By Michael Rosenthal
CARSON, California – Shawn Porter is a fortunate man.
The WBC titleholder could never solve the problems he faced against slick challenger Yordenis Ugas yet emerged with a split-decision victory and his belt before a unconvinced crowd on a cold Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The fight was difficult to score, as the official cards indicate: 116-112 and 115-113 for Porter, 117-111 for Ugas. As many as 10 rounds could’ve gone either way.
The main reason for that is the fight was more reminiscent of a staring contest than a brawl much of the time, which is remarkable given that Porter is normally an aggressive, swarming fighter who doesn’t allow his opponents to breathe.
For some reason, he chose to wait for the defense-minded Cuban to make the first move and counter. The result was a dull fight almost devoid of energy. And the fans who braved the unusually chilly conditions in Southern California weren’t happy about it at all.
Porter (30-2-1, 17 knockouts) tried to goad the crowd to make some noise moments before the start of Round 8. They accommodated him before the end of the three-minute period. Only they didn’t cheer; they booed loudly, which was no surprise given the lack of action.
And many booed again when the scores were announced. Ugas, a counterpuncher, threw relatively few punches but many at ringside thought he got the better of exchanges when they did occur.
Porter had big plans going into this fight, saying he wants to fight – and beat – Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman and Errol Spence after Ugas to become the preeminent welterweight the world and seal his legacy as one of the best of his era. Instead, he narrowly avoided disaster both before and during the fight Saturday.
He initially failed to make the 147-pound limit by 1.8 pounds Friday only to come back within two hours to weigh 146.8 and save his belt. Then his strange tactics and Ugas’ refined skills almost destroyed his plans in the ring.
Porter and Ugas (23-4, 11 KOs) repeatedly stared at one another for extended periods, bouncing on their feet, sometimes feinting, waiting for the other to do something. That prompted one frustrated ringside veteran to quip, “There’s a whole lot of nothing going on here,” a sentiment undoubtedly shared by everyone watching.
Sometimes the fighters did collide, creating brief violent exchanges. Porter landed some punches but missed far more often than he connected, sometimes wildly. It wasn’t a good look. He simply couldn’t find Ugas to land cleanly.
Ugas wasn’t any busier than Porter. In fact, he might’ve thrown fewer punches than the titleholder. However, his shots seemed to be more precise and perhaps harder, which caught the attention of those at the arena and at least one judge, Zachary Young, who scored it 117-111 for Ugas.
And Ugas seemed to be at his strongest in the final few rounds, which convinced many onlookers that he had clinched the victory.
Instead, when Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced the final scorecard and uttered the word “STILL!,” Ugas’ cornermen leapt in anger. They were certain they had been cheated.
Indeed, Ugas couldn’t leave with the belt he thought he earned. A decent consolation is the knowledge that on Saturday he stamped himself as an elite welterweight, one who might cause problems for the best 147-pounders.
“There's no doubt about it, I was robbed tonight,” Ugas said. “After the first round I figured him out and dominated the fight. He had no answer when I was pushing him back. I dominated the fight in my opinion.
“I showed tonight that I belong with the elite fighters at welterweight. All I can say is that I'm ready to fight any of the top names in the division. I'll be back.”
Porter didn’t act as if he had dodged a bullet afterward. He defended the unusual style he employed and thought he did enough to retain his title.
“We wanted to out box him and eventually turn it on and press him,” he said. “But my dad (trainer Kenny Porter) did not think that was the smartest way to win the fight. We fought this way for 12 rounds and no one has ever seen that from me before.
“I'm a little frustrated that I wasn't able to get to the body as much as I wanted or as much as we had planned. As the clock ticks, you have to do what's working. Tonight the foot movement was working and it made Ugas have to reset.
“We fought a good smart fight tonight. I was consistent and I thought we won a majority of the rounds.”
Only Porter and his team were pleased after this fight. Ugas will always feel as if he was cheated out of his dream. And the fans, accustomed to being entertained by Porter, were as disappointed as they’ve ever been with him.
"The crowd was expecting a big brawl, but that's not the way this fight needed to go tonight," Porter said. "That style that we used left the fight close. We got the win, we're still champion and we're looking forward to what is next."