Monday, August 18, 2014

Opinions and Observations: Porter-Brook

Shawn Porter had the right game plan against Kell Brook on Saturday. Going into the fight, Team Porter probably saw the following:
  • Brook was hurt against Carson Jones (in their first match) and Vyacheslav Senchenko, two moderate punchers.
  • Brook's conditioning and composure deteriorated during the first Jones fight and he barely escaped with a win.
  • Brook had weight issues for the Jones rematch and had recently appeared in bouts well above 147 – thus, it was very possible that Brook had been cutting corners in training camp and/or he had outgrown the division.
From reviewing these factors above, the sensible game plan for Porter was to apply pressure from the jump, with the belief that Brook would eventually get hurt and lose his poise in the ring. Once that occurred, Brook, with perhaps subpar conditioning, would be susceptible to a knockout. 

And Porter followed the game plan as instructed. He attacked Brook with reckless abandon (more on the reckless later). Throwing gigantic right hands from the outside and wide left hooks while jumping in, Porter tried to end the fight early. Unfortunately for him, most of his shots didn't land cleanly, as Brook either slipped a lot of the shots, took a half-step back to avoid them or let them glance off of a non-scoring part of his body. (Porter did have some success early with good body punches – another great tactic against a fighter who might have conditioning problems.) 

Porter's problem on Saturday was that Brook didn't follow the script, and there was no Plan B. Brook didn't wilt under pressure. His chin held up fine and he was in great physical condition. Brook helped to protect his chin with lead and counter jabs and did a masterful job of smothering Porter's shots and tying him up. Nevertheless, Porter stuck with his opening strategy, even as Brook developed more confidence as the fight progressed.

Here's a sequence from the 11th round that illustrated Brook's success in the fight, specifically his accuracy, intelligence and ring generalship. In the center of the ring, Porter rushed forward and launched a right hand. Brook took a step back and hit him with a jab. Porter lunged in again and Brook retreated, landing another jab. Porter then jumped in a third time in the sequence and Brook connected with yet another jab. Next, Porter fired off a looping right hand that Brook ducked under; the shot glanced off the back of Brook's neck (not a scoring blow). Then, Brook tied him up. That sequence was a textbook example of ineffective aggression by Porter; Brook was the one who did the better work. That pattern manifested throughout the match. 

It's not that Brook dominated Porter in the fight. He racked up several small advantages in rounds that led to his victory. He scored with cleaner shots but he wasn't particularly active with his punch output. His footwork and athleticism helped neutralize much of Porter's offensive attack. His defense was better throughout the fight. Porter did score with some jabs and body shots but the better punches were consistently Brook's. 

As I stated earlier, Porter's game plan was sound, but when the initial approach failed to yield success, noticeable adjustments were lacking. Porter's father/trainer, Kenny, who often does a marvelous job coaching his son (he was my trainer of the year for 2013), didn't come up with another viable plan for his fighter. Porter halfheartedly tried to work on the outside in the seventh and eighth rounds but it was ineffectual. He wound up just eating jabs and he abandoned that tactic pretty quickly. 

I would have liked to have seen Porter jab to the body more. He needed to try to work his way in behind shorter shots. Porter's bombs were telegraphed and fairly easy to prepare for. He also smothered himself too much on the inside, eliminating the possibility of having an effective uppercut. Porter didn't employ his entire arsenal and he failed to use his considerable boxing skills. 

Again, Porter wasn't dominated, but he was beaten. The final scores were 117-111, 116-112 and 114-114 (all scores were acceptable). I had it for Brook 115-113. 

Saturday was easily Brook's best performance as a pro. With essentially his jab, straight right hand and a few left hooks, he did enough offensively to take the fight. And Brook rarely unloaded his left uppercut; it's one of his best punches. 

A lot of credit has to be given to Brook and his corner for making improvements from their previous fights. After the first Jones bout, neither fighter nor trainer (Dominic Ingle) was pleased by the performance. Brook admitted that he had taken training lightly at times and decided to bring in a nutritionist. He also talked about rededicating himself to fight preparation. (Lots of boxers say this but it appears to be true in Brook's case.) 

Ingle, who seemed befuddled in the late rounds of the first Jones fight, had Brook well prepared for Porter and was a guiding force on Saturday. During the early rounds when Porter had some success, Ingle remained even-keeled, stressing the importance of clean punching and focus. There was no chaos in the corner and Ingle's instructions were precise and correct. Furthermore, Ingle's teachings in the gym really paid off during the fight. Brook did a wonderful job of tying up and neutralizing an athletic opponent. Wisely, he relied on accuracy instead of power.   

Even though there were many technical things that Brook did well on Saturday, his composure and intelligence ultimately won him the fight. He didn't try to be too brave; he refused to exchange big shots with Porter. He wasn't intimidated physically or mentally by Porter's grappling on the inside. Brook stuck to his strengths on offense, landing with accurate jabs and short power shots. And his defensive maneuverings were fluid and natural. He didn't let Porter's roughhouse tactics get to him and he rejected brawling in favor of cleaner boxing.

Brook has come a long way in the ring. I saw him live in Atlantic City in December of 2011 against Luis Galarza, a fighter who was dreadfully overmatched. At that point in his career, Brook's left hand was leaps and bounds ahead of his right one. His lead jab was excellent and his counter jab was already among the best in the sport. He pasted Galarza with multi-punch combinations, almost all with his left hand. However, Brook's right hand was negligible in that fight; it was essentially a "show" punch. In addition, Brook had a bad habit of admiring his work after landing a combination. Even Galarza was able to hit him with some good right hands. 

