By Tyson Bruce
Boxing has been plagued as of late with a string of uncompetitive fights on premium cable networks. The Kovalev-Caparillo (HBO) and Garcia-Salka (Showtime) main events set what many experts have classified as an all time low for boxing programming standards. Fortunately, relief is on the way, as this weekend two of the top young welterweights square off in a match of risk and reward unlike most fights in recent memory.
IBF Welterweight World Champion Shawn Porter
Photo: Carlos Delgado – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
The matchup pits Cleveland, Ohio’s Shawn Porter, 25-0-1-(14), against Sheffield, England’s Kell Brook, 32-0-0-(22). Both men are universally regarded as top-ten welterweights, which in a division so densely packed with talent is quite the accomplishment on its own.
Porter, 26, in particular has been on a tare as of late, vaulting himself from a little known prospect into a bona fide top-five contender with two dominant wins over the highly regarded Devon Alexander and Paulie Malignaggi. Brook’s has reached title contention in the traditional fashion by gradually beating the requisite opposition to become a top-ten contender and the IBF’s mandatory challenger. Despite a 2013 full of cancelations and injury problems, Brook, coming of a career best victory over the streaking Vyacheslav Senchenko, looks to be in top form.
Despite the fact that both men are highly regarded, there remains lingering doubts about both men’s ability to flourish at the elite level of the sport. Shawn Porter looked like a complete beast when he bullied Devon Alexander for twelve rounds and even better when he became the first fighter to stop Paulie Malignaggi. However, previous to the those two bouts, many insiders regarded him as something of a dud because of his tremendous struggles with an over-the-hill Julio Diaz (twice) and former Contender star Alphonso Gomez. Is Porter just on a hot streak or has he finally hit his stride after five years as a pro?
Kell Brook should answer a lot of those questions because he presents a very different picture from any of Porter’s previous opponents. While Alexander and, to a lesser extent, Malignaggi are certainly top-flight opponents both lacked the punching power to keep a bull like Porter at bay. Brook is a legitimate power puncher for the weight class and it will be interesting to see how Porter adjusts if Brook is able to counterpunch against him. Brook is also a fighter in his physical prime. Conversely, it will be intriguing to see whether Brook, who was badly stunned by Carson Jones and Senchenko, is tough enough to hang with an elite welterweight.
Back Ground & Styles:
When it comes to fighting styles these two fighters could not be more different. One guy is a physical specimen that challenges the traditional norms of the division and the other is a boxing stylist of the classical variety.
Porter has an interesting back-story. As an amateur he had over 350 bouts almost all of which were contested in the super-middleweight division. As an amateur Porter fought many fighters that are now highly regarded middleweights, such as Danny Jacobs and Andre Dirrell. Porter, at just 5-7’, was a stand out high-school football player and used his physical strength to make up for the enormous disparity in height and reach against his amateur opponents. Porter has stated in numerous interviews that he can bench press in excess of three hundred pounds. Remarkably, Porter has cut down to the 147-pound division as a pro, making him one of the physically strongest welterweights in the world.
Physical is a good word to describe Porter’s fighting style, as he uses his athleticism and raw strength to overwhelm his opponents with activity. Porter has been compared to Shane Mosley (he was Pacquiao’s lead sparring partner for the Mosley bout) because of his structural similarities and proclivity for using the overhand right and body attack as the staple of his offense. Porter doesn’t quite have Mosley’s speed and certainly not his punching power, but does employ a very similar “power-boxing” style. Porter showed the ability to box in the rematch against Diaz but understood that against the fleet footed Alexander a hyper-aggressive offense was required.
Kell Brook is a classic boxing stylist employing impressive and varied technique to neutralize his opponents. Brook has excellent balance and structures his diverse offensive attack with one of the best left jabs in the division. At his best Brook is poetry in motion, able to stun an opponent on the outside with a devastating right cross or rake his opponent on the inside with uppercuts with either hand.
Brook, 28, built his resume in England by fighting a traditional host of journeyman and local toughs. Unlike Porter’s meteoric rise, Brook’s career has been a steady, perhaps even slow, march up the ranks. Brook has been a pro for nearly ten years—a point that Porter’s trainer and father Ken Porter has cited as a potential red flag as to his true credentials as an elite fighter. Brook was awarded Britain’s “Best Young Fighter” award in 2009 and became a mandatory challenger by beating fringe contenders like Lovemore Ndou, Mathew Hatton, Carson Jones, and Senchenko. Frustratingly, he had been stuck in a mandatory position for almost two-years because of a series of failed fights with then champion Devon Alexander. That his title shot comes against the newly crowned Porter is something of an accident.
The question with Brook lies not with his technical abilities but rather with the intangibles of durability and stamina. After dominating the first half of his fight with Carson Jones, Brook shockingly fell apart having to hang on for dear life for the entire second half of the bout. Brook and his team blamed the poor showing on bad preparation but lingering doubts remain about his chin and stamina against top- level opponents. Porter, who has seldom been stunned as a professional, will surely test him in this regard.
Odds & Questions:
As both boxers reach the end of their twenties they seem to be on the cusp of their absolute physical primes. If they are going to move to greener pastures, meaning seven figure pay days against the biggest names in the sport, then this fight is a must win fight for both guys. Smart money would have to slightly favor Porter because of his proven track record of durability and higher quality of opposition, though it’s genuinely an evenly matched contest.
A victory for Brook would transform him into a superstar in Great Britain. Brook already draws upwards of ten thousand fans in Sheffield but the acquisition of a title belt against such a highly regarded opponent would finally make the possibility of a stadium fight with his British rival Amir Khan a much wanted reality. A loss, however, would set Brook back on the domestic scene.
For Porter the rewards of victory would be less immediately tangible but equally as important. As an American fighter, every fight for him is a potential audition for the ultimate prize: a showdown against boxing moneymaker Floyd Mayweather. Also, a dominant victory could set him up for a showdown with fellow up and comer Keith Thurman, a match that is already gaining a great deal of traction amongst boxing hardcore fans.
As boxing fans we want to see the best fight the best. This fight is an example of everything that is right about boxing: two young fighters on the cusp of bigger and better things taking an enormous risk by fighting one another. The fight has a clear risk versus reward factor that makes the victor become arguably the most credible opponent for a Mayweather or Pacquaio level fight. That is about all you can ask of a matchup these days.