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It has been a long road, but Shawn Porter has truly hit ‘Showtime’ by just being himself

It’s the middle of August, and WBC welterweight champion Shawn Porter is hovering over a plate of vegetables inside of a restaurant in the Southern Highlands area of Las Vegas. For a man who is about to have the biggest fight of his life against Errol Spence Jr. on Sept. 28 in Los Angeles, the 31-year-old is pretty understated in this relatively empty place of service on this warm Wednesday evening.

He’s a regular at the establishment, so the waitress greets him like a longtime friend, and a few of the patrons wave in his direction.

“Good luck, champ!” a voice yells from across the room. Aside from that, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the restaurant was blessed with the presence of a two-time world champion. Well, he’s more than just a champion. He hosts Fox’s weekly television show “Inside PBC Boxing,” fought Keith Thurman in the first main event televised by CBS in prime time since 1978 (Ali vs. Spinks) to the tune of 3.1 million viewers, and drew roughly 2.4 million viewers for his 2015 showdown with Adrien Broner.

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He may not be a superstar of the highest order, but he has been visible more than the average man.

Yet, here he is, after a long day of training, public speaking, church and daddy duty for his son Shaddai, dressed in an unassuming blue and white tank top with gray shorts and a baseball cap covering his twisted hair. No jewelry or entourage in sight.  

“Honestly, man, I’m very, very soft spoken,” Porter says as he sits back in his chair. “I’ll go in a room and if you don’t know me, you’ll never know that I was there. I’ve always been that way, timid in a lot of ways. I don’t like making new friends.”

Porter is correct in an assessment of himself. But the proper lens to view Porter is humble. Despite the money he has banked as a prize fighter, he lacks an ego and often flashes a megawatt smile to pair with his welcoming personality.

His persona inside the ring, however, is a disturbing departure from that — he steamrolls opponents with his ruthless aggression, overwhelming physical strength and a seemingly infinite gas tank. With a record of 30-2-1 (17 KOs), Porter has firmly established himself as a volatile threat in the 147-pound division who has never turned down a challenge.

Detractors – including his opponent on Saturday – have called his physically imposing technique “football style,” where he bulls forward and looks to overwhelm his opponents with sheer volume and conditioning. A look at his devastating tour de force against Paulie Malignaggi and Andre Berto give a glimpse into the taxing style that he imposes on his foes.

And a great deal of that has to do with his outspoken father and trainer, Kenny Porter.

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Shawn Porter was an admittedly hyperactive kid who always found himself either running around the house or fighting with his older brothers. Kenny decided that the best way to channel that energy was to put a football in one of his 5-year-old son’s hands and laced a boxing glove on the other. It was either fight or flight from the beginning, and Kenny Porter wanted his son to be able to do both exceptionally well. He also wanted to be there every step of the way to protect his boy from the harsh world outside of the four walls of the Porter household.

The elder Porter grew up in an impoverished and drug-infested area of Cleveland and was determined to get as far away from the chaos as possible after a tumultuous childhood.

When he was 4 years old, he watched as has younger brother was struck and killed by a car commandeered by a drunken driver. Later on, he witnessed his mother’s boyfriend gunned down right in front of him. Kenny Porter decided that a blue-collar lifestyle would keep him out of trouble and put him on the path to raise his three sons properly.

As a father who understood the structure and discipline boxing and football provided, Kenny eagerly got his sons into both. Shawn quickly took to football as a standout high school athlete in Akron, Ohio, but later decided team sports weren’t his thing, and shifted his focus to boxing.

“The thing that I loved most about football was the thing I hated the most. I loved the team, I loved the comradery, but I hated that 10 other guys had to have the same love, and heart, and drive, and skill and talent that I did in order to succeed,” he says.

“I told my dad that I wanted to box, and he said, ‘Well, what about football?’ I said that I don’t have to rely on anybody else. It’s just me. I can control that, and I know I can do it.”

Few, if any, can squeeze blood from a stone like Kenny can by getting the best out his son. The two possess vastly different personalities — Kenny is dutifully outspoken and assertive — but the clash of personalities works for the father and son team.

Earlier in that day back in the middle of August, Kenny chastised his son for not giving his best effort while hitting the mitts. A disgruntled Kenny halted the drill, looked his son in the eyes and questioned his effort as only Kenny Porter can. He was curt, but his message got through to his son. Sixty seconds later, Shawn Porter was pulverizing the mitts.

“Not to say that he put me through anything traumatizing, but I think just my dad has always had a short fuse,” Porter explains. “I always wanted to do my best just so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. So good grades in school, not drinking, not smoking, not getting in trouble in school or women, things like that. All of that stuff came because not only did I not want to disappoint my dad, but I never wanted to make my dad mad.

“If there was something that kind of molded me into who I am now, it would be my dad. Whether it be going through adversity with a smile on my face, understanding that nothing matters other than winning and what it takes to win. All of that I think came from him.”

Many father and son boxing duos have busted at the seams because the lines between father-son and student-teacher are often blurred. But Shawn Porter makes it clear that there has never, ever been a misunderstanding of who is in charge when it comes to fighting. 

“There’s been plenty of times I felt like this is unnecessary, this is too much,” he says. “But I realized that the best thing is him really not having the understanding that sometimes he may have been going too hard. It took me actually realizing how my effort wasn’t the same with any other coach, teacher or trainