Welterweight Keith Thurman defeated Shawn Porter in a close decision on CBS on Saturday, drawing the highest ratings of any boxing match this year and garnering Fight of the Year talk. In the process, Thurman grew his perfect record to 27-0, with 22 KOs. At age 27, Thurman is in his physical prime, and now has an impressive win in a high-profile setting. He is camera-friendly, a strikingly handsome fellow with a trademark hairstyle that falls somewhere between Troy Polamalu and Pootie Tang. He also has one of the better and more original nicknames in the sport: One Time, a reference to his one-punch knockout power. So, you might rightfully ask after this introduction, is Keith Thurman the next breakout star in boxing? Well, the answer might disappoint you.
We’ll get back to Thurman in just a moment, but allow me to first introduce you to his opponent, Shawn Porter. Why this unrequested detour? Well, unlike Thurman, whose positive attributes tempt one to abandon reason and instead project all inner hopes onto the tabula rasa of his career, Porter is a fairly well-defined quantity. And when we’re looking at projecting a talented prospect’s future, one of the most reliable ways to do so is to compare them to the quality of their foes. That’s especially true in situations, like Saturday night’s, where the fight is competitive throughout and brings the best out of both men. The best way to measure Thurman is by reference to the man he just barely defeated.
The first thing you notice about Shawn Porter is his thickness. He is seemingly composed of a single extrusion of muscle that begins just above his shoulders, extends into his almost perfectly square thorax, and disappears into his trunks without winnowing in the slightest. He isn’t cut, but there’s not a lot of wasted flesh on him either; he’s built like a smaller version of Ray Lewis.
The second thing you notice about Shawn Porter is that he fights all wrong. A conventional fighter, he stands with his left foot perched on its toes far behind his center of gravity, looking sort of like a pitcher who has just stepped off the rubber to consider a pick off, all of which forces him to keep his front foot flat to maintain balance, which in turn greatly limits his mobility. His hands, when they’re not being recklessly launched at his opponent, are held up awkwardly, palms facing out, looking sort of like a boxing coach catching pads in the gym, or more adorably, like a puppy standing on its hind legs begging for a treat.
When he throws a punch, there is no grace. His arms wing out wildly around his opponent, expending a lot of needless energy and increasing his opponent’s ability to block or dodge, and then cut back towards the target at the last moment, as if he’s only belated decided that he’s actually throwing this punch with the intention of landing it. It’s a style reminiscent of George Foreman, except Big George was probably the hardest puncher in the history of combat sports, and Shawn Porter is a guy who has managed 16 stoppages in 28 fights (10 of which came in his first 12 fights) for a 55% career knockout ratio, about the same as the notoriously knockout-averse Floyd Mayweather and lower even than Guillermo Rigondeaux, perhaps the best fighter alive, if also the most dull. When opponents dodge these initial punches, Porter rushes in and smothers them against the ropes, squaring up almost entirely, and unloading more looping punches. It is, to borrow from Shakespeare, a style full of sound and fury, but one which has all too often signifies nothing.