Errol Spence Jr. vs. Shawn Porter offers a glimpse of boxing’s future
In boxing’s tangled and complicated world of politics and alliances, a fight can sometimes become more than the sum of its parts.
In isolation, Saturday’s welterweight unification showdown between IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. and WBC titleholder Shawn Porter is a rare chance to put two of the belts in the sport’s marquee division around the waist of one 147-pounder. Yet the result of the clash at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — to be broadcast on FOX Pay-Per-View — will have far-reaching consequences and has the potential to have a profound influence on what comes next in the boxing landscape.
“Depending on the outcome, there are all kinds of possibilities,” welterweight star Keith Thurman, who will join the FOX broadcast team as an analyst, told me via telephone. “Everyone is watching this fight because it is going to have a big impact on how it all shakes out.”
While looking past any opponent is one of the most dangerous things a boxer can do, that never stops fight fans from delving into the possibilities and permutations of what the next steps can be for a potential victor.
Spence is the favorite this weekend, a status befitting his reputation as one of the fight game’s biggest rising stars. He is already ranked No. 5 on the ESPN pound-for-pound list, with a perfect record of 25-0, and is seen as the fighter in control of the welterweight division.
Managed by Al Haymon’s PBC stable, Spence has rarely looked threatened since winning his title from England’s Kell Brook in 2017 and most recently took apart previously-undefeated Mikey Garcia in March, surprising many by doing what was widely thought impossible: outboxing the smaller and supposedly swifter man.
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) September 25, 2019
“With either outcome from this fight, things get really interesting,” former three-weight world champion and FOX analyst Abner Mares told me. “Spence is right there already as one of boxing’s big stars. People are taking notice. He is a guy who can cross over and be a star even outside of boxing. He is that good.”
For Spence to jump from being a prince of boxing to a wider sports celebrity would likely require one or more signature fights against famed opposition. There is a lot of intrigue in that quest. He has spoken of trying to clean out the welterweight division, but there are roadblocks. Manny Pacquiao, who holds the WBA belt, would be the perfect kind of big-name opponent, but does not seem particularly interested in facing Spence.
A battle with Terence Crawford, holder of the WBO strap, would delight boxing fans. Yet there are issues. Crawford is managed by Bob Arum’s Top Rank, and deals between Arum and Haymon have proven historically difficult to put together. To put it bluntly, the two men more or less hate each other — or at least, in boxing promoter tradition, they crow loudly to that effect.
Spence, who has been physically dominant at welterweight, has even spoken of moving up in weight to challenge Canelo Alvarez, whose devoted following in the boxing power base of Mexico makes him the biggest financial draw in the sport.
Any of those three names mentioned would make for a compelling, blockbuster fight. Making any of them happen could prove to be an even greater challenge for Spence than the action once he eventually gets into the ring. There have been only 10 unification bouts in the history of the welterweight division, so this is not a new phenomenon.
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However, if Porter is able to spring the upset, the weight class will suddenly feel wide open again. Porter has lost twice — to Thurman and Brook — and while his aggressive, unpredictable style is tough to face, there would be no shortage of contenders willing to try to snare his belts.
“I know this opportunity is here, and it has come at the perfect time for me,” Porter told me last weekend. “Everyone matures in different ways, and I am a very different fighter now to when I was in my 20s. When I take care of business, it is going to open everything up and it is going to be great for boxing. It brings a lot of potential for the division and for some tremendous fights.”
A Porter victory would set up the viability of a rematch with Thurman, against whom he was defeated by unanimous decision in 2016. Pacquiao is believed to be far more interested in a potential Porter matchup than one with Spence, against whom he would likely go in as an underdog.
Furthermore, a defeated Spence would need to reprove himself, either in a rematch or by tackling an opponent of serious standing.
“There are a ton of ramifications, and that’s when you know it is a fight that really has some bite to it,” Lance Pugmire of The Athletic, told me. “The division could really go one of two ways based on what happens Saturday — and it is a really compelling fight in itself.”
Porter was disappointed in his own performance last time out, an unsteady split decision win against Yordenis Ugas in March. Spence, meanwhile, was outstanding against Garcia in front of 47,525 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium fans and will come in filled with confidence. A repeat of those showings would point to a clear Spence triumph, but this is boxing, which rarely serves up the expected.
“I think we will see an excellent fight,” renowned trainer and FOX announcer Joe Goossen said. “There is a lot on the line for both of them and I see Porter really giving Spence the kind of challenge that he hasn’t had before. It shapes up as a high-quality fight with a lot of action, but more than that, with everything at stake, it is an important fight for boxing.”
It's CHAMP vs CHAMP Saturday on @PBConFOX PPV‼️
— PBC (@premierboxing) September 26, 2019