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Fighting Words — Crawford-Porter: The Crossroads and The End of The Road

Terence Crawford separated himself from Shawn Porter in Round 10. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
24
Nov

It took a crossroads fight for Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter to cross the street.

“Two sides of the street lead to one final destination,” tweeted Top Rank, the company that had long promoted Crawford. An illustration showed Crawford (a sign above his head reading “Bud Blvd”) standing on one side of a two-lane road, Porter (“Porter Way”) on the other, the Las Vegas skyline behind them.

That was the not-so-subtle reference to a not-at-all-subtle situation that had plagued the welterweight division, keeping Crawford and the top fighters aligned with Premier Boxing Champions apart.Fights not happening because of promotional affiliations and network allegiances is nothing new, whether we’re talking about Top Rank and PBC now, or Top Rank and Golden Boy in the not-too-distant past, when one was working exclusively with HBO and the other with Showtime.

Top Rank signed a deal with ESPN in 2017 and soon extended that contract. It would not benefit that relationship for the promoter’s best fighters to perform elsewhere. PBC, meanwhile, is featured regularly on Showtime and Fox, two partners that also value the significant pool of talent available for their airwaves.

PBC has long had a deep stable of welterweights. For those fighters, the status quo didn’t deprive them of much. They could face each other, a round-robin of titleholders, contenders, prospects and also-rans, the victors earning world titles and many of the top spots in the rankings. As for Crawford? That was an unresolved rivalry that would be debated in interviews but never determined in the ring.“Me and Terence Crawford are on different sides of the street,” Errol Spence said a few years ago. “He’s just signed with ESPN. I don’t fight for ESPN. I fight for Showtime or Fox. Terence Crawford has got to come across the street. He’s got to leave ESPN and come to Showtime or Fox, or they got to do something where they both work together and we both fight.”

Crawford, meanwhile, grew frustrated at what he saw as excuses, as the other fighters being unwilling, rather than unable.

“There’s no such thing as ‘across the street,’” Crawford said in 2019. “Back in the day, you never heard fighters say ‘across the street.’ What street? This is boxing. Everybody fights everybody.”

But this situation, the source of this frustration, was nothing new.

Crawford, who held a world title in the lightweight division and then became the undisputed champion of the 140-pound weight class, moved up to 147 in 2018. In his welterweight debut, Crawford won the World Boxing Organization title by demolishing Jeff Horn, who had controversially seized that belt from Manny Pacquiao the year before.

At the time, the IBF title belonged to Spence. The primary WBA belt belonged to Keith Thurman. The WBC was vacant but soon to be awarded to the winner of a fight between Porter and Danny Garcia. All were with Premier Boxing Champions.

But Crawford and his team, knowing this, nevertheless re-upped with Top Rank in September 2018.

“This was a no-brainer for me and my team,” Crawford said at the time in a prepared statement. “All of the super fights that the world wants to see will happen. Mark my words. Like I’ve said before, I want all of the champions in the welterweight division.”

He got none of them.

Instead, Crawford took on a pair of unbeaten contenders (Jose Benavidez, Egidijus Kavaliauskas) and a pair of well-past-their-prime names (Amir Khan, Kell Brook).

Crawford stopped all four, looked good, performed with the kind of speed and power and skill and savvy befitting his ranking toward the top of pound-for-pound lists, but couldn’t get the scale of events, the level of opposition that would cement his standing.In late 2018, Pacquiao left Top Rank for the PBC. In the years since, Pacquiao went on to face Adrien Broner, Thurman and Yordenis Ugas.Crawford was left upset at Top Rank. It boiled over when the company’s head, Bob Arum, said he was losing money every time his fighter stepped in the ring. Crawford responded by saying Top Rank should just release him.

That was almost exactly a year ago. Crawford hadn’t fought since taking out Brook on November 14, 2020. The company sought to make a fight between Crawford and Pacquiao. Instead, Pacquiao signed to face Spence. When Spence pulled out of the Pacquiao fight due to an eye injury, Ugas stepped in and sent the all-time gret into retirement.

