford right now. [Top Rank] doesn’t really promote him like they should. It is what it is. We’ll worry about Crawford when we get there. But Crawford needs me more than I need him.”
Now that is true. It’s no secret that Top Rank is struggling to find marketable opponents for Crawford, while PBC has several options for Spence. Danny Garcia climbed into the ring to challenge Spence after the fight, and while Spence is cool on the idea of facing Garcia next (“I have been calling out Danny for a long time, now he’s stepping in the ring coming for me,” Spence said. “The tables have turned.”), it’s a viable option.
What’s not: Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao’s team has no interest in a Spence fight. On paper, it makes sense. Pacquiao is a legit titleholder, coming off a significant win over Keith Thurman. Both are PBC affiliated. But Pacquiao is 40, and those around him have no interest in matching him in a fight that could end his career …violently. Pacquiao is criticism-proof, courtesy of decades spent taking on the toughest challenges. A date with Mikey Garcia is a fight Pacquiao’s handlers are far more interested in.
Spence, though, is on the right track. Put a top opponent in front of him, and he’s beating them, convincingly. A win over Danny Garcia in 2020 will be another feather in his cap, another 147-pound contender he can cross off the list.
Like Shawn Porter.
Now, officially, Spence’s best win.