Thursday, November 18, 2021

Crawford-Porter: Preview and Prediction

Two of the top welterweights in the world will battle on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas as Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) defends his title against former two-time welterweight champion Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs). Most in the sport regard Crawford, a three-division champion, as one of boxing's best fighters, but there is no doubt that Porter will be the best opponent he's faced in his career. Crawford and Porter have known each other since their amateur days and they are intimately familiar with what the other can bring into the ring. 

Through three divisions and 15 world title bouts, Crawford has yet to have a truly close fight. He's been stunned on a couple of occasions and has lost some early rounds here and there, but of his three bouts that have gone the distance in his title fights, no opponent has won more than four rounds on a judge's scorecard. Crawford IS a master boxer, but don't forget his 12 knockouts in 15 title fights. Even at the top level of the sport, few of his opponents have made it to the final bell. 

Crawford and Porter ready for battle
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams

The conventional wisdom for Crawford-Porter would suggest that Crawford is just too skilled a fighter to get outboxed by Porter. And I think that's right. Crawford has every punch in his tool kit. He can win fights going forward or backward, in the pocket, or using lateral movement. He can dominate opponents out of either stance. It's hard to see Porter winning seven rounds against him to pick up a victory on the scorecards. 

But let's take a look at that conventional wisdom a little more closely. Although Porter might not be able to outbox Crawford, is there still a path for him to winning the fight? I believe that there is. 

Although Crawford scored knockouts in his last two bouts against Mean Machine Kavaliauskas and Kell Brook, I didn't like the way that his face was marking up and swelling in either fight. Keep in mind that the Brook fight only lasted four rounds. Now there are various ways of winning a fight, and it's certainly possible that if Crawford has issues with his skin, or scar tissue, and if Porter lands the right shots, that there could be a Porter by TKO scenario in play – whether by a cut from a punch, or a closed eye – the types of facial injuries where a referee would stop a fight. 

But, can Porter land those shots on Crawford? Yes, I believe that he can. There are two issues to consider here. One, Porter has landed his best punches on every top fighter that he's faced, in his wins AND his losses. He got his sneaky right hand home against an elite fighter like Errol Spence. He was able to hit a defensively solid Yordenis Ugas enough to walk away with a close win. Porter landed on a supreme athlete like Keith Thurman. He has connected on southpaws such as Spence and Devon Alexander (and this is important since Crawford often spends large portions of his fights in the southpaw stance). And if Porter can land on that group of top fighters, I see no reason why he couldn't have success with Crawford.  

Porter was a solid amateur boxer and retains those foundational skills. But he has also developed into a top pressure fighter. As a result, he has a variety of offensive weapons at mid-range and in tight quarters. He can jab, but he also throws a surprise looping left hook that can land on an unsuspecting fighter. He has underrated hand speed too. He can connect with a straight right hand or catch an opponent with an overhand or looping right hand. Because of the variety in his offensive attack, the untraditional trajectories of many of his shots and his surprising hand and foot speed, he can catch even defensively sound fighters off guard. 

And this brings us to issue #2: Terence Crawford's defense. At one point in his career, I think that Crawford had one of the best defenses in the sport, especially when he was in the southpaw position. To me, he fought in the orthodox stance when he wanted to dominate an opponent and went to southpaw when he decided to box and be more defensively responsible. There has always been a separation in the quality of his defense in the two stances, but over the years I think that his defense has slipped in both stances. Maybe it's age, or bad habits, or Crawford not respecting his opponents. And it's possible that he reverts to his older form and has his defense on point for Porter. But I still have some degree of skepticism. Crawford can be hit, but it's up to Porter to do the work. 

Although I think that Porter does has a path to beating Crawford, I'm not going to predict that he will get there. One of Porter's strengths can also be a weakness. Porter often fights like a house on fire. His frantic ring style and boundless energy make opponents uncomfortable and work faster than they would like. However, this fight may require a more surgical Shawn Porter, and that is not one of his better qualities.

If Crawford can be opened up, then it will take discipline and calm for Porter to keep working at a cut or a section of the face that is swelling. And I don't think that Porter has the ability to operate at his best in such a singular undertaking. He's a guy who likes to throw the kitchen sink at an opponent, not fix one problem with just a wrench. 

Crawford is one of the smartest fighters in the sport and one who makes great adjustments in the ring. Even if he is hurt and even if Porter can get to him early in the fight, I'm not sure if Crawford is going to let Porter have too many bites at that apple. If he's hit hard in the orthodox stance, he'll switch to southpaw. If he's struggling with Porter's aggression, he'll tie him up, or take a trip around the ring, or use horizontal movement to counter Porter. 

And that to me is what this fight will come down to. Ultimately, Crawford can do more things in the ring. I have no doubt that Porter will land on him and have good moments in the fight. But Crawford isn't a guy who will make the same mistakes over and over. If Porter had true knockout power, perhaps he would have an even greater path to win. Those surprise right hands then wouldn't just stun Crawford, but drop him, and possibly knock him out. But Porter's not that fighter. His power is adequate, not exceptional. 

In addition, Porter will make mistakes that Crawford can exploit. He'll get himself out of position on the inside. He'll wing wide shots that miss. On his way in, he'll leave his body open for counter shots to the body (something that Spence did very well in their fight). Porter has also been dropped twice by shots at range. Perhaps a straight left from Crawford could get Porter on the canvas. 

Crawford can win this fight using a fairly conservative game plan: Don't overcommit with big shots. Keep Porter busy with punch variety. Switch stances. Keep things unpredictable. Go to the body when Porter's on the inside. Mix up the geography of the fight. And when Porter makes his mistakes, punish him. It's also not out of the question that Crawford lands a big hook or uppercut on the inside that Porter doesn't see. 

I believe that Saturday's fight will be difficult for both boxers. Crawford doesn't have many predictable patterns, which will make it hard for Porter to establish a consistent rhythm. But Porter will land his best power punches at points in the fight and Crawford will need to make precise decisions in those periods of duress. 

The pick here is Crawford to win a decision, but I don't rule out the scenario of Porter winning by a TKO, or even Crawford catching Porter with something on the inside and getting his own stoppage. However, I think that Crawford by UD is most likely. Crawford will be able to minimize Porter's periods of success, and Porter will have enough ring savvy to keep his wits when Crawford is ascendant. 

Terence Crawford defeats Shawn Porter, wins a competitive fight by decision.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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