It looked like the relationship with Top Rank would limp to the finish line, that Crawford would finish up with a relative whimper.

Instead, Shawn Porter stepped up. Which was great, because it meant that Crawford got to step up and show his class.

It happened because Porter didn’t have much left on his side of the street.

The two-time former titleholder was seemingly on the outskirts within his stable. He’d beaten Adrien Broner in 2015, lost narrowly to Thurman in 2016, stopped Andre Berto in 2017, outpointed Adrian Granados later that year, won a decision over Danny Garcia in 2018, and picked up a debated split decision over Ugas in 2019. Then he lost to Spence later in 2019.

After 11 months off, Porter returned to give a prospect named Sebastian Formella his first loss in August 2020. That was the last time Porter had stepped in the ring.The division was moving on without him. But Porter had been ranked No. 2 by the WBO, which ordered the two fighters to face each other.

This was the best chance for Porter to prove that he was still among the best.

This was the best chance for Crawford to remind us why he deserves to be in with the best.This was a true crossroads fight.

Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Porter fought with the tenacity and skill that has earned him respect despite the times he’s fallen short. He’s tough and capable, a pressure fighter who can give even the most skilled boxers something to think about and deal with. Porter outworked Crawford early, landed punches around Crawford’s guard, picked up rounds on the scorecards.

Crawford took the punches fine. He adjusted. He came on strong. He dug to the body. He landed flush leads and counters. He took a narrow lead. And then, with the possibility that the judges might be seeing things otherwise, Crawford dropped Porter twice in the 10th round for the technical knockout.

There was an astonishing exchange in Crawford’s corner after the ninth, not between the fighter and trainer, but between the fighter and someone off-screen, perhaps someone else sitting ringside.

“I’m up,” Crawford seems to be mouthing.

Then he leans forward, looking like he heard something surprising.

“He’s up?”

His eyes look away, as he turns that information over in his head.

“How?”

Crawford’s corner recognizes that their fighter isn’t listening — not to them, at least.

“C’mon, Bud. Pay attention to us.”

“They said he up,” Crawford says. “We ain’t up.”

The whistle signals that the next round is about to begin.

“He’s up?” Crawford says. “Alright.”

How many fighters, told they’re behind, told they need to turn a fight around and have limited time to make it happen, are capable of doing exactly what is needed?

One can think to Lennox Lewis being told to stop toying with Mike Tyson.

“Get this motherfucker outta here, man,” Lewis’ trainer, the late Emanuel Steward, yelled after four rounds. “You gonna fuck around and get caught with some crazy shit. Step it up. The man is finished.”

Tyson was gone four rounds later.

One can recall Freddie Roach telling Ruslan Provodnikov to knock Timothy Bradley out, giving him that instruction before Round 11, rather than the customary Round 12, giving Provodnikov three extra minutes to make it happen.

Provodnikov finally put Bradley down with seconds to go in the fight. He lost on the scorecards by a single point.

Crawford wasn’t in the ring with a shell of a fighter like Mike Tyson was, or a concussed foe like Timothy Bradley. He was in with Shawn Porter, who may not have held a world title anymore but was still incredibly capable, consistently durable, someone who had been dropped hard by Errol Spence and got up energized.

Crawford put Porter down seconds into Round 10.

He backed Porter into a corner and sent out a jab, setting up a trap. Porter took the bait, trying to counter with an overhand right and a left hook. Crawford smoothly stepped back to dodge both. Porter suddenly was squared up, off-balance, wide open for a beautiful left hooker-cut that left its holster the moment Crawford’s left foot touched the canvas. Porter fell to the seat of his pants.

In a close fight, this was a pivotal moment. Porter, too, had to know the cards were close, had to want to get the round back, get the point deduction back, get the fight back.

Of course, the way that Porter had to do this was also what was going to be his undoing.

Porter isn’t an unskilled aggressor, but he is a pressure fighter who prioritizes coming forward. Now he was going to need to be more reckless, all while facing one of the coolest, most clinical finishers in the fight game. Crawford is a surgeon who slices with a steady hand. He is sharpened in the heat of battle. Porter was dealing with the fog of war.

