Column: Shawn Porter’s rise in life and boxing is a reflection of his father’s principles
With every jab he flicked, every feint he made, his reluctance gradually diminished.
Until, finally, muscle memory overwhelmed his apprehension.
It was at that moment that former world boxing champion Shawn Porter unleashed a 10- or 15-punch combination on his sparring partner, his 54-year-old father, Kenny.
The elder Porter laughed this week as he recalled the scene in a Las Vegas gym six weeks earlier, which marked the start of preparations for Shawn’s fight on Saturday night at the Microsoft Theater against light-punching welterweight Sebastian Formella.
“The punches were coming so fast,” said Kenny, a former amateur boxer. “It was like I was in a video game, the old ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.’”
Even after father warned son that he wouldn’t have a sparring partner if he hurt his dad, the sessions continued for another three weeks until a professional fighter was brought in.
There was no other choice. Shawn had to spar and they didn’t want to risk inviting an outsider to their camp during a pandemic.
Boxer Shawn Porter knows how to pack a punch, but that isn’t stopping his father, Kenny, from entering the ring to take part in sparring sessions with his son.
In their world, what Kenny did was entirely normal. Kenny’s offer confirmed what Shawn already knew: To help him, his father would do anything, including compromising his safety by sharing a ring with one of the best 147-pound fighters in the world.
You know the baseball dad who stopped catching his son when he started throwing too hard? Kenny isn’t that father. So what if they hadn’t sparred since Shawn, 32, was a teenager?
“That’s what makes us special,” Shawn said.
If parents are measured by the adults their children become, Kenny Porter is a world-class father.
In boxing circles, Shawn is widely recognized as a model citizen, humble in victory and gracious in defeat. He is serious about his work, but has a lighthearted sense of humor that suggests he doesn’t take himself very seriously. He has a warm smile and is well-spoken, which is why he has found additional employment as a commentator on Premier Boxing Champions broadcasts.
“I think I am now who he wanted me to be,” Shawn said.
Kenny was raised by a single mother in the Cleveland area. He grew up without any male role models. He overcame what he didn’t know by adhering to a simple principle.
“It was easy when I put the boys first,” Kenny said.
Mindful of the quality of school districts, Kenny moved with his boys to Cuyahonga Falls, a suburb of Akron, Ohio.
Life was regimented for the Porter boys. They woke up early every morning and before heading to school studied in the break room of the hospital where their father worked. In the afternoon, they practiced the sport they were involved in at the time, whether it was boxing, football or track and field. They were assigned chores. They attended church. They were expected to do well academically. Whatever they did, Kenny implored, they did it well.
“The way you do one thing is the way you do everything,” Kenny said.
Older son Kenneth II became a national champion amateur boxer. So did Shawn, who turned professional after graduating from high school.
With his father as his trainer, Shawn used his trademark swarming style to capture his first welterweight championship in 2013. He lost his belt the following year, but won a different version of the title in 2017.
Last year, he dropped a split decision to the undefeated Errol Spence in a unification match that was considered one of the best fights of 2019.
His bout against Formella could set up a rematch with Spence or a lucrative confrontation with 41-year-old Manny Pacquiao.
Over a 12-year career in which he has compiled a 34-3-1 record, Shawn has remained close to his father, so much so that he moved back in with him to train for his most recent fight.
The Porters are the exception to the rule that something is bound to go wrong in any father-son relationship in boxing.
“A lot of times,” Shawn said, “the father doesn’t want to recognize the sons are growing.”
In the Porters’ case, Kenny was strict but also gave Shawn space. And the more Shawn matured, the more space he was given. As a teenager, for example, he was allowed to spend time at friends’ houses, something he rarely did when he was younger.
“I was ready for it once it was given to me,” Shawn said.
He was comfortable enough under his father’s watch to continue living with Kenny until just four years ago. When he moved out, he remained close to his dad’s Las Vegas residence.
Several months ago, Kenny received a text message from Shawn asking him to go to a particular address. Kenny entered the location into MapQuest, which told him the place was only a tenth of a mile away.
The navigation system guided him to a house. Shawn was there. They were now neighbors.
Shawn has two sons, 2-year-old Shaddai and 1-month-old Adonai, and intends on raising them similar to how he was raised.
“I appreciate and love the way I grew up,” Shawn said.
Shawn married the mother of his children in January.
Fox announcer Thom Brennaman used a homophobic slur, but the bigger issue is the culture that made him believe he was in a safe space to make the remark.
“My mom and dad weren’t married,” he said. “That’s one major change.”
In recent months, Kenny has often started his day by walking his dog — or getting walked by his dog, depending on the perspective.
“My dog drags me because he loves Shawn’s son,” Kenny said with a chuckle.
Kenny considers himself fortunate and not because his son is a famous boxer.
“The boxing is just extra,” Kenny said. “When this boxing thing is over, he still gets to be my son. I still get to be his father.”
And his former sparring partner.
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