By the time of the second Carson Jones fight in July of 2013, Brook's right hand had finally become a weapon. It was a new wrinkle that helped control Jones in that match. The punch was accurate and very solid. 

On Saturday, Brook landed a number of excellent straight rights that thwarted Porter's forward advancement and helped to rack up points. Although Brook's left continues to be his breadwinner, his right hand has become a very important part of his arsenal. 

Brook's defense has also significantly improved. On Saturday, he did an excellent job of protecting his chin and he remained defensibly responsible all fight. He didn't fall prey to any periods of overconfidence, which had hurt him against Jones. In addition, he didn't suddenly change tactics for his own entertainment, which was disastrous in the first Jones bout. He stuck with what worked, and during dead moments, he would pump out a jab, a great way to disincentivize a pressure fighter.

My read on Porter is less certain. In fact, I've flipped-flopped on him so many times that I've lost track. I remember watching him struggle with a shopworn Julio Diaz in their first fight in December of 2012. Porter was caught in between styles, not knowing whether to box or rush in aggressively. I was amazed at how easily Diaz timed him with left hooks. At points in the fight, Porter seemed to have run out of ideas. The knock on Porter coming up in the ranks was that he had a sparring-partner mentality (he had sparred with both Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather). His periods of inactivity and indecisiveness in the first Diaz fight certainly demonstrated the appropriateness of that reputation. 

I was live for Porter's next fight against Phil Lo Greco, where Porter easily dominated an overmatched opponent; yet I felt a lack of urgency in his performance. He was winning every round but he carried Lo Greco in the second half. Porter should have taken him out midway through the fight. 

Something finally clicked for Porter in the Diaz rematch and he put together a consistent performance, winning a decision. Still, I didn't think that he was experienced enough for Devon Alexander; I was certainly wrong. Porter executed a terrific game plan by rushing Alexander with pressure and using his foot speed to prevent Alexander from escaping. I felt that Porter faded in rounds 7-10 but he closed strongly to take a deserved victory. 

Still not fully sold on Porter, I picked Paulie Malignaggi to beat him, believing that if Paulie got to the second half of the fight, his consistent offensive output, jab and footwork would earn a close victory. However, Porter never let the fight get that far. He pasted Malignaggi with odd-angled right hands and blistering left hooks. Watching that fight live in Washington, D.C., Porter seemed to really come into his own. He fought with incredible confidence and had a perfect understanding of how to beat that style of opponent. 

Finally, I sided with Porter in the lead-up to the Brook fight, thinking that Porter's pressure and power would lead to a late stoppage. It wasn't that I didn't rate Brook as a good talent but I believed that his specific problems in past fights could be perfectly exploited by a fighter like Porter. 

Needless to say, I've been 0 for 3 in my predictions for Porter's last fights. I still don't know what to make of him. He has very good foot speed, uses his physicality well, is extremely coachable and has some strong inside fighting skills. However, his struggles on Saturday reminded me of that performance in the first Diaz fight. Porter looked very flustered and he had a lot of difficulty adjusting to a fighter with very good accuracy and timing. 

I think that Porter will still beat a number of guys on the world level but it's time for him and his corner to emphasize some additional aspects of his repertoire. Porter's jab should be featured. He should find opportunities to box in addition to brawling. He needs to realize that swinging for the fences will often result in strikeouts. Keeping things a little shorter will help him in the long run. I wouldn't mind seeing Porter get a rematch with Brook down the line after a few fights. With a more varied attack, he could certainly win. But he had his opportunity on Saturday, and he was beaten by a better fighter. 


Let me give a few thoughts on the officials for Saturday's fight. Yet again, referee Pat Russell proved that his days as a top boxing official have passed him by. Russell was far too permissive in the ring and was consistently late in breaking up clinches. He could have easily taken a point from both fighters: Porter for shots behind the head and Brook for excessive holding. But Russell did nothing, and the fight was very ugly to watch.

Russell misses too much in the ring, whether it was the deliberate foul from Chad Dawson that led to Bernard Hopkins' injury or a blown Ruslan Provodnikov knockdown of Tim Bradley that would have swung the fight to a draw. Let's face it: Russell's old and slow and doesn't make quick decisions. He's not the guy I want reffing a big-time fight. It's time to give him his gold watch.
But praise should be given to judges Max DeLuca and Adalaide Byrd for correctly scoring the fight for Brook. Far too often in boxing (especially in the U.S.), fighters are given credit for ineffective aggression. Byrd's home jurisdiction of Nevada is notorious for this misguided preference. 

Porter-Brook demanded intense concentration. Although Porter was lunging in and "making the fight," most of his work failed to land cleanly. He was consistently stymied by Brook at close quarters. In addition, Brook landed a number of excellent, short counter jabs and left hooks. These shots didn't necessarily hurt Porter, but they were effective in thwarting his attack. I won't tell you that Byrd is an elite judge (she's certainly not) but she did an excellent job on Saturday. De Luca is often regarded as one as California's best judges. I don't necessarily agree (I think that he's serviceable) but he sided with the right guy on Saturday. 

Ultimately, it's good for the sport when a foreign underdog gets a fair shake against a house fighter. It incentivizes more boxers and promoters to leave their comfort zones and take risks. Too often we see how bad judging can wreck boxing's integrity. Porter-Brook was an example of the sport working as designed; I like to highlight that when I can. 

 Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at 
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