Although Shawn Porter announced his retirement officially following his loss to Terence Crawford, he probably knew he was in his final moments when he hit the canvas for a second time in the fight.
Early in the tenth round, Crawford caught Porter with a left uppercut that landed flush as Porter was trying to weave his way to the inside. As Porter came to his feet, he immediately dismissed the suggestion from referee Celestino Ruiz that he might not be okay. He blew a raspberry, nodded his head rapidly and answered “of course” to Ruiz’s query about whether or not he wanted to continue. The way that only fighters can, Porter had already rationalized the moment, decided it was a fluke and that despite it, he was still capable of winning the fight.
He wasn’t wrong either. The judges’ scorecards at that moment were such that even winning the next two rounds would have given him the victory.
But what Porter believed and what was transpiring in the fight were two different things. It happened too fast for Porter to notice or adapt, but Crawford had kicked it into a different gear. A round earlier, Crawford’s corner exhibited sound judgment and used some well-timed honesty to fuel their fighter, telling him he was behind on the scorecards and that he needed to “take it to another level.”
There are few fighters in boxing as adept at finishing a wounded opponent as Crawford. Many have commented on Crawford’s “meanness” in the ring, which is on full display when he feels a knockout is imminent. He snarls, he laughs, and in general cannot hide his joy in the discovery that he has broken his opponent. Crawford’s length and ability to generate power at the end of his punches, combined with an arsenal of punches “underneath,” travelling low to high, make him a difficult fighter to hide from. Go to the ropes and he can measure you and blast you with shots from far enough away that you can’t tie him up. Try to duck down to cover up and suddenly gloves are headed upwards towards your face.
Except Porter didn’t act like an imperiled fighter, because he didn’t believe he was one. Porter has never known anything close to retreat. His response to getting knocked down was to push forward and swing harder, to embrace the chaos and try to use Crawford’s exuberance against him. But for perhaps the first time in his career, he met a force that he couldn’t will himself to stand up to. Crawford caught him with a right hook as he was hunched over, and proceeded to hammer him to the mat for the second time.
Porter began punching the mat in frustration, slamming his fist into the canvas three times. Although more uncomfortable moments would follow, this one was a difficult one to watch as well. It was a man who had prided himself with being able to physically push every top welterweight in the world, win or lose, for twelve rounds, reckoning with his own fragility for the first time, in real time. Seconds earlier he’d been knocked down and concluded that everything was fine, but now he’d realized that it wasn’t.
He rose to his feet willing to try again, but his father Kenny Porter wasn’t going to let him.
In his post-fight interview with ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna, Porter was conciliatory and understanding, praising Crawford and showing deference to his father.
“He's doing what he knows he needs to do,” said Shawn of his father’s decision to stop the fight. “I didn't expect that, we've never had a conversation about that. It's just always been an unspoken understanding that if he sees what he needs to see, he's going to do what he did. I didn't expect it.”
Shawn closed his eyes, reliving the end of the fight: “He was catching me too clean, and I think that's what my Dad saw. I saw it, I felt it.”
Kenny Porter’s relationship with his son has always been characterized as “tough love,” a strict parenting and coaching style born out of a desperation to place his son in circumstances better than the ones he spent his formative years in. But no one would ever question the level of compassion he has for his son. His forehead-to-forehead embrace with his son during every pre-fight introduction was always a touching moment.
When Osuna asked Kenny about his decision to stop the fight, he sounded like a man conflicted. Just as Shawn had to reckon, in real time, with his inability to withstand an opponent’s shots for the first time, Kenny was grappling with the reality that this wasn’t a situation he could bend to his will for his son.
Rather than simply conceding that Crawford was the better fighter, Kenny blamed Shawn, suggesting that the failures were his son’s, not his own. That there was a better path he paved and Shawn opted not to follow it.
“He didn't prepare like I wanted him to prepare. So that just makes me say you know what, I don't want him in that situation. He fought a great fighter, the guy’s super sharp, and 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,” said Kenny. “When guys get to certain levels, they believe they know what they're doing and they don't necessarily take all the information, so, this is where we're at with it, and I had to make that decision. It's an easy decision for me. It's easy.”
Kenny had suggested during fight week that he was unhappy with the sparring partners and the irregularity of sparring in the camp leading up to the fight. He told FightHype that they only really had “one really good” sparring partner, and had sporadic sessions with Caleb Plant, Andre Dirrell, Denis Douglin and Gervonta Davis. The suggestion was that it was more a logistical issue, and an issue with finding opponents who could replicate Crawford’s tricky style. But now Kenny was putting the onus entirely on Shawn.
Shawn hung his head as his father spoke. We’ll never know if he was feeling shame or hiding his sadness or other emotions about what he was hearing, but he shouldn’t have had to feel any of those things in that moment. He had fought one of the best fighters in the world and pushed him to the limit in the most entertaining fight of Crawford’s career.
Afterward, Shawn made the decision to end his own career.
“I’ve given this sport a great deal, from the training to the competition, and more training. After you’ve fought everybody at the top, what more do you do? I’m not gonna be a gatekeeper. You look at the four losses and assume he could be a gatekeeper — nah, that’s not the life I want to live,” said Porter at the post-fight press conference.
He also mentioned looking up to Andre Ward, a fighter who left while he still presumably had fights left in him with his faculties intact and launched into a lucrative commentary career. Porter himself is a sought-after color commentator, so much so that he he even had gigs during his training camp—perhaps a sticking point between he and his father, if one were to try to read into Kenny’s comments. In Ward, as well as his ESPN broadcast colleague Timothy Bradley, Porter has a blueprint for a comfortable position of visibility and influence within the sport. Both Ward and Bradley are generally held in high regard by fans, aided by the fact that neither one of them stuck around long enough to dovetail. There were numerous multi-million dollar fights on the table for both of them—just as there are for Porter—but not all sums are worth ones health or dignity.
Porter might not have been the best welterweight of his generation, but he might have been the most exciting. And even though he wasn’t the best, he helped us ultimately figure out who was.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman