By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing fans can finally envision a pleasant morning after.
Rather than the walk of shame prompted by sought-after fights performing below expectations, the Saturday night duel between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter should warrant a beaming stride of pride.
The 12-rounder at Barclays Center figures to be competitive from bell to bell and maintain a level of excitement that’ll leave 10,000-plus fans – not to mention a few buffet-loving media guys – gasping for breath, and perhaps creating an afterglow in which both guys welcome the chance to do it all again.
Yes, you read that right.
How about no “I’m going to meet with my team” hedges or “I fight who my promoter tells me to fight” cop-outs. Just two newly-christened 30-somethings in the primes of their athletic careers recognizing they each need a push from the other to revisit a level of acclaim both men had sniffed before.
A new era where the best fight the best without half-decades of posturing?
And if Saturday provides an accurate blueprint, it might take a few more to settle things.
Top WBC contender Garcia will climb the ring steps claiming accuracy and jolting power separate him from his No. 2-ranked challenger, and there may be times when he’s able to punish Porter’s recklessness with shots that buckle his knees or stand him straight up.
But the amount of lasting damage laid on the Ohio-reared Porter will determine whether he continues to press the fight and make Garcia uncomfortable while keeping his back pinned to the ropes and forcing him to rumble.
The contrast is an intriguing test for the judges, who’ve been on both sides in the past for both men – providing Garcia narrow cover against Mauricio Herrera and disappointment versus Keith Thurman, while turning the same back-and-forth tricks for Porter against Devon Alexander (W) and Kell Brook (L).
Where the Saturday optics favor Porter, the meaningful blows may favor Garcia.
And the prospect of a rematch, or two, favors any welterweight fan eyeing regime change.
The exits from relevance of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao has left a vacuum at the welterweight’s clear-cut top rung that both Garcia and Porter – in addition to IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., WBA titleholder Thurman and WBO claimant Terence Crawford – are anxious to fill.
“When I was coming up and trying to become a world champion, Manny literally was at the height of his career – I’ve even been in camps with him – and the same for Floyd,” Porter said. “Then after those guys moved on, we tried to fill those shoes and here come other younger guys who have a lot of relevance. It doesn’t frustrate me at all, but I’m kind of like, ‘Wow, I did get kind of put in the middle where I thought I would be at the top.’ It’s up to Danny and myself to put on a great show and I think we’ll do that.”
Truth told, Garcia and Porter are as decorated on the welterweight level as either Spence or Crawford, one of whom came to the division recently (Crawford) and pounced on a vulnerable belt-holder, while the other (Spence) is still just two defenses into a reign that began with an impressive Trans-Atlantic pounding of Porter’s conqueror Brook.
In fact, if anyone has a contrasting claim that holds water it’s Thurman, who won a 2016 decision over Porter that in spite of its unanimous rather than majority nod left a lesser feel that superiority had been established. It was a similar vibe following his 2017 split defeat of Garcia, which had one judge awarding the Philadelphian seven rounds while the other two scored seven and eight the other way.
Perhaps the uncertainty will goad Thurman – should he decide to actually fight again -- into a return bout with either while channeling Apollo Creed’s Rocky II lament that “I won, but I didn’t beat him.”
Spence may ultimately be a handful for either guy thanks to his overall skill level and could eventually be the rightful owner of the crown set aside by Money.
But if what we’re left with in the meantime is a full-on series of compelling, relevant and entertaining Saturday nights involving willing competitors while we’re trying to sort it all out, so be it.
Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes for the next morning after.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
Vacant WBC welterweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Danny Garcia (No. 1 WBC/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Shawn Porter (No. 2 WBC/No. 7 IWBR)
Garcia (34-1, 20 KO): Ninth title fight (7-1); Five title defenses at 140 pounds, none at 147
Porter (28-2-1, 17 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2); Held IBF title at 147 (2013-14, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: Porter’s a good guy and a rugged customer, but seems destined to occupy the second-to-last rung on the ladder – while a more rounded Garcia takes the final step up. Garcia by decision (70/30)
Vacant WBO junior bantamweight title – Inglewood, California
Donnie Nietes (No. 1 WBO/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Aston Palicte (No. 2 WBO/No. 22 IWBR)
Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KO): Eighteenth title fight (16-0-1); Former title-holder at 105, 108 and 112 pounds
Palicte (24-2, 20 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight outside the Philippines (3-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There may be a point where Nietes feels 36 or climbs too high on the scales, but it doesn’t seem Palicte – even though he’s bigger and younger – will provide issues. Nietes by decision (90/10)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WON: Menayothin)
2018 picks record: 58-26 (69.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 979-330 (74.7 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.