About a minute later, Crawford dropped Porter for a second time with a four-punch combination, including a right hook to the side of Porter’s head, a left and a right that landed as Porter was both hurt and trying to duck the follow-ups, and a left hand that caught the other side of Porter’s head, putting him down on his knees.

Porter pounded the canvas with his right glove, three angry blows as he listened to the count, knowing that the fight was getting away from him. Porter, always game, rose at seven with sturdy legs and his firm resolve.

The referee asked Porter if he wanted to continue.

“Yes!” came the response, as if we would ever expect otherwise.

“Fuck!” he uttered, still upset at the sequence of events.

And then Porter turned around to see Kenny Porter, both his father and trainer, holding a towel in hand. Shawn was shocked. But as with so much of his career in and out of the ring, Porter handled the situation admirably.

“I didn’t expect that,” Shawn Porter said afterward. “We never had a conversation about that. We just kinda always had an unspoken understanding that if he sees what he needs to see, he’s going to do what he did.”

And then Kenny went from figuratively throwing in the towel to throwing his son under the bus.

“He didn’t prepare like I wanted him to prepare,” said Kenny, explaining why he stopped the fight. “That’s me saying, ‘You know what, I don’t want him in that situation.’ He fought a great fighter. The guy’s super sharp. He’s at a deficit. It’s like fighting this guy blindfolded when you’re at a deficit like that. I wasn’t going to let that happen to him.

“When guys get to certain levels, they believe they know what they’re doing. They don’t necessarily take all their information. I had to make that decision. It’s an easy decision for me. … Shawn was hurt, and moving forward, this guy is a sharp fighter, and my kid is at a deficit at that point. He can’t defend himself like he should, and I had to protect him.”

Perhaps Kenny saw a brutal end coming for his son and wanted to avoid it. However, it was odd that the father wanted to save his son from unnecessary punishment but then forced him to endure unnecessary embarrassment.

Porter hangs up his gloves as a two-time welterweight titleholder. Photo by Jhay Oh Otamias

In the post-fight press conference, Porter announced his retirement.

“After you fought everybody at the top, what more do you do?” explained Porter, who said he didn’t want to be a gatekeeper. “That’s not the life I wanna live. I’ve never wanted to live the life of a fighter who fought into his 40s. We wanted to end this when we was 30. I’m 34. Now’s the time.”

Porter said he would’ve retired whether he beat Crawford or was defeated by him.

Too few fighters are like Andre Ward, going out at the right time rather than holding on for too long. For Porter — who has been in this sport since he was young, had a lengthy amateur career, has been a pro for 13 years and has been spending more time as a broadcaster in recent years — this seemed like an appropriate time to recognize that this is the end of the road.

He is 31-4-1 with 17 KOs. Those only losses came against Kell Brook (back when Brook was at his best), Thurman, Spence and Crawford. Porter still has enough to give the best fighters a challenge. It’s nonetheless best to leave now, given that he’s ready to leave mentally, rather than waiting until he’s done physically.

This also could mark the end of one road for Crawford, though it’s more appropriate to see this as an exit ramp to another route, a different destination.

Crawford’s contract with Top Rank is up. Arum believes that Crawford may still want to work with the promoter on a fight-by-fight basis. Being a free agent, working with short-term arrangements, would allow Crawford greater flexibility given available opponents such as junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor (who is with Top Rank), Jaron Ennis (Cameron Dunkin), and Vergil Ortiz (Golden Boy). And, of course, there are the welterweights with PBC.

Crawford is also 34, though age has yet to significantly diminish his performance. He is 38-0 with 29 KOs, has stopped all six of his opponents at welterweight, and has won nine in a row by KO or TKO, dating back to his time in the 140-pound division. Indeed, since leaving lightweight, Crawford has scored stoppages in 12 of his 13 fights.

It’s time to see what Crawford can do against the fighters on the other side of the street. They’ve been staying in their separate lanes for far too long.

