Errol Spence and Mario Barrios Win Titles in Tough Fights

By David Greisman


Errol Spence Defeats Game Porter to Unify, Eyes Danny Garcia Fight Next

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In a stable full of talent, it is Errol Spence who is being groomed for greatness.


Spence, one of several welterweights fighting under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, is the one who is beginning to headline pay-per-views. He is the one who boxing fans want to see face Terence Crawford — the lone top 147-pounder not with PBC. He is the one welterweight that Manny Pacquiao is staying away from.


Greatness isn’t something that is merely bestowed upon a fighter. It is recognition that is earned, accumulated with a combination of easy victories and gritty performances against tough opponents.


We don’t yet know whether Spence will be great. But he took his most significant step forward yet on Saturday night in Los Angeles, fighting through a particularly tough fight with Shawn Porter, leaving with a split decision victory and unifying two world titles in the process.


Spence was the favored fighter, and for good reason. He is the fighter on the rise, the fighter with all-around ability, a good boxer with speed and power. He won his world title by beating Kell Brook — who had himself dethroned Porter five years ago. Porter, meanwhile, had been good but never great. He was in close fights with other good welterweights, dropping a narrow decision to Keith Thurman in 2016, winning a narrow decision over Danny Garcia last year. And yet he’d been fortunate to get the nod against Yordenis Ugas in March.


Ugas is no slouch. He’s also no Spence. This was going to be a tough fight for Porter. He also needed to make it a tough fight for Spence. Porter’s world title, his leverage in a talented division, was on the line in this fight.

Porter didn’t win. But he can’t be written off either.


That’s because he gave Spence a difficult battle, exerting consistent pressure, getting inside and landing, making Spence work hard for the win. Porter is unorthodox, charging forward like a football player, footwork taking him through shots and allowing punches to come in at odd angles.


It wasn’t the fight Spence wanted, and yet it was a fight in which Spence was still capable. With Porter on the inside in Round 3, Spence often went to the body — and often veered even lower — forcing Porter to drop his gloves, then following up with hooks to the head. Porter amped up the volume even more in Round 4, throwing a fight-high 90 punches, according to CompuBox, including a good left hand that landed high on Spence’s head.


Spence tried to change things up in Round 5, coming forward to put Porter in reverse. Porter soon reversed that, though Porter’s output slowed in this round and in Round 6, all while Spence continued to land with pinpoint accuracy, scoring with nearly half of his power punches. On multiple occasions, Spence trapped Porter on the ropes and let his hands go. Each time, Porter deftly maneuvered his way off the ropes.


The rounds were often close, each man finding opportunities to score. Spence controlled the beginning of Round 8. Porter got in a flush shot that sent a message. Spence threw a nice combination. Porter wrapped up the round with a pair of right hands.


There are benefits and downsides to Porter’s style. He can maul his opponents, wear them down. He throws a lot, and much of it misses, but that output means that not everything can be blocked or evaded. Yet at times his offense is his defense, and Porter leaves himself vulnerable to a quick, well-placed shot.


That’s why Porter, who was clearly beating Adrien Broner in 2015, had to get up off the canvas in Round 12. And that’s why Porter got dropped in Round 11 against Spence on Saturday night. Porter dipped down to throw a left hook, dropping his right glove just enough to invite in a short, powerful hook from Spence.


Porter rose, ready as always to keep the fight going, and soon had Spence on the ropes. Spence was fresher, though, and finished the fight strong.


There was still a question over who had won. The rounds were close, and it depended on what — and therefore whom — the judges favored.


The result was a split decision, something that can be debated but not derided. Not every close fight is controversial. One judge had it 115-112 for Porter, eight rounds to four with a point deducted for the knockdown. The other two judges had it eight to four the other way, seeing Spence the victor with 116-111 tallies.


The judges actually agreed on seven of the 12 rounds: They gave Round 2 to Porter, Round 4 to Porter, Round 5 to Spence, Round 6 to Spence, Round 7 to Porter, Round 11 to Spence, and Round 12 to Spence.


The difference is judges Ray Danseco and Steve Weisfeld favored Spence much of the rest of the time, giving him four of the other five rounds, while judge Larry Hazzard gave Spence the nod for all five of them.


With that, Spence moved to 26-0 with 21 knockouts. There are some who will judge him negatively for this performance, who will say that it shows he’s not as great as the hype proclaimed him to be, that he wouldn’t stand a chance against the likes of Terence Crawford. That’s both fair and unfair. The thing is this: Porter is a good fighter. He deserves credit for giving Spence the tough fight. Spence didn’t have an easy night, but he had it in him to deal with adversity and come through it.

