By Robert Aaron Contreras
On Saturday, Errol Spence (26-0, 21 KO) unified the WBC and IBF welterweight titles by the skin of his teeth, escaping a sustained, inspired attack from Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17 KO) by split-decision, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Spence was pushed like never before, and grateful for a knockdown in the eleventh round that got the job done, earning two scores of 116-111 to overrule a 115-112 for Porter.
“It’s a lifelong dream of mine. It shows handwork pays off,” Spence said in ring after the fight. “Porter is a tough, awkward fighter. He’s a true champion—rough and rugged. He was strong. But I feel like I’m the bigger, better fighter.”
Porter, while typically the rolling, barreling bruiser, buzzed about the ring to open the first round. He relied on supreme athleticism to negate Spence’s initial attack. But in Round 2, Porter attempted again to circle away from Spence but walked directly into a right hook from the young, undefeated puncher. Then a spearing left cross to Porter’s face convinced him to return to his swarming ways.
In the third inning, Spence was momentarily backed into the ropes, taking blows to the chest. The two traded body punches as the contest erupted into a mauling, frenetic pace. Spence did his best to create space, extending a right hand at Porter’s line of sight, and hurling sweeping left hands across Porter’s face.
The two met in the center of the ring for Round 4. Chopping blows bashed Spence’s face. Then back-to-back right hands from Porter caught the young champ’s attention. Spence landed a big left hand of his own. But Porter’s regained momentum with bungalows upstairs, relishing in the increasingly chippy affair.
Spence, 29, managed to outland the 31-year-old Porter in the fifth round, his jab as pretty as ever. With the nature of the fight still in Porter’s favor, Spence tried opening the sixth period jamming Porter up along the ropes, and uncurling body punches. The attack seemed brutal enough. But Porter also got his own, spinning the young star around and giving it right back.
In Round 7, Spence returned to his jab. The center of the ring was his. Porter zipping around the ring, avoiding serious damage, fighting in spurts. The action moved to the ropes for the final minute, with wrestling making up the interludes between brawling tactics coming in both directions.
The eighth round saw Spence under fire like never before: Porter careening toward him with punches. Spence may have been able to up his punch total—ahead 135 to Porter’s 95, at this point–but again it was Porter forcing the young champion to wrap up, and meet him in the trenches, in Porter’s wheelhouse.
The contest (and two world titles) seemed to be Porter’s to lose by the championship rounds.
Porter’s rough antics were unabating in the tenth. Still, Spence’s power-punching made him a formidable foe in sloppy exchanges. Porter seemed not to mind eating direct punches from the division’s hardest hitter. Soon he would regret that.
In the penultimate round, the crowd showed Porter their appreciation: chanting his name in unison. A minute later, though, they would be met with a louder crash from an uppercut that seared into Porter’s chin, flooring him for the only knockdown of the fight.
Clinches aplenty in the 12th stanza, Spence banged Porter’s body. Porter returned the favor. But with more mauling than punching, it was hard, just like the entirety of their epic meeting, to separate the two.
In the end, the ringside panel did, opting for Spence by narrow margins.
The punch stats also revealed a slight edge for Spence, landing 221 of 745 total punches (30 percent) of which 184 were power punches. Porter connected on 172 of 744 (23 percent) total shots, piling 142 power punches of his own.
Spence has now triumphed in consecutive pay-per-view shows. The belts are his, and after squeezing by his biggest test to date, perhaps unlimited possibility.
David Benavidez (21-0, 18 KO) def. Anthony Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KO) by eighth-round TKO
Aged just 22, Benavidez became a two-time super middleweight champion, regaining the WBC strap from Dirrell after pounding the defending beltholder into the corner for a stoppage victory in Round 8.
Dirrell, 34, was determined to touch every inch of the canvas, and nearly did by the end of the first two rounds. The problem was Benavidez was stalking him every step of the way.
In Round 3, Dirrell elected to move away from his pawing jab and overextended himself throwing an overhand right. Benavidez, though, avoided the blow and returned a slashing right hand. The round was his from there. Fighting in reverse, Dirrell offered up body jabs but the shots only prompted laughs from Benavidez, who found success chaining together right and left hands.
Dirrell’s feet stopped moving for a moment in the fourth period and was decisively outjabbed by his challenger’s long arms.
Benavidez took his corner’s advice in the fifth round and began digging left hooks to Dirrell’s body. He continued to cut off the ring, continually pumping out 1-2s. When Benavidez found his prey in the corner, he did what he does best, flurrying rights and lefts up and down Dirrell.
In the sixth stanza, a nasty gash opened up above Dirrell’s right eye. The ringside physician was consulted and by the end of the fight would be called upon two more times. By the third visit, in the eighth period, Dirrell’s face was a crimson mess. Yet nobody opted to wave things off. So Benavidez took care of it himself.
In the fateful eighth round, Benavidez goading Dirrell to meet him head on. There was some urgency from Dirrell, who transitioned to southpaw. But his best punches strayed low—and was repeatedly warned.
Benavidez initiated his pursuit, plowing forward. Dirrell tried obstructing his forward momentum with stiff jabs but left himself in range for looping punches from his youthful opponent. Eventually Dirrell was cornered again.
There, Benavidez left Dirrell have it in violent brushstrokes: putting a straight right upstairs and following it upon with body blows before charging more shots to Dirrell’s head. Dirrell circled out and away for safety but refuse didn’t last long.
More pressure and fists drove him back to the ropes: the mounting damage too much for Dirrell’s corner to stomach. They got up on the edge of the canvas and frantically implored the ref to halt the abuse.
In the post-fight interview, Benavidez was proud to be back on top, but having had to reclaim the title, more humble than anything.
“This is probably the hardest fight I’ve ever been in,” Benavidez said. “I’m honored to win it this way. I want to thank Anthony. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Rest of the Main Card
The 24-year-old upstart Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KO) got off to an early lead, and with a late 12th round knockdown secured (another makeshift) WBA super lightweight crown to outpoint the storied Olympian Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KO) over the championship distance.
Josesito Lopez (36-8, 19 KO) ended John Molina Jr’s (30-8, 24 KO) night in Round 8. An apathetic effort from referee Ray Corona put Molina through extended abuse after a knockdown just 30 seconds into the fight. Lopez is now back in the win column after a losing effort last time out against Keith Thurman. Since 2016, he has won four of his previous five bouts.