Welterweight champions Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter hail from a pair of highly contrasting football towns in Dallas and Cleveland, but the football backdrop has helped with the bout’s appeal
This upcoming weekend’s Welterweight championship unification fight, airing live on Fox Sports PBC Pay-Per-View, between IBF champion Errol Spence Jr and WBC champion Shawn Porter has some interesting parallels to the NFL franchises associated with each fighter. The promotion has benefited greatly from the fight’s TV and radio spots being ran throughout early season NFL games and Fox Sports’ daily sports shows the last few weeks.
Spence hails from Dallas suburb DeSoto which is located in North Texas, and the 29-year old’s emergence as the best 147-pound champion has only buttressed the support of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Jones loves his winners, and association with the NFL team owner’s “star” undoubtedly aids Spence in garnering the support of Cowboys fans. “America’s Team” might not carry as much weight in the early- to mid-90s, but the Patriots’ 6-time Super Bowl run the past 15 years has done very little with regards to them assuming that distinction. The Cowboys’ last Super Bowl victory was 23 years ago.
They’re going to call me the “show stopper’ after Saturday night. – Errol Spence Jr.
The 31-year-old Porter was born in Akron, Ohio and naturally supports the professional teams in nearby Cleveland. Before LeBron James stunningly delivered Cleveland the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2016, The Land hadn’t hoisted a major sports championship title since the Browns in 1964. Famous sports references like “The Drive” and “The Fumble” represented the city’s biggest sports’ moments. In 1997 the Indians lost a home World Series Game 7, 3-2, to the Florida Marlins – the expansion team’s first trip to the Fall Classic. Cleveland sports fans also experienced James’ “The Decision,” as well as “The Return” which preceded the aforementioned NBA title run.
Porter lives and trains in Las Vegas, and while he regularly expresses his love for his hometown teams, the love from the city isn’t reciprocal nor blossoming in the same manner as Dallas’ affection for their former Olympian.
The Texas Rangers failed to win the World Series in a pair of back-to-back trips in 2010 and 2011. Earlier that same year on the hardwood, Mark Cuban’s Mavericks ruined the birth of the “Heatles” – the ultimate result of “The Decision” – as Dirk Nowitzki led a red hot shooting squad to a 4-2 Finals win over the Miami Heat.
Let’s take a fun look at Saturday’s from a few Cowboys and Browns angles.
The current status of both men coincides with the general reputation of their respective teams. Spence, an undefeated Pound-For-Pound ranked southpaw, fought in his first Pay Per View event back in March, and achieved solid numbers in terms of its buy numbers, as well as an outstanding live gate at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. His virtual 12-round blanking of fellow Pound-For-Pound multi-division champion Mikey Garcia solidified Spence as a marquee name. The Cowboys are one of the NFL’s most popular teams, and their trophy case contains five Lombardi trophies. If Spence adds a second title Saturday he’ll still have his work cut out for him in matching the team’s total, but theoretically not a lot would stand in the way of a shot at a third title, 2020, in WBA champion Manny Pacquiao.
Porter is a two-time Welterweight champion. He didn’t leave town in the middle of the night, infamously, like the original Browns franchise in 1995. But, his move to Las Vegas and its thriving boxing scene undoubtedly aided in his preparation for the run at securing two titles, matching the success the Browns found in Maryland after re-emerging as the Baltimore Ravens. Preparedness is a major staple of team Porter’s success as Shawn is consistently fight ready, and after a couple of respectable off-seasons the Browns have recently improved a key part of the process required to win once they start to play for real.
It’s the competitor in me to get at him any way I can. – Shawn Porter
While Spence’s star could fully take flight following a convincing win Saturday night, Porter is embracing the opportunity to disprove the southpaw’s widely regarded truth as one of boxing’s biggest current myths.
