LOS ANGELES (AP) — Errol Spence had never been tested at this degree of difficulty. Shawn Porter pressured, prodded and exposed him during a title bout that stretched every bit of Spence’s vaunted boxing skill.
The budding welterweight superstar emerged with two championship belts after he figured out the answers to this test just in time.
Spence added the WBC welterweight title to his IBF strap with a thrilling split-decision victory over Shawn Porter on Saturday night.
Spence (26-0) persevered through the biggest challenge of his ascendant career from Porter (30-3-1), a veteran brawler who forced Spence into uncomfortable situations in nearly every round. Spence matched Porter’s pace and landed more punches, and the Texan punctuated the win by knocking down Porter in the 11th round with a left hand.
“This is a lifetime dream,” Spence said. “It shows hard work pays off. … Shawn Porter is a rough and awkward fighter. I didn’t get off what I wanted to. He’s a true champion. He made it tough … (but) all my punches have bad intentions.”
Two judges scored it 116-111 for Spence, and a third scored it 115-112 for Porter. The Associated Press scored it 114-113 for Spence.
Porter’s unorthodox, pugnacious style baited the favored Spence into many wild exchanges, starting with a thrilling stretch of the third and fourth rounds. The pace rarely waned for the rest of the bout, with Porter constantly forcing a tough fight.
But Spence knocked down Porter with a spectacular left hand to the head with a minute left in the 11th round. The punch staggered Porter and rolled his eyes back, but he barely touched the canvas and went right back into the fight.
“He’s a strong kid,” Porter said. “We both came in to do the job. 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.”
The Staples Center crowd of 16,702 in downtown Los Angeles was on its feet throughout the 12th round, roaring for both fighters when they embraced after the final bell.
Spence threw 745 punches to Porter’s 744, a remarkable measure of the fight’s evenness. But Spence landed 221 of those punches — 49 more than Porter. Spence also landed 44% of his power punches to just 25.7% for Porter, whose inaccuracy has been a problem in an otherwise stellar career.
“Porter was throwing a lot,” Spence said. “I wanted to show I was the bigger and stronger welterweight.”
Porter was a double-digit underdog with some oddsmakers despite his stellar record and accomplishments. That’s a measure of the boxing world’s respect for Spence, who has been one of the brightest rising stars in the sport since he turned pro following the 2012 London Olympics.
But Porter appeared to be the toughest opponent of Spence’s career, and it showed. Porter believed he could beat Spence by forcing a brawl on his skillful opponent, taking away Spence’s space to put together combinations and using his awkward style to set up counterpunches.
Porter’s plan mostly succeeded, starting with a dynamite third round in which he absorbed body punches to deliver his own. Both fighters traded huge shots in a ramshackle three minutes of action, and they followed it with an equally exciting fourth in which each fighter rocked the other repeatedly.
Spence was the more accurate fighter throughout the bout, and the judges noticed. None of his punches was bigger than the left hand in the 11th round, underlining his tactical skills with visceral evidence to the fans who loved Porter’s wild aggression.
With his rangy athleticism and virtuosic skill, Spence has captured fans with a series of crisp victories in recent years. Spence won the IBF title in 2017 by stopping Kell Brook in England, and he defended it three times, culminating in a one-sided thrashing of undersized Mikey Garcia in March.
But Porter has been an elite welterweight for the past half-decade, rising to win the IBF title in 2013 before losing it to Brook. He rebounded from a much-hyped loss to Keith Thurman in 2016 with four straight victories, including a decision over Danny Garcia last year to claim the WBC belt.
Josesito López opened the pay-per-view show with an impressive eighth-round stoppage of fellow Southern California veteran welterweight John Molina Jr. López (37-8, 20 KOs) knocked down Molina (30-9) twice in the first round and again in the seventh.
Mario Barrios claimed the WBA 140-pound belt in his first world title shot with a narrow unanimous decision over Uzbek Olympian Batyr Akhmedov. Barrios (25-0), from San Antonio, knocked down Akhmedov (7-1) twice, but the Uzbek slugger largely dominated long stretches of the fight, leading fans to boo the scorecards of 114-112, 115-111 and 116-111 for Barrios.
David Benavidez then won the WBC 168-pound title with a ninth-round stoppage of Anthony Dirrell, who fought the final half of the fight with a ghastly cut on his right eyelid. The 22-year-old Benavidez (22-0), who controlled the bout before and after Dirrell’s cut, reclaimed the belt he won in 2017 and lost last year after testing positive for cocaine.
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