Shawn Porter was right on the verge of not making it. On December 15, 2012, an unbeaten Porter was matched with former lightweight Julio Diaz on Showtime, part of an Amir Khan undercard. It was supposed to be an easy win, more or less. It was not.
Diaz, a veteran and former two-time titleholder at 135 pounds, had seen his best days come and go. Fighting as a welterweight, he had won two straight fights against lesser foes following a third round knockout loss to Kendall Holt in a bout fought just north of the junior welterweight limit in May 2011. The Holt fight indicated that Diaz wasn't going to make any waves above lightweight, and that from that point on, he would just be a gatekeeper-style opponent.
But that night against Porter, he kept the gate pretty well. He didn't allow "Showtime" Shawn to pass through, battling the favored, younger, stronger man to a draw, making Porter look fairly pedestrian in the process, and a bit clueless against a guy who could box.
Porter had looked a bit vulnerable before, too. Sometimes compared to Shane Mosley during his prospect climb, he turned pro weighing in at 165 pounds in 2008, the weight he'd fought at as an amateur. Built sturdy with a broad back and a squat physique, the 5'7" Porter worked his way down to 154 pounds, with the thought that he could get lower with better habits.
In the summer of 2010, Porter made his way down to welterweight, with his team's eye on going all the way down to 140 pounds, hoping to take advantage of his natural power. A 144-pound catchweight bout with Anges Adjaho in February 2011 scrapped those plans. Though Porter won clearly -- a fight best-known, if known at all, as the first fight ever broadcast in 3D -- he looked feebler than normal, and the idea of dropping yet another four pounds seemed foolish.
Wisely, his team reversed course, and decided to settle in at 147, but then came a 14-month layoff due to a dispute with his promoter. Fighting a one-off at 154 in his return bout in April 2012, Porter didn't look great, stopping club fighter Patrick Thompson in the sixth round. It was Porter's debut as a Golden Boy Promotions client, and to put it mildly, it could have gone better, as not only did he struggle a bit and look extremely rusty, but he was cut over the eye due to a headbutt by Thompson.
To Team Porter's credit, the focus never waned. Shawn wanted to be a world champion, and they'd decided on the idea that welterweight was the division to attack. The strongest class in the sport, Porter started digging in just as the division was reloading with new additions that had moved up in weight or were starting to come on the scene. It was a bold plan, trying to get into the mix at 147 pounds.
Three months after his Golden Boy debut, Porter was matched with rugged veteran Alfonso Gomez, a fighter known for his toughness, but also one lacking the power, speed, and skill to be a true world-class fighter. It was a test for the Ohio native, and one he passed, but not quite with flying colors. A winner on scores of 96-94, 97-93, and 98-92, Porter was again cut, this time once over both eyes. He'd gotten through, but expectations for his future seemed to be waning.
Then came Diaz. There was a decent argument that Diaz should have gotten the nod in their first bout, but there was also a decent argument that Porter deserved that same slight edge. In the end, the draw was a fair result. Porter's stock dropped once again.
At this point, one could have been forgiven for writing him off as someone whose bubble would soon burst in a very big way. Though he had talent, he seemed to be destined for a spot on the doorstep, not ever getting inside of the elite ranks. Maybe a fringe contender, someone who would get a couple of world title shots, but never really deserve them, and likely not win a title unless it was one of the extreme paper variety, which of course we see more often than we should.
Once again, Porter and his team just kept grinding away in the gym. When the cameras weren't on Shawn Porter, they put in work, aiming to get better. Flaws and mistakes were accepted, then corrected. Maybe media and fans had stopped believing Porter was a future star, but Shawn and his team did not.
A matchup in May 2013 saw Porter facing Phil Lo Greco, an unbeaten non-prospect only known, really, for being a friend of Paulie Malignaggi's. Fighting with purpose and looking to turn some heads, Porter completely manhandled the overmatched Lo Greco, this time doing to an "opponent" style of fighter what he had been expected to do against Diaz and Gomez. He then shook the memory of Diaz with a rematch victory in September 2013 in Las Vegas, two nights before Mayweather-Canelo, the biggest fight of the year.
Two straight solid wins paved the way for the first world title opportunity of his career, coming in December against Devon Alexander, who held the IBF welterweight title, and was also a former 140-pound titlist. Alexander had gone 3-0 as a welterweight, most impressively routing Marcos Maidana in 2012 before cautiously lifting the IBF trinket from one-punch (and little else) knockout artist Randall Bailey later that same year.
Alexander was a clear favorite, with oddsmakers installing him as a 6-to-1 favorite. There was even some thought that with an impressive win, Devon could be thrown into the mix as Floyd Mayweather's next opponent.