It’s fitting that Crawford’s time at welterweight began with a Horn. All each side has done since then is make noise. Now, by changing who’s steering his career, Crawford can put himself on a collision course with Errol Spence.

The 10 Count

Demetrius Andrade drops Jason Quigley. Photo by Melina Pizano/ Matchroom.

1 – Demetrius Andrade finally did what he should’ve been doing all along.His quick and dominant win over Jason Quigley on Friday, done in less than two rounds, won’t necessarily land Andrade the fights he’s long wanted. Not immediately, at least.It’s hard to know just how avoided Andrade has been. We don’t really know enough about what offers have been put out by Andrade’s team to other middleweights, or from other middleweights to him. There’s still plenty that has been in Andrade’s control. If other fighters see him as too high-risk and too low-reward, Andrade can do little about the former and more about the latter.

For too long, Andrade excelled early — as he did with Walter Kautondokwa, Maciej Sulecki and Luke Keeler — and then took his foot off the gas. He was less desirable. That made him less marketable.

Kautondokwa, Sulecki and Keeler aren’t a murderer’s row, but boxing fans will buzz when they see a fighter obliterating his opponents. It worked for Mike Tyson in the early days, for Edgar Berlanga more recently, and with plenty of other examples in-between.

If Andrade was putting on this kind of performance all along, then he’d be selling more tickets and doing better ratings. He’d still be risky, but there’d be more money to convince opponents to step into the ring with him.

Andrade and his team need to keep his name in the headlines, and not just from interviews. People are tired of hearing him call others out given what the in-ring product has long been. Let his actions speak louder.

Bring Andrade back again in a couple of months. Keep doing this until someone major steps in. Keep him busy. Keep him relevant.

Andrade had told me in interviews years back that he’d rather wait for a big payday. That clearly hasn’t been working for him.

Last Friday was the start of something different. It can’t be the end of it.

2 – Boxers Behaving Goodly: Here’s to Darren Cunningham, Gervonta Davis, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and anyone else I may have missed this week who is doing something similar to help the needy enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

Cunningham, a 14-1 featherweight, gave turkeys to 500 families in his native St. Louis, spoke at the high school he attended, and will be sponsoring local amateurs so they can compete in a national tournament, according to a press release.

Davis and Mayweather held a giveaway event on Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas, including 150 turkeys, as well as gift cards for those who attended.

“It’s always great to be able to help out. I was always looking for someone to help me when I was a kid, so to be in a position to help others now really means a lot,” Davis said on Tuesday, according to a press release.

Here’s also to Canelo Alvarez, who donated 1 million pesos — about $48,000 — to support cancer treatment for women and children in Mexico, according to CNN Spanish and Medio Tiempo.

3 – Sticking with Canelo Alvarez, all of the talk last week about the super middleweight champ going up another two weight classes to challenge cruiserweight titleholder Ilunga Makabu may very well be a real possibility.

But there might be a second plotline simultaneously unfolding here.

This could also be a preemptive maneuver for upcoming negotiations with other opponents (and promoters and broadcasters). For those who feel like they can ask for more money, who think that Canelo might need them, Canelo and his team have let them know that there is another viable option.

But instead of selectively leaking to the press, they have dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s with a very public proclamation.

It was good gamesmanship for Alvarez’s trainer and manager, Eddy Reynoso, to attend the World Boxing Council’s convention and seek permission to challenge for the cruiserweight title. The fact that the WBC promptly granted its blessing — it’s more money than they’d get for any other cruiserweight fight — removes a significant barrier in case another fighter tried to call Canelo’s bluff.

“Right now I can do whatever I want,” Canelo was quoted as saying. “I faced all the 168-pound world champions. I took the title from all of them. Now I do what I want.”

In other words, he’s not compelled to face David Benavidez, the remaining top contender in the super middleweight division. If Benavidez wants the opportunity, he’ll have to take what Canelo offers.

It’s a shame, because Canelo vs. Benavidez is compelling. But so is Canelo taking on a cruiserweight titleholder.

