By Michael Rosenthal
Shawn Porter, a former high school football player outside his native Akron, Ohio, can see Errol Spence on the other side of the ball in his mind’s eye.
Porter envisions his welterweight rival as that all-state running back collecting yards and accolades well beyond that of other players, including him. And Porter, as competitive as anyone, has the job as a defender to stop his opponent in his tracks.
“When I played high school football, I played running back and safety,” the WBC titleholder said in a one-on-one interview at a news conference to announce upcoming matchups under the new deal between Premier Boxing Champions and Fox Sports. “When I was running back, I had to be No. 1. If the other team had a running back that people thought was better than I was, I would do everything I could to make sure he didn’t get more yards and recognition than I got.
“That’s how I feel now. I’m a champion. (Spence) is also a champion. I’m not saying he’s outshining me but he’s getting more yards. And I don’t like it.”
Porter (29-2-1, 17 knockouts) is in a good place in his career.
He defeated Danny Garcia by a unanimous decision in an entertaining fight to win the vacant WBC title in September, his first title since Kell Brook took his IBF belt by a close, but unanimous decision in 2014.
He clutched the belt like a baby during the interview, perhaps more appreciative of its significance than he might’ve been earlier in his career.
Porter is 31 now, a veteran of the game. He now has vast experience to go with the youthful energy he still brings into the ring. That combination, he feels, makes him better than he ever was and ready for anyone.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m more ready to be champion now,” he said. “It’s the whole growth process, getting older, more mature, understanding myself more, my body more, my mentality more, understanding hard work more than I did when I first became champion.
“All those things that I just named, they all have helped make me ready to be champion now.”
The next stop in this reign is his first defense, against mandatory challenger Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs) of Cuba on March 9 in Las Vegas. Ugas, a one-time amateur star, has improved since early setbacks but is a significant underdog.
If Porter wins, he has said he’d like a rematch with Keith Thurman – who narrowly outpointed him in 2016 – and, ideally, a date with Spence if the IBF titleholder gets past Mikey Garcia.
“He’s seen as the boogey man right now. That’s why I want him,” Porter said of Spence, with whom he shares a management company (PBC).
The bottom line for Porter at this stage of his career is that he wants meaningful fights.
“There is definitely a sense of urgency for me to make the fights I want to happen, happen,” he said. “I don’t want to waste time. As the clock ticks down, I want to be in against great competitors, real fighters. I want to create great moments.”
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.