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Column: Errol Spence Jr. vs. Shawn Porter is an appetizer to a main course that may never get served

Errol Spence Jr v Shawn Porter - Press Conference
Errol Spence Jr., right, and Shawn Porter attend a news conference Aug. 13 at Staples Center. The two will face off in a welterweight contest Saturday.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Before the news conference descended into the kind of contrived chaos for which boxing is known, a reporter in attendance overcame a personal crisis of his own. He found his misplaced wallet.

“Why would you worry?” a nearby boxing official said with a hearty laugh. “There are only honest people here.”

The official was kidding, of course.

Boxing remains a realm of smoke and mirrors, perhaps even more so now with the sport’s talent pool shallower than it’s ever been. Fights rarely sell themselves anymore.

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The latest questionable pay-per-view offering will be staged Saturday at Staples Center. The main event, a welterweight contest between unbeaten Errol Spence Jr. and twice-defeated Shawn Porter, has been advertised as a matchup of two world champions. In actuality, it’s an appetizer before a main course — a main course that might never be served.

Errol Spence is ready to break out and become a household name in boxing. Saturday’s fight against Shawn Porter will be his toughest test yet.

The affable Porter is the 147-pound champion of one of boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies, but his true purpose in this promotion is considerably less glamorous.

He is a gatekeeper, which is industry jargon for a good-but-not-great fighter who tests the legitimacy of an up-and-coming star. Spence is the star in the making here. If Spence has any glaring weaknesses, the hard-nosed Porter’s swarming style could expose them. But if Spence is the fighter he appears to be, Porter shouldn’t be too formidable an obstacle.

The fight is significant because of what it could lead to: A showdown between Spence and Terence Crawford, pound-for-pound the No. 1 fighter in the world.

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But many are skeptical whether Spence will ever fight Crawford, starting with Spence’s trainer Derrick James, who said, “That’s not even a conversation.”

James offered financial reasons for why the fight is unlikely to happen.

“He doesn’t sell,” James said of Crawford.

James conveniently neglected to mention that Spence is also an unproven commodity on the pay-per-view market — opponent Mikey Garcia was the main attraction in Spence’s previous venture into the platform — but that didn’t diminish the main point of his argument. A fight against Crawford wouldn’t generate the revenue, and, by extension, the payday, that would make such a risk worthwhile for the parties involved.

Complicating the situation is that Crawford is promoted by Top Rank and Spence is managed by Al Haymon, the head of Premier Boxing Champions. Top Rank’s broadcast partner is ESPN and PBC is Fox.

Jose Benavidez, Terence Crawford
Terence Crawford delivers an uppercut right to Jose Benavidez on Oct. 13 in Omaha, Neb. A showdown between Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. might not be potentially lucrative enough to happen.
(Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

A Spence-Crawford match would have to make monetary sense not only for the fighters, but also these other entities.

“That’s why [you shouldn’t] talk about the fight,” James said.

The situation highlights one of boxing’s greatest failings, which is the frequent disparity between merit and compensation.

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In most sports, the best athletes are generally the ones who are the highest-paid. Ability counts in boxing, too, but not as much. Everything from a fighter’s appearance to ethnic background factor into the ability to sell tickets or pay-per-view broadcasts, which, in turn, determines how much the fighter is paid.

The best fighter is rarely the highest-paid and taking on the most dangerous opponent is often not the most lucrative option.

The result is that what’s best for a fighter’s legacy isn’t what’s best for his bank account and vice versa. Fighters such as Spence often have to decide whether they want to write their names into the sport’s history books or maximize their earnings.

In Spence’s case, his options are represented by his two most talked-about potential opponents. One is Crawford, a 31-year-old improvisational maestro at the peak of his powers. The other is Manny Pacquiao, a 40-year-old global icon who would subject himself to a legalized form of elder abuse if he shared a ring with Spence.

Crawford would be a career-defining opponent. Pacquiao would ensure Spence’s children never have to work a day in their lives.

Asked whether he valued more how history will remember him or how much he is paid, Spence replied, “I think both. History can remember me and me be dead broke. I want to leave this game with my brain intact and money in my pocket.”

Shawn Porter is confident he can beat Errol Spence Jr. when the two fight at Staples Center on Sept. 28. “Spence hasn’t been in a ring with an animal like me.”

So it’s really no surprise that Spence wants Pacquiao next, even if the sport’s remaining fans are clamoring for a fight against Crawford.

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Spence insisted he was confident he would take on Crawford in 2020 or 2021.

“I want it to happen,” Spence said.

His trainer wasn’t as certain.

“No promoter promotes the fight for legacy,” James said. “Promoters promote fights to make money.

“The fight has to be worth more. Until that, it’s not even worth talking about.”

This isn’t Spence’s fault. Who can blame him for not wanting to end up penniless and brain damaged?

The responsibility is that of the sport’s power brokers, who have allowed boxing to look more and more like professional wrestling as they have prioritized storylines over actual substance.

If boxing wants to continue to be treated like a real sport, like actual competition, something has to be done about this.


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