By Thomas Gerbasi
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK - It's only June, but boxing has its Fight of the Year for 2016. It?s hard to fathom any fight being better than Saturday?s WBA welterweight title bout between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, 12 rounds of non-stop action between elite boxers who decided to fight. When it was over, Thurman retained his title with a close, but unanimous, decision, and while the crowd of 12,718 roared their disapproval at the verdict, there were no losers in this fight.
It was that good.
Scores were 115-113 across the board for Clearwater's Thurman, now 27-0 with 22 KOs; Porter, the former IBF champion, falls to 26-2-1 with 16 KOs.
The two raced out to the center of the ring to kick off the bout, Porter making noise with his often wild rushes that put Thurman on the defensive. Eventually, the bout settled into a more sedate pace, and when it did, Thurman was able to land several hard counters that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd but no reaction from Porter.
Porter returned to his pressure attack in round two, and he was able to pin Thurman to the ropes for a spell, allowing him to fire away with both hands. After referee Steve Willis broke the two, Thurman got off some shots, but it was back to the ropes moments later, and Porter poured it on.
There was more of the same from Porter in round three, as he swarmed Thurman throughout. The Florida native found more punching room in the frame, but when he couldn't hurt Porter, it might have affected the knockout artist's confidence. But then in the final minute, Thurman got through with a ripping right hand that shook Porter momentarily. Of course, Porter?s response was to fire right back, thrilling the crowd.
Thurman began to find the mark even more in round four, with one toe-to-toe exchange ending in a jaw-rattling left hook that forced Porter to hold. Now the question was if Porter could either adjust or take several more bombs over the ensuing rounds.
In the fifth, Porter got some payback with a hard right hand that made Thurman go to the ropes. While there, the champion fired back with both hands, but it was the challenger taking all the return fire well and giving back as good as he got.
Thurman came out as the aggressor in round six, but Porter adjusted well and was able to move back in the lead of this punishing dance thanks to a busier attack at close range.
By round seven, it was clear that Porter was fighting the fight of his life, and even with that, Thurman was neck and neck with him. But as the seventh ended, it appeared that it was the Ohio native's fight to lose.
The eighth was a back and forth round, at least before and after the left hook to the body by Porter that put Thurman on the run and forced him to clinch. It may have been the punch to seal the round for Showtime as well.
Round nine was a classic, both fighters emptying their tanks in heated exchanges against the ropes as the crowd erupted. It would have been enough to finish most fighters, but Porter and Thurman were cementing the fact with each passing round that they were not ordinary men.
So it was no surprise in the tenth that just when it looked like Porter was beginning to pull away, Thurman roared back, hurting his opponent late in the round, only to see both fighters plant their feet and through hooks at each other in an effort to end this war once and for all.
It didn't end in the tenth, or in the 11th, but the exchanges didn't let up. They were only getting harder to see how was winning them, as each fighter had his moments.
For the first half of the final round, it was like the early moments of the 15th round of the first Rocky movie, Porter and Thurman finally feeling each other out warily after 11 rounds of trying to knock each other. Then, as was their custom for the previous rounds, all hell broke loose until a final surge by Thurman just before the bell.
In one word, it was magnificent.
In The Co-Feature
When Abner Mares was forced to withdraw from his bout against Jesus Cuellar due to a medical issue, the PBC card at Barclays Center needed a worthy co-main event, and junior middleweight prospects Jarrett Hurd and Oscar Molina delivered the goods with an exciting scrap won by Hurd via 10th round TKO.
Hurd patiently controlled much of the first round behind his jab, but in the final minute, it was a flush right uppercut that woke up the crowd and dropped Molina hard to the canvas. Molina jumped up immediately, shaking his head as if to say he wasn't hurt, but Hurd had found his mark, even landing another right uppercut before the bell ended the round.
Molina got more aggressive in the second, closing the distance more effectively, but Hurd adjusted well, regaining control once more by the end of the frame.
The action heated up in the third, Hurd still holding the edge, but Molina getting busier as he landed hard shots at close range, and in round four, the 2012 Mexican Olympian got the fight he wanted, as the two battled it out in a phone booth for three minutes, Molina landing with several thudding body blows.
Hurd surged in the fifth frame, shaking off Molina's body work and returning fire with several hard combinations as he regained control of the action by the end of the round.
Molina landed some hard shots in the sixth, but they were having little effect on Hurd, who continued to outwork his foe and pile up the points. This was no one-sided bout though, as the two prospects continued to show off the lost art of infighting, with Molina making plenty of noise in the seventh frame.
In the final minute of round eight though, Hurd jarred the Norwalk, California product several times, forcing him out of his aggressive stance for a few moments. Characteristically, Molina shook off the blows and jumped back into the fray in round nine, but the cleaner and more damaging blows continued to come from the fists of Hurd, who continued to pour it on in an action-packed tenth round that was called to a halt at the 2:02 mark by referee Ricky Gonzalez after Molina was tagged with a few hard shots at close range. The crowd and Molina didn't like it, but the decision stood, with Accokeek, Maryland's Hurd moving to 18-0 with 12 KOs. Molina falls to 13-1-1 with 10 KOs.