Not that Spence will be facing Crawford any time soon. The politics and business relationships in the sport will continue to stand in the way of that. But Spence still has options, one of whom shared the ring with him during the post-fight interview — Danny Garcia. Although Garcia doesn’t have a world title, he’s still a solid welterweight who’s come up just short in recent fights. He’ll present a different kind of challenge for Spence, and Garcia has the kind of power and counter-punching ability that’ll make him a live underdog.


Porter fell to 30-3-1 with 17 KOs. It’s another setback, though he remains in the mix. Perhaps now is the time for Porter to get the rematch with Keith Thurman. Both are coming off defeats. Both need a good win to get another shot at the top.


Mario Barrios Picks Up World Title in Close Fight With Akhmedov

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The scores, all in favor of Mario Barrios, make it look like he clearly beat Batyr Akhmedov. The fact that Barrios knocked Akhmedov down twice may seem like the proverbial icing on the cake, further proof of his dominance.


In truth, Barrios didn’t dominate Akhmedov. It was a close fight, and a case can be made that Barrios didn’t deserve to win either.


Nevertheless, Barrios left with the unanimous decision victory, a world title around his waist, and plenty to work on going forward.


This was a fight between two young, undefeated junior welterweight contenders. Barrios is 24 years old and came in with a record of 24-0 with 16 knockouts. He’d scored eight straight wins by KO or TKO. He’d been stepping up his level of opposition and was coming off a stoppage of Juan Jose Velasco, who’d recently been in the ring with 140-pound star Regis Prograis.


Akhmedov hadn’t been a pro for nearly as long. He’d entered the paid ranks after competing in the 2016 Olympics and was 7-0 with 6 KOs. He too had beaten someone who’d been in with good fighters, knocking out Ismael Barroso last year; Barroso had once lost a title shot against Anthony Crolla.


This was going to be a real test. And Barrios seemed to gain an edge in the fourth round, when he dropped Akhmedov with a left hook to the chin and another to the side of the head. Akhmedov’s glove touched the canvas. Akhmedov wasn’t badly hurt, but he was in danger of losing the round, and so what was once a tactical bout quickly broke out into steady action.


“The plan was to gradually grow the activity,” said Akhmedov, according to quotes sent out via press release. “I knew that I had to win by a wide margin. After the first knockdown, I knew that I had to add activity more quickly than I had planned. So I started being more aggressive. I did everything I could to try to stop him.”


Akhmedov continued to pressure Barrios, who spent much of Round 5 boxing and looking for counters. It wasn’t Barrios’ preferred type of fight, and Akhmedov was making him uncomfortable. An accidental head butt also opened up a cut over Barrios’ left eye in Round 7. The wound bothered Barrios, whose output and effectiveness dropped. Barrios had more success evading Akhmedov’s shots in Round 9. And then he got staggered in Round 10. He looked weary and was having a hard time keeping his gloves up.


Barrios’ corner had told him they needed to win the final few rounds. It seemed momentous, then, when Barrios dropped Akhmedov in Round 12. Barrios had thrown a jab. Akhmedov moved his head to one side, then brought it back. Barrios was ready, catching him with a right hand. Akhmedov got up immediately but was still buzzed.


Perhaps Barrios had done enough in the last round to seize the victory. Perhaps it was too little, too late. Akhmedov, after all, had thrown far more and outlanded Barrios as well, going 238 of 924, according to CompuBox, while Barrios was 135 of 772.


In reality, the last round hadn’t mattered. Barrios was already ahead. The final scores were 114-112 — six rounds apiece, with two extra points deducted from Akhmedov for the knockdowns — 115-111 (seven rounds to five), and 116-111 (eight rounds to four).


“I knew this was going to be a war,” Barrios said afterward. “He was getting dirty in there, but the Mexican warrior in me was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I dug deep and got the victory.”


It wasn’t a clear win, and it’s not going to give Barrios the boost in momentum that he may have otherwise had with a more decisive victory. But he’s leaving with the WBA’s “regular” 140-pound title — Prograis is the organization’s “super” titleholder, because boxing is silly and confusing. That can boost his confidence, and he can return to the gym, learn from this tough fight and work on shoring up his weaknesses.


Akhmedov, meanwhile, will deserve another chance.


“The judges see better than I can from the ring,” he said. “I did everything I could. I thought I won the fight. They decided that he won the fight. When I watch the fight, I’ll be able to tell you what it looked like. My job is to do everything to win. The judges are supposed to judge correctly. I tried to do everything I could. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to handle his experience, but he was on the ropes most of the fight. I beat him up, and I thought I won the fight.”


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