Friday, June 24, 2016

Thurman-Porter: Keys to the Fight

One of the best potential fights in the welterweight division takes place on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as undefeated titlist Keith Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) faces former champion Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs). The match was originally scheduled for earlier in the year but was pushed back because Thurman was involved in a minor car accident. Thurman and Porter have known one another since their amateur days and they sparred together earlier in their careers. Each should be familiar with what the other brings to the table. Both enter the ring coming off of long layoffs; Porter last fought in June, Thurman in July. The winner of Saturday's bout becomes a top-three fighter in the division and is certainly poised to graduate to even bigger potential opponents in the near future. Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Thurman's training camp

As a result of his car accident, Thurman didn't start sparring until mid-May (at least, that's what has been reported). It's anyone's guess as to what type of shape he was in when he returned to camp following the accident. Thurman's camp has been kept under wraps so it's difficult to know about his conditioning or his current state of mind.

With Dan Birmingham, Thurman has one of the best trainers in the business. Birmingham gets his fighters in shape and doesn't accept excuses. But it's a legitimate question to ask if Thurman's heart is truly into this fight. The bout took longer than expected to be finalized and Porter was the one who seemed more eager for it to happen. Will Thurman be at his best physically and mentally? Will he have the stamina and desire to go 12 hard rounds? Porter's known for being a gym rat and if Thurman isn't in top shape or supremely focused on the task at hand, Porter will have a huge edge in the fight. 

2. Effective aggression from Porter, not just aggression

Over the last three years, Porter has become one of the premier pressure fighters in the sport. He digs to the body mercilessly and has the athleticism to cut off the ring against athletic opponents. However, his transition to an inside fighter hasn't always been seamless. In his only loss as a professional, to Kell Brook, Porter exhibited some flaws that could be exploited by Thurman. Too often, Porter smothered his work on the inside, lessening the impact of his punches and allowing Brook to tie him up with ease. In addition, Brook capitalized on Porter's overzealousness coming in; he pasted Porter with a number of big shots throughout the match, specifically, straight right hands. Although Porter was competitive in the fight, these deficiencies, and Brook's ability to exploit them, allowed for Brook to win the decision. 

Against Adrien Broner last year, Porter had corrected some of these flaws. He came in behind punches more often and was more successful in determining when to apply pressure. Using his jab regularly and giving himself enough room to work on the inside, he was a better fighter than the one who had lost to Brook. Still, Broner was able to time Porter with some big shots and landed a hard knockdown in the bout's final round. 

Porter certainly wants to work on the inside against Thurman, who has significant height and reach advantages in the fight. Thurman was hurt to the body in his last bout against Luis Collazo and may be vulnerable at close range. But Porter needs to come in behind punches and use his footwork to contain the athletically gifted Thurman. Cutting off the ring will be an imperative. 

In addition, Thurman has the power to significantly harm Porter. Thurman can hurt him from the outside with straight right hands and he also possesses a devastating right uppercut that can be used in tighter quarters. Porter must work in close range but he has to remain attentive and intelligent. 

Also, Porter has to stay active during clinches, using his free hand to deliver shots and/or refusing to get completely tied up. He needn't be dirty but he has to keep working until the ref officially halts action. He should never be the one who initiates a clinch. 

3. Thurman's (lack of) accuracy

Thurman has three knockout weapons: his straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut. However, all of these shots are long and take time to develop. Once he unfurls these punches, he exhibits plenty of hand speed, but mechanically, his shots have a lot of moving parts. Thurman can also be a wild swinger, finding himself out of position after missing, which gives his opponents opportunities to counter. 

Thurman's accuracy will be essential on Saturday. If his jab and straight right hand continue to hit their mark, he will be far more successful at keeping Porter on the outside. There, Thurman can score with eye-catching shots and neutralize Porter's inside game. However, if Thurman gets knockout-happy or is off with his timing, Porter will have a much easier time coming in. In addition, if Thurman swings wildly and misses, Porter can strike with two or three quick shots before Thurman returns to a defensively responsible position. Perhaps Thurman's best play in the fight will be to ensure that he connects from the outside. Sacrificing a little power for some accuracy should behoove him during the bout. He still has enough natural thump to hurt any opponent at welterweight but the increased accuracy will keep him out of harm's way more regularly. 

4. Consistency

Against higher-level opposition, neither fighter has put together a truly complete performance. Thurman has had fights where he's gotten tagged early (Diego Chaves, Jesus Soto Karass and Collazo) and another where he faded late (Robert Guerrero). Porter takes break during fights, letting Devon Alexander back into their bout after dominating him early and featuring a paltry work rate at various points against Broner. 

Both fighters have lacked focus during fights, whether it has been momentary defensive lapses that lead to harm (Thurman) or bewildering periods of low activity (Porter). Can either fighter break his bad habits? Which one can put together 12 consistent rounds? The answers to these questions will most likely tell us who will be raising his hand at the end of the evening. 

5. "Plan B"

Thurman and Porter have exhibited a range of styles as professionals. Thurman started his career as a knockout artist and has morphed into a boxer-puncher while Porter has transformed from a boxer-puncher into a pressure fighter. It will be fascinating to see the adjustments from each side during the fight. Thurman is the more intuitive and improvisatory boxer in the ring and can better make his own changes while Porter is more disciplined and better equipped to take instruction. 

Both fighters have top cornermen, with Thurman employing the aforementioned Birmingham and Porter working with his father, Kenny. Birmingham is more seasoned at the top levels of the sport but the elder Porter has displayed an impressive boxing acumen.

I awarded Porter my 2013 Trainer of the Year award for his brilliant corner work during the Julio Diaz rematch and the Devon Alexander fight. In the Alexander bout, Shawn's bull rush attack was the major difference in the fight. (Previously, Porter had rarely exhibited the characteristics of a pressure fighter.) However, I believe that Kenny Porter was wildly out-coached in the Brook match. The needed adjustments didn't come and Porter might not have sensed that his son was behind in the bout, which is a cardinal sin for a trainer. 

Thurman will present Kenny Porter with a host of issues and he'll have to think on the fly and clearly communicate those adjustments to his son. In addition, Birmingham will have his hands full if Porter can consistently get on the inside. The battle of the corners will be one of the more intriguing aspects of the fight. 


I believe that Thurman is the better talent. He has superior athleticism, significant physical advantages and a big edge in punching power. If there is a knockout blow in the fight, he would be the more likely candidate to have landed it. However, boxing is often about intangibles. In recent fights, Porter has had the superior work rate. He continues to improve as a fighter and he's always in the gym. Might he be the hungrier one as well? 

I think that Thurman-Porter will be a highly competitive fight. Both boxers will take turns imposing themselves on the other but they will also take breaks, which will provide opportunities for the opponent. Although I do think that Porter's aggression (whether it is actually effective is another story) and work rate will keep him in the fight, ultimately I believe that Thurman's clean power punching will be enough to carry the day. Finally, it's worth noting that two of the judges, Waleska Roldan (who really likes house fighters) and Steve Weisfeld (who appreciates defense and clean punching), may be more inclined to shade competitive rounds to Thurman. In a close fight, that could be a huge factor in determining the winner.

Keith Thurman defeats Shawn Porter by split decision.

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