4 – Of course, this being boxing, there is a split among those who consider Canelo Alvarez taking on Ilunga Makabu as something worthy of respect, while others feel Alvarez is making a careful move that will make this seem like a greater achievement than it otherwise should.

In one camp:

“Not all challenges are equal, of course, but there is no cherry-picking a beltholder two divisions bigger than you,” tweeted boxing writer Jimmy Tobin.

In the other:

“There was a reason why Roy Jones Jr. picked John Ruiz for his heavyweight stint, just like there’s a reason why Makabu was picked by Canelo,” tweeted one boxing fan.

“I’ve been a Junior Makabu fan for 6-7 years and I’m happy for him if he gets the payday, but hard to look at it as anything but Canelo venue-shopping for the shortest, most shopworn cruiser with a belt to purchase,” tweeted boxing writer Rafe Bartholomew.

Makabu is listed on BoxRec as 6-foot-0, though he doesn’t look that much taller than Canelo. The size difference in terms of weight is clear. However, that can be more of a disadvantage for the bigger fighter, who often will wind up being slower.

“I know what [Canelo] has done to the heavyweights he has sparred with,” Reynoso told ESPN Deportes.5 – I don’t think Canelo will add too much bulk that would slow him down. There’s no reason for him to enter the ring anywhere near the 200-pound weight limit. It’s speed that will make the difference in this fight.

Is Makabu the best cruiser? No. The Ring has two fighters ahead of him in the rankings, after champion Mairis Briedis and No. 1 fighter Yuniel Dorticos. After losing his pro debut, Makabu’s only other defeat came when he was taken out in three rounds by another formerly smaller man, Tony Bellew (previously a light heavyweight contender), in 2016.

But that doesn’t take away from the credit Canelo would deserve.

No, John Ruiz wasn’t the best heavyweight, but Roy Jones was taking a risk and was able to do something that plenty of heavyweights couldn’t.

Yes, Sergey Kovalev was no longer considered indestructible when Canelo took him out in 2019. And yes, you can say that Makabu looks more ripe for Canelo to pick him off than other cruiserweights would be.

(I do worry that the WBC, which has spoken for about a year of lowering its cruiserweight limit to 190 pounds, could do so in advance of Canelo vs. Makabu.)

But we don’t need to overstate the meaning of these fights. We shouldn’t understate them either.

Roy Jones didn’t become the best heavyweight in the world by beating John Ruiz. Canelo wasn’t the top 175-pounder by virtue of his KO over Kovalev. He won’t have earned recognition as the best cruiser should he beat Makabu.

Yet no one else has defeated Makabu in more than five years. Makabu’s list of recent opponents includes a handful of contenders and prospects.

And I sure as hell don’t see any other super middleweights or light heavyweights stepping up to try.

Roy Jones Jr. (right) vs. John Ruiz. Photo credit: Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

Roy Jones Jr. moved up to heavyweight to dethrone then-WBA titleholder John Ruiz. Photo by Action Images/Reuters/ Steve Marcus

6 – Moving up to light heavyweight didn’t hurt Canelo’s ability to make super middleweight. It will be interesting to see how much he weighs, and what his body composition is, should he end up taking on Makabu in 2022.

“Roy Jones was never the same after he moved up for one fight at heavyweight,” tweeted Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “Subsequent weight cut killed him. Huge respect to Canelo for eyeing a challenge at cruiserweight, but would hate to see it cost him in big fights in his weight class.”

There’s a bit of a myth that Roy Jones added 18 pounds of muscle when he moved up from light heavyweight to challenge John Ruiz.

“Roy Jones didn’t really weigh 193 at the weigh-in,” said Jim Lampley on fight night, during the customary tale of the tape. “Closest associates acknowledge he weighed 189 or 190. But tonight, he’s all the way up to 199 pounds on our unofficial scale.”

(Jones was also fully-dressed while on the scale at the weigh-in.)

There’s no denying that Jones still had trouble coming back down to 175 for his first fight with Antonio Tarver in November 2003.

