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Shawn Porter did just about everything he wanted to do Saturday at Staples Center. He wanted to rough up Errol Spence Jr. He wanted to maul the man many have anointed as the best boxer in the welterweight division. He wanted to make their title bout rugged, vicious, and unlike anything Spence has seen before. More than anything, he wanted to make Spence "uncool" for the first time.
Porter did all that. And more, giving Spence the fight of his professional life. Unfortunately, Porter couldn’t quite do everything he needed to win the bout and pull off a major upset in the eyes of the judges.
In a Fight of the Year candidate that was incredibly compelling and more than lived up to the hype, two of the best boxers in the sport’s best and deepest division gave the 16,702 in attendance in downtown Los Angeles one hell of a show as Spence emerged as the newly unified welterweight champion of the world. The southpaw from Texas earned a split decision win that easily could have gone a bunch of different ways, retaining his IBF title and snatching Porter's WBC belt as well.
Two judges ringside scored it 116-111 for Spence while the other scored it 115-112 for Porter in a decision that was met with a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd. Complex Sports scored it 115-112 for Spence.
“Shawn Porter is a rough and awkward fighter," Spence said. "I didn’t get off what I wanted to. He’s a true champion. He made it tough."
The strategy for Porter to pull off the upset was simple: make Spence uncomfortable, use his smaller frame to his advantage, and give Spence looks he had never seen before. And Porter succeeded for nearly all of the fight, snapping Spence’s head back on numerous occasions and mauling him every chance he got. But the big difference in the fight was the 11th round knockdown Porter suffered when he caught a clear left from Spence that left him wobbly, forcing him to drop his glove to the canvas.
“He’s a strong kid. We both came in to do the job," Porter said. "I think I had a little more than what he expected, but he handled it. Congratulations to him and his team. We’re proud of what we did."
Spence (26-0, 21 KOs) and Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs) both earned $2 million, per the California State Athletic Commission, with more money guaranteed based on the performance of the PPV that was aired by FOX.
As for the championship undercards, David Benavidez earned a TKO victory over Anthony Dirrell for the WBC super middleweight title that was relatively one-sided before the fight was called with 1:39 to go in the 9th.
Benavidez, the youngest boxer to hold the super middleweight crown, regained the title he lost a year ago due to a positive drug test. He opened a nasty cut over Dirrell’s right eye in the 6th that changed the course of the fight.
“I felt it when the punch opened up the cut,” Dirrell said. “Much respect to the champion. He fought his ass off.”
There were multiple stoppages so ringside doctors could examine the cut. Dirrell (31-2-1, 24 KOs) struggled to see out of it when his corner couldn’t control the blood flow and progressively failed to dodge the punishment from Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs).
“This was one of the hardest fights I've had. It was very tactical. But I worked my jab the whole time. It wasn’t easy. I’m now the youngest two-time world champion, from Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve got a lot of respect for Anthony Dirrell, especially the way he fought tonight."
In their WBA super lightweight championship bout, Mario Barrios earned a unanimous decision win over Batyr Akhmedov that nearly all sitting ringside saw differently. The judges scored it 114-112, 115-111, 116-111 in favor of the San Antonio native despite Akhmedov clearly dominating the middle rounds and imposing his will with concussive blows and combinations that left Barrios’s face swollen.
While Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KOs) was hurt by two flash knockdowns, including one in the 12th that came close to the bell, he didn’t deserve to lose the fight, and certainly not by such a large margin. Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) narrowly avoided being knocked-out himself in the 10th when Akhmedov wobbled him and took a ton of punishment from rounds 5-11.
"The judges see better than I can from the ring,” Akhmedov said. “I did everything I could. I thought I won the fight.”