The Browns last made the playoffs in 2002 as a Wild Card, so there haven’t been many recent players one could fairly compare to Porter. Porter’s fighting style is loved way less than it is hated by fans, despite the champ’s approach may be misunderstood. His role as an ‘unlikely hero’ could be a function of his durability, which is in line with retired Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas amazingly played over 10,000 consecutive snaps on the way to 10 Pro Bowls and seven first team All-Pro selections in his 11 seasons. Thomas rarely faced the Tale of the Tape disadvantages as Porter’s biggest challenges, but the two-time champion managed to outworked and manhandle his foes in a similar fashion to render them as ineffective as many of the edge rushers who lined up opposite of the standout left tackle.
Spence’s best comparable player on the current roster might be game-changing wide receiver Amari Cooper. Simply put, Cooper is as lethal as any elite super star wideout like Randy Moss sans any of the unwanted noise. To this point, Spence’s game in the ring is disciplined, precise, punishing and built off of the sweet science’s fundamentals. Spence’s potential big play ability – 21 knockouts in 25 fights – is one of the focal points Saturday as the southpaw insists he will be the first to stop Porter. One of this fight’s major storylines to watch will be how Porter’s hard-charging style fares against Spence’s volume-punching which is anchored by varied combinations with a built-in body attack.
Lastly, the conclusion of Spence and Porter will likely produce a newly crowned unified champion. How does Saturday’s ending for either man align with the 2019 title hopes for the Cowboys and Browns?
Again, tough to compare Porter to too many aspects of the unproven Browns. Porter and his favorite team currently sit at two losses, facing tests that could speak volumes about who and what they really are. Like Porter this weekend who has a chance to reclaim the IBF title he once wore, the Browns have a chance to travel to Baltimore to defeat the division rival that walked on out on the city of Cleveland to go and realize greatness over 20 years ago. The current Browns have been built to start being able to out-physical opponents behind their defense, to hopefully enhance their chances of a postseason berth this year. Perhaps before they hit the field Sunday afternoon Porter will have authored a performance that resonates with the Browns as they line up against the Ravens.
At 3-0 with two early division wins, a hot quarterback and their featured running back satisfied with his new deal the Cowboys are likely to become heavy favorites to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl. Life is good in Texas – for both the Cowboys and Spence. Saturday night against Porter, Spence faces the same challenge that typically undermines the Cowboys’ success – playing their best against the best for 60 minutes.
Spence hasn’t actually faltered in his biggest moments. In fact, Porter will be his first such test as a champion. Moreover, this unknown in Spence’s make-up is the one thing Porter continues to call out publicly as this bout winds down to fight night. Spence’s response to Porter’s one question about his resolve is the many examples of Porter being in tough fights with narrow decisions.
At this week’s final press conference Spence said, “I don’t make anything of the words he’s saying. We train hard and we’re focused and prepared for anything he brings Saturday night.”
“He’s been talking a lot, his dad’s been talking a lot and I’m going to shut him up. They’re going to call me the “show stopper’ after Saturday night.
“I’ve prepared for everything. It’s all about adjustments. I make them fast in the ring. People thought Kell Brook’s experience would help him but it didn’t at all. I can adjust to my opponent’s style and we will show it Saturday.
Porter’s comments yesterday in Los Angelse reassured fans of his durability and reiterated his doubt regarding Spence once the going gets tough.
“It’s the competitor in me to get at him any way I can. Until that bell rings, we’ll do whatever we need to do to let him know we’re really here to fight him.
“When you’re in there with a top level opponent, it’s supposed to be a close action-packed fight. I have everything it takes to make each fight exciting when I step into the ring.
“Everyone has seen everything what I’ve done in my career. Everyone knows I can take a punch and I’ll be there from the first round to the last round. We’ll see what happens to Errol as the fight goes on.
Once the first round bell rings Saturday the only teams that will matter will be Spence and his trainer Derrick James working out of one corner, and Porter and his father and trainer Kenny Porter across the ring in the other corner. In 12 rounds or less we’ll get our player of the game.
All photos by Frank Micelotta/FOX Sports