“Jones was reportedly 186 pounds as of late as last week, and having to shed so much weight took its toll,” wrote George Willis of the New York Post after the Tarver bout. “Halfway through the fight, Jones looked bushed, breathing heavily between rounds and often laying in the corner, using the rope-a-dope tactic to catch his breath.”

And yet Jones remained at light heavyweight through 2010. He seemed wholly capable of making weight, and was as low as 169.5 pounds when he topped Felix Trinidad. If making 175 took so much out of him, then why was he both willing and able to do it again and again?

It’s closer to the truth that Jones wasn’t at his best for the first Tarver fight, and that he was also getting up there in age and wear and tear. His subsequent defeats came at the ages of 35-36, the tail end of the prime years for many fighters, some 15 years into Jones’ pro career, a time when losing a step or two, or lowering your work rate, could badly hurt a fighter who relied so greatly on his speed and reflexes.

And the losses Jones suffered from 2004-2008 still only came against three Ring Magazine light heavyweight champs: Tarver, Glen Johnson and Joe Calzaghe.

If Canelo moves up, I see his team handling the body composition and nutrition wisely. And they may end up deciding against moving back down to super middleweight anyway, given that only Benavidez awaits him there. Canelo’s more likely to go to light heavyweight.

7 – Others are certainly taking Canelo’s potential jaunt to cruiserweight at face value. The dominos are falling.David Benavidez’s team issued a press release saying he received permission to fight for the WBC’s interim world title.

I don’t think that necessarily puts any pressure on Canelo, nor was it meant to. Canelo has all four major world titles at 168 but doesn’t have to hold on to them. But for Benavidez, who lost a world title once because he used cocaine out of competition, and a second time because he came in overweight, this puts him in line for the WBC belt should it become vacant.

For Gilberto Ramirez, who has been calling out 175-pound titleholder Dmitry Bivol, Canelo’s move means that Bivol might not be able to avoid him in order to hold out for a Canelo fight.

There’s still plenty that has to happen, plenty that needs to fall in line.

Bivol is defending against contender Umar Salamov on December 11. Ramirez is meeting Yunieski Gonzalez in an elimination bout on December 18. Artur Beterbiev is defending his light heavyweight titles against Marcus Browne on December 17.

And Canelo would still need to reach a deal with Makabu.

Lots can change over the coming weeks and months. For now, I think that this is more than enough oxygen, and more than enough words, about a match that isn’t even official yet.

8 – On random undercard action this past Friday was Elvis Figueroa, an undefeated super middleweight prospect from Connecticut. But I’m less interested in him than in his opponent — Arsenio Hall.

No, not the talk show host. Though this boxer, at 32 years old, was born the same year that his apparent namesake’s late-night show debuted. Alas, Hall the boxer hasn’t reached great heights in the ring. He was knocked down three times in less than four minutes against Figueroa, dropping his record to 3-5.

What’s the difference between the two Arsenio Halls?

When the talk show host performed, people yelled out “Woof! Woof! Woof!”

When the boxer performs, people think to themselves, “Oof! Oof! Oof!”

9 – We boxing writers get some random press releases. Sometimes we take the bait and pass that so-called news along to you.

In the past week, for example, one company wanted us to let you know that Terence “Bud” Crawford was putting some NFTs (non-fungible tokens) of himself up for auction. The person who won the first NFT would also get to attend a meet-and-greet with Crawford before a fight, and they’d receive two ringside seats for the match and VIP guest access to the after-party. As of Tuesday evening, the high bid was a cryptocurrency equivalent of about $2,173, which is still a bargain. Buy all five? You’d get two lifetime ringside seats to Crawford’s fights.

And then there was Bud Light, whose media relations firm contacted reporters about Teofimo Lopez becoming the first boxer to be sponsored by the beer. I just don’t know whether that precludes Lopez fighting in the former Mandalay Bay Events Center, now called the Michelob ULTRA Arena.

10 – It’s just a shame that they’re not buying the naming rights to the entire 135-pound weight class. Call it the Bud Lightweight division.

Wait, the “Bud” Lightweight division? Maybe Crawford’s gonna need to move back down…

 

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

 

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