In boxing, evenly matched fights are as unlikely as sailing stones. Just think about the trash Showtime peddled last week for a glimpse of what remains of quality control. But a potential exception to this rule may take place on Saturday night when welterweights Shawn Porter and Kell Brook meet at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
Porter-Brook matches two men with unanswered questions and complimentary styles. The fight’s intrigue is further enhanced by what each participant might reveal of himself against his sternest test. Whether there is anything particularly special about either Porter or Brook (beyond his moniker) remains unclear, but there is a chance we will find out on Saturday, and this rare injection of mystery distinguishes this matchup in a woefully predictable year.
This fight will mark Brook’s long-delayed American invasion (his only previous trip stateside being a forgettable stoppage of Luis Galarza in 2011). Brook was supposed to face Devon Alexander in January 2013, but injuries to both fighters scuttled the bout a few months later. Brook has spent the last year as he had those before it—facing B-level competition. Among these victims was journeyman Carson Jones, who gave Brook hell in 2012. Back then, Brook, 28, showed real grit in staving off his tormentor. That Jones broke Brook’s nose and battered him to the brink of disaster, however, gave Brook’s critics plenty of ammunition. Even Brook’s impressive stoppage of Jones in the rematch in 2013 was less than convincing: Freddy Hernandez, Roberto Garcia and Jose Soto Karass had also defeated Jones.
Still, the Jones bouts showed that Brook responds like a fighter when under fire, and that he can execute a game plan designed to blunt pressure. He will have to do both to beat Porter, because Porter, 26, is going to pressure Brook with a ferocity Jones could never match. A former middleweight with the explosiveness of a tailback, Porter does not pressure in the traditional sense, where, like a coffee grinder, steady movement slowly traps and cracks. Instead, Porter pressures in overwhelming bursts, throwing himself at opponents like an army of crowbars pitched down a stairwell.
Porter, from Akron, Ohio, made the most of his own shot against Devon Alexander last December, hurting Alexander early before riding that auspicious start to a decision victory. It was an impressive showing, and easily Porter’s best to date, though he came close to topping that performance in April, when he pancaked Paulie Malignaggi in four rounds. Yes, Malignaggi entered the ring with diminished enthusiasm and ability, but, like Brook in the Jones rematch, Porter did what a good fighter does to an overmatched opponent—knocks him out.
What matters now, of course, is not what these men have done to Jones and Malignaggi, but what they can do to each other. Brook, 32-0 (22), has the tighter technique of the two, including a nice counter jab, and probably better power. He is not a particularly dynamic offensive fighter, in part because he neglects to work the body; though this lack of diversity has yet to cost him, and may not Saturday night. Porter is a marauder, and certainly too much for Brook on the inside, but his enthusiasm swells at the expense of his form, which could explain why Porter looks ordinary at times, sensational at others. He can be wide, sloppy, and inaccurate when fully berserk, though up to now, Porter’s athleticism, explosiveness, and conditioning have compensated for these flaws. That could change Saturday night. A sharp, controlled puncher like Brook could poleaxe an overzealous Porter; indeed a high caliber 1-2 from a sturdy welterweight may be all that is needed to tame “Showtime.”
To find out, Brook must keep Porter from mauling. Mixing it up would only play to Porter’s strengths, particularly his superior inside game; so while Brook does not shy away from exchanges, he needs keep his head and box. If Brook can hurt Porter before and during lift off, “Special K” will have the room he needs to slow Porter’s assault. If not, Porter, 25-0-1 (15), will vault into Brook at every opportunity, set his head on Brook’s chest, and swing until either the referee returns him to the starting block or Brook folds. At that range—however sloppy Porter may get and however tedious the action may become as a result—his activity and strength should carry him to victory. One last point to consider: fights do not happen in a vacuum, and it must be noted that Porter is the house fighter and the home fighter against Brook. Such advantages can swing a close, competitive fight, which is what Porter-Brook looks like it will be.