LAS VEGAS — Boxing was a part of Shawn Porter’s life for as long as he can remember. Like many aspiring pros, he sacrificed greatly and gave up things in his life that other kids took for granted.
When he was a senior in high school outside of Akron, Ohio, Porter was scheduled to represent Team USA in a major amateur boxing event in Argentina. The tournament happened to fall at the same time as his school’s prom.
For many, the prom is a coming-of-age moment, but Porter had to skip it. He took the bad news with the grace and aplomb that the WBC welterweight champion is known for as a young adult.
“He’s never had a bad day,” his father, Kenny, said of his perpetually cheerful son. “When he’d move up a grade, his teachers would invariably tell me, ‘I’m going to miss him so much.’ And I’d say, ‘You’re going to miss him? He’s still here; he’s just going two rooms down that way!’ And they’d smile and say, ‘He’s such a nice and pleasant and respectful young man and he’s the type of kid you want to always be around.’”
Shawn Porter wasn’t untoward even when he learned the tournament in Argentina was canceled at the last moment, meaning he’d miss both the tournament and the prom.
Cheerful Porter confident ahead of Spence fight
Fortune has a way of smiling on guys like Porter, who is cheerful and optimistic only days away from the greatest challenge of his professional career when he meets IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, PPV) at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The unbeaten Spence is a budding superstar and a massive -1000 favorite to defeat Porter.
Porter chuckles at the odds, just as he’s laughed off most of the problems life has presented. Whether it’s having to sit out more than a full year in a contract dispute and struggle to make a living as a result or having to accept a loss in a fight he believed deeply he’d won, life has taught this talented and engaging 31-year-old that things almost always work out in the end.
And even with his boxing tournament in Argentina canceled at the last moment and all of the girls in his school committed to other dates for the prom, it managed to work out for Porter.
“The principal, the counselor and someone else [who worked for the school] all offered their daughters [for Porter to take to the prom],” Kenny Porter recalled, chuckling. “He wound up having two different dates to two different proms and didn’t even know the ladies because he’s got such a rapport with people. He makes people feel comfortable and they feel, ‘You know, this is someone I’d love to have take my daughter out.’ ”
Fighting one of the best opponents in the world — Spence is No. 2 on Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound list — is vastly different than lining up a late date for the senior prom, but just like when he was in school, Porter has plenty of faith that things will work out.
Spence has 2½ inches of height and three inches of reach on Porter, who has long been used to being the shorter man. His pressuring, attacking style has been built to take advantage of the physical gifts he owns and to minimize those he’s without.
When he was in high school, he was fighting in the amateurs at 165 pounds because he was playing football as well, and needed the bulk. There was never a thought that he’d be a football player long-term, but he wanted the balance in his life that football brought.
But keeping those extra 20 or 25 pounds on meant he wound up fighting much bigger guys. When he was an amateur, he boxed Oleksandr Usyk, the 2018 Yahoo Sports Fighter of the Year who won the undisputed cruiserweight title last year and next month will make his heavyweight debut against Tyrone Spong.
Usyk, who at 6-3 is eight inches taller than the 5-7 Porter, is only one of the much bigger men Porter has fought. In the amateurs, he’s also fought Daniel Jacobs, who had a pro middleweight title and is now competing as a super middleweight; as well as cruiserweights Shawn Estrada and Edwin Rodriguez, among others.
Kenny Porter said he believes Spence is one of the top three pound-for-pound boxers in the world, and the No. 1 welterweight. His son, though, shrugs it off.
He’s made for moments like this and he can draw on the experience of fighting much bigger men — much taller with a bigger reach and a harder punch — than Spence.
How Porter has adapted his natural boxing ability
Porter is like the proverbial crafty lefty in baseball who gets more than his share of strikeouts despite a below-average fastball. The pitcher instead relies on cunning, guile and smarts to set hitters up.
Porter is a menace physically and uses his strength and quickness to put himself into positions where he can punch and his opponents’ opportunity to do so is lessened. A fighter with a long reach needs room to let his hands go and Porter is an expert at eliminating that room.
“I’ve dealt with it all my life,” Porter said. “You come into this sport and you take what God has given you and you figure out what you have and make it work for yourself. I have a great understanding of range and distance. My speed and my quickness makes up for what I like in terms of range, like some taller fighters. … But all the way around, I think there are things folks are missing when they look at this fight. Errol is deserving of all of the things that people are saying about him, how good he is and how talented he is, but I think sometimes they may be getting so caught up in what he’s able to do that they’re not able to see the areas where he can be exploited. I see those things.”
He also sees the world around him in a way others don’t. He’s a religious young man who is in church three or four days a week and is involved in many of his church’s activities.
He’s an usher and he’s among those who is eager to help the less fortunate. His father said he’ll often call his son to get ready to go do his roadwork, the staple of any elite boxer, but gets put off.
“He’ll tell me, ‘I’m at church; let me get done with what I’m doing here and then we’ll get out there,’ ” Kenny Porter said. “He’s in church all the time, at least three days a week. I’m in church once a week and then I’m praying the rest of the time, but Shawn is different. He has that spirituality about him.”
Spirituality will only go so far when a slick boxer with a heavy punch like Spence is attacking. Porter has taken his natural physical gifts and adapted them to make himself the best version of a 5-7 welterweight he can be.
He’s at home in the ring and has a commanding presence in there that is much different from the easy-going nice-guy vibe he gives off outside the ring.
His father will encourage him to create a “thunderstorm,” in the ring, making him a relentless blur of punches and movement.
“I’m a product of both natural God-given ability and a tremendous amount of hard work,” Porter said. “You’ve seen me with a blindfold on in the ring, and that’s enabled me to know where I am in there at all times. Things like judging the distance and the speed of another guy, the power he has, being able to read him and see what he wants to do and what he’s going to do, those are things you can’t really teach. In a lot of ways, you could say I’m a natural.
“But I also took what I had and learned how to make it most effective. I put in the work to adapt my talents for this sport and for the things I need to do in there.”
So he’ll go into the fight Saturday as a major underdog, but also serene, calm and fully confident of victory. Experience has taught him there are no mountains he can’t climb and that if he plumbs the depths, everything from that moment is pointing up.
He’s the most optimistic member of the optimists’ club.
“I believe in myself and the work my father and I have done together, not just in this camp but along the entire way getting to this point,” Porter said. “Everybody has an opinion and that’s OK. But the people who think I’m in over my head, they haven’t been with me on this journey and they haven’t seen what I’ve had to overcome to get here. I know full well what I’ve done and that’s why I know I’m going to do this on Saturday night.”
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