Shawn Porter and Kell Brook come into Saturday night's Showtime Championship Boxing main event with something left to prove on each side, as both young men are looking to show that they're at the elite level of the welterweight division.
The 26-year-old Porter will be defending his IBF welterweight title, won last December against Devon Alexander in an impressive performance on Showtime, followed by a truly dominant shellacking of former two-division titlist Paulie Malignaggi in April of this year, stopping the Brooklyn veteran in just four rounds. Porter has been overpowering in both fights, taking the offensive against two slicker, craftier opponents, both with much more big fight experience than he has, pushing both to the brink and just plain wearing them out.
Against Malignaggi, whose lack of firepower betrayed him again against a stronger fighter, Porter was able to get the early stoppage, and looked damn near unstoppable. Against Alexander, he went the distance, but won clear, and even overcame Alexander making some solid adjustments along the way in the fight.
Of the two bouts, the more immediately impressive was against Malignaggi, because of the way it ended and the fact that Porter finished the job. But it may have been the Alexander fight, against an opponent in his prime, who could weather the storm and fight on, that Porter had his best performance to date.
Remember, however, that it was not that long ago that Porter (24-0-1, 15 KO) didn't look quite so brilliant. In December 2012, he was matched with former lightweight titleholder Julio Diaz in a fight that was meant to get him a win and move him forward. That didn't happen, as Diaz gave Porter hell over 10 rounds, earning a draw. A dominant win over an overmatched Phil Lo Greco followed for Porter, and then he did take care of business against Diaz in a rematch, winning handily last September to set up his world title opportunity.
Young fighters struggle all the time in step-up bouts, and still go on to terrific careers. And it's certainly not anyone's expectation that Shawn Porter will never lose a fight, or won't lose a handful, even; if he does, he could still wind up having had a great career. Oscar De La Hoya lost six times. Bernard Hopkins has six losses. Manny Pacquiao has five losses on his record.
The question is, how much of Shawn Porter's post-Diaz improvements have been for real, and how much have been good (not careful, necessarily, but advantageous and well-scouted) matchmaking? And will the Shawn Porter of the Alexander and Malignaggi fights be able to find similar success on Saturday?
Kell Brook is not Alexander, and he's not Malignaggi. There are good and bad ways to look at that if you're a boxing fan looking for a good fight. Brook, 28, does not have the slickness or "skills" of those two fighters. He's not quite the technician either of them are. What he does have that they do not, however, is punching power, and for whatever it's worth, he's also never lost a fight, meaning he hasn't "learned how to lose," as Teddy Atlas might say.
Brook (32-0, 22 KO) is a talented fighter, clearly the top welterweight in the United Kingdom, and one of their better fighters at the moment, pound-for-pound. He's been ready for a step up to the world level, but it hasn't happened, for one reason or another. His career has been like a lot of his contemporaries -- he's been hyped, his record has been fluffed up, he's been promoted pretty well, and he's made a name for himself on UK soil. Now he has to go abroad, and on paper, he's looking at a big step up in competition.
Talent doesn't always tell the story once the story needs to be told, is the problem. It often comes down to how well-prepared a fighter is for what's in front of him. And being reasonable, there are absolutely questions about whether or not Brook is really ready for someone like Shawn Porter.
Brook does have "solid" wins, over the likes of Carson Jones, Matthew Hatton, Lovemore N'dou, Rafal Jackiewicz, and Vyacheslav Senchenko. But none of them were ever truly world class fighters; of the group, the Jones that Brook fought and barely defeated the first time out in 2012 was by far the best opponent he's faced to date. And I can't think of many who would pick the 2012 Carson Jones to beat the 2014 Shawn Porter.
Brook's last fight came in March, a walkover tune-up against Alvaro Robles that ended in three rounds, and extended Kell's stoppage streak to four fights. He's shown a bit more aggression recently, in his rematch with Jones (TKO-8) and his wipeout of Senchenko (TKO-4), and that is certainly encouraging, not just for his chances in this fight, but for boxing fans who are always looking for heavy hitters going head-to-head.
Porter vs Brook is not an easy fight to predict, at least in the sense that there are questions yet to be answered by both fighters. How will Porter fight someone who can hurt him with return fire? How will Brook measure up against a guy who has been bringing pressure and power against better opponents?
Who do you like in this fight?