NEW YORK — They’ve been pals since they were teenagers, but Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter did not let their friendship stand in the way of a hellacious battle Saturday night.
In an old-fashioned fight of the year candidate, Thurman got the job done and eked out a unanimous decision to retain his welterweight world title before a crowd of 12,718 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
All three judges scored the fight 115-113 for Thurman, who successfully defended his 147-pound belt for the third time. ESPN.com also had it 115-113 for Thurman.
“I want to thank Shawn Porter for a tremendous fight. He’s a great warrior,” said Thurman, 27, of Clearwater, Florida. “Shawn brought it today. He was on me. But I knew that defense would be the key to victory. He smothers his punches a lot and it’s very difficult for the judges to give him clear scoring.
“I was able to rock him with clear, effective blows, and I believe that was the key to victory today. He’s in tremendous shape and is a tremendous athlete, and I would love to see him in the ring again if he wanted it.”
Porter was disappointed but said he gave it everything he had.
“At the end of the day, I’m blessed,” said Porter, 28, a native of Akron, Ohio, who fights out of Las Vegas. “We worked hard. Keith is a great champion. My dad [trainer Ken Porter] says to keep your head up. I think I won the fight, but I’m satisfied, because the competitor came out tonight.”
The fight was one of the most anticipated of the year, and Thurman and Porter delivered big time, going toe-to-toe for much of an intense fight, the first main event televised by CBS in prime time since Feb. 15, 1978, when Muhammad Ali lost a 15-round split decision and the heavyweight title to Leon Spinks in a massive upset.
“That was some classic s— right there,” promoter Lou DiBella said. “To have a fight with that kind of anticipation, the best against the best, and you wind up with that kind of fight? A fight that lived up to the expectations, and you didn’t have to pay 75 bucks for it? I love boxing tonight.
“If you’re going to put boxing on CBS for the first time since Muhammad Ali almost 40 years ago, you love that’s what CBS got. This is a good night for boxing.”
And it was worth the wait. The fight was originally scheduled for March 12 but was postponed for three months after Thurman suffered minor injuries in a February car accident. Both fighters were coming off the longest layoffs of their careers — 11 months for Thurman and one year for Porter.
As expected, the fight began with both fighters on the offensive. Porter tried to get inside immediately, and Thurman landed a couple of powerful right hands.
Porter (26-2-1, 16 KOs) drove Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) to the ropes in the second round and began to fire away as the crowd went wild. They stayed in an extended exchange on the ropes, which Porter got the better of in a very good round.
“I gave it a throwback in Round 2 and gave him the rope-a-dope, Muhammad Ali style,” Thurman said. “I was just thinking defense, defense, defense. Defense negates his offense. He had a great offense, but I had a great defense today.”
After Porter, who earned $1 million, was warned for a low blow in the third round, Thurman rocked him with a hard right hand as Porter was coming to him. Porter responded with his own shot that seemed to briefly wobble Thurman as the round was ending.
Thurman, whose purse was $1.4 million, had a huge fourth round, rocking Porter with a left hook and followed up with a right hand and uppercut that buckled Porter’s knees. For the round, Thurman landed 16 of 27 power shots and sent Porter back to his corner looking a bit out of it.
They went back and forth during several middleweight rounds, all of which appeared close.
Porter drove Thurman into the ropes with a body shot late in the eighth round. The fight got wild in the ninth round, which turned into a round of the year candidate after a slow start. They went to the ropes and engaged in an extended exchange, with Porter getting the better of it. But Thurman responded with a huge left hook to the head that wobbled Porter. Over the final 30 seconds of the round, they went toe-to-toe along the ropes as Thurman’s left eye began to swell.
In the 10th round, Thurman buckled Porter with a left hook with about 15 seconds left. Porter was wobbled and nearly went down but came back to land his own shots during the furious final seconds of the round.
They both appeared exhausted in the final round but let it all hang out, perhaps believing the fight was still in doubt. They traded brutal shots as they had done for the previous 11 rounds, and the fight ended with the crowd on its feet.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Thurman landed 235 of 539 punches (44 percent) and Porter landed 236 of 662 (36 percent).
Of course, as soon as the fight ended, the talk turned to a possible rematch.
“There’s got to be a rematch,” DiBella said.
There are some great matches to be made in the talent-rich welterweight division, which also includes titleholders Danny Garcia, Kell Brook — who won his title from Porter by majority decision in 2014 — and Jessie Vargas. There are also former titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. and rising contender Errol Spence Jr., not to mention Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao should they end their retirements.
But Thurman is open to a sequel with his friend.
“I would give him a rematch. It was a great fight. He was a great opponent,” Thurman said. “Everyone was saying would he be my toughest opponent to date. I was unable to drop him. I did rock him. He’s a good athlete.”
Porter certainly wants another crack at Thurman.
“We need that rematch,” Porter said. “I know the fans want that rematch. If he gives me another chance, I’m going to work hard in the ring and leave with his title.”
Hurd knocks out Molina in 10th round
Given an unexpected chance to shine on national television, junior middleweight Jarrett Hurd took full advantage of the opportunity in an impressive 10th-round knockout of fellow unbeaten prospect Oscar Molina.
The fight was not originally scheduled to be part of the CBS telecast but was moved into the co-feature position last week after featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar’s defense against former titleholder Abner Mares was canceled when Mares failed a New York State Athletic Commission eye exam and was not licensed.
“Molina is a great fighter. This is definitely a big win for my career,” Hurd said. “He was taking a lot of shots, but he knew how to survive.”
It was an action-packed fight, but Hurd dominated from the outset. Hurd used a stiff jab to snap Molina’s head back in the first round but then switched up and nailed him with a clean right uppercut that dropped him to a knee late in the round. Molina (13-1, 10 KOs) beat the count, and the round ended seconds later.
“It was a big uppercut that knocked him down in Round 1,” Hurd said. “People know from my last fight that I have a great right uppercut. This fight here puts me up with the top contenders in the division. I felt like I could have gone three or four more rounds. I was getting stronger as the fight went on.”
Hurd (18-0, 12 KOs) repeatedly lashed Molina with short right hands and uppercuts in a dominant performance. Molina tried to go to the body but did not have much success landing anything clean. All the while, Hurd, 25, of Accokeek, Maryland, attacked him with right hands and uppercuts. By the eighth round, Molina, 26, a 2012 Mexican Olympian who lives in Norwalk, California, looked exhausted. His face was busted up, and he had little steam on his punches.
Hurd nearly dropped Molina with a flurry of hard shots in the 10th and final round. He continued to paste Molina until referee Ricky Gonzalez stepped in and waved it off at 2 minutes, 2 seconds.
“We wanted to get him out early because we knew that he had a lot of ring experience,” Hurd said. “We had to break him down first.”
Hurd was closing in on a one-sided decision. At the time of the stoppage, he was ahead 90-80, 88-82 and 87-83.
The CompuBox punch stats were equally one-sided: Hurd landed 275 of 744 punches (37 percent), and Molina landed 126 of 376 (34 percent).