It was clear early in the fight, however, that this was not going to be the walkover many of us expected. Porter came in ferociously, going straight at Alexander and showing a willingness to simply walk through his offense and put the hurt on the defending champion. In the second round, Alexander was shaken badly enough that he could do little more than survive.
Though Alexander did scratch and claw his way back into the bout in the middle rounds, Porter took over again late in the fight, showing a stamina reserve that was questionable going into the fight. Shawn Porter was simply not to be denied that night, and he took the IBF belt by force. Porter came out with a winning mind set, gained confidence early on, and never seemed to think he could lose the fight, even when Alexander turned up his own dial and tried to make the rally.
Last night on Showtime, Porter faced Paulie Malignaggi in a fight that seemed about 50-50 on paper going in. The style contrast was stark on paper, and proved so in the ring. Malignaggi felt that he would be able to outmaneuver Porter, using his ring IQ and veteran savvy to frustrate the younger man. Paulie had been overlooked before and pulled through, plus he was coming off a pair of strong performances against Adrien Broner (a questionable loss) and Zab Judah (a thorough victory that made him the "champion of Brooklyn" on the same bill where Porter beat Alexander).
The fight was never a competition. Instead of boxing and jabbing his way into Porter's head, Malignaggi found himself eating the heavy left hand of Porter, followed then by looping right hands that were catching the New Yorker clean. What Malignaggi has lacked in power over his career, he's made up for with superior skill against all but the elite of his opponents -- namely, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, and Ricky Hatton.
Porter may not be as good as the 2006 version of Miguel Cotto, but he clearly studied that and the Hatton fight, blitzing Malignaggi and keeping him totally off-balance, allowing him to develop no rhythm. But while Malignaggi was able to endure a 12-round beating from Cotto and make it to the final bell, and went into the 11th before his corner stopped him against Hatton, this time, he seemed to know that there was no more left in round four.
Following a pair of pretty savage one-sided frames in rounds two and three, Malignaggi was clipped early in the fourth and went to the canvas. He had a look on his face then that told the story. Paulie, a smart fighter with a ton of heart, a fighter who has never given up on himself in the ring, looked like he knew he was in there with a guy he could not beat with skill and nuance. Not long after, he was torn apart by a charging, vicious Porter, who sent him back to the canvas and through the ropes.
Malignaggi stayed down, and Shawn Porter's animalistic drive to be a top welterweight gave him another win, just as it had against Alexander in December. Any remaining doubters, skeptics who thought maybe he had just had the one night in him on this level, were largely silenced.
There will be the argument that Malignaggi's lack of power played a role, but everyone has known forever that Paulie cannot punch. The fact of the matter is, he's always been able to make up for that. And maybe Paulie "got old" in this fight -- he looked slightly softer than normal, admittedly, but there was no indication leading up to the fight that he wasn't the fighter he was four months ago when he took Judah to school, or ten months ago, when he gave mega-hyped Adrien Broner all he could handle, and deserved the win in the eyes of plenty of knowledgable folks.
Porter (25-0-1, 14 KO) went beast mode on Malignaggi, and Paulie couldn't do anything to stop it. Nowhere in his bag of tricks did there remain an adjustment to handle the bull-rushing Porter, whose raw power overwhelmed Malignaggi. Once again, Porter came out fighting to impress, and took the victory by force. There was just no stopping him.
This is what dedication, hard work, and confidence can do. This is what a team convinced that they're better than they've been on some nights can achieve. Porter has never lost a fight, but winning and losing isn't all there is in the boxing game, quite obviously. Shawn Porter's 14-month layoff could have been a major blow to his career. It almost was, but it wasn't. His mediocre performances against Thompson, Gomez, and Diaz could have derailed him, and seemed to indicate a low ceiling. They almost did, but they didn't.
Now, just 16 months after Porter's balloon appeared popped, he's riding high on the strength of four straight wins, two in world title fights, and a crushing stoppage win over a guy whose toughness, chin, and heart have never been questioned in the last eight years, ever since he shut down any doubts about any of those attributes by hanging in with a prime Miguel Cotto and taking a merciless beating without folding.
The question is longer if Shawn Porter is good. It's whether or not Shawn Porter is great. The answer remains to be seen, but a physically gifted fighter with the sort of confidence he's picked up is not one to be dismissed, no matter the stated goals. Add in the dedication he's shown to his craft, the will and desire and commitment to be the best fighter he can be, and you've got someone that might be ready to join the elite in his division.
He's strong. He's fast. We knew that years ago. Now, he's proven on the big stage, and the welterweight division may have a long-term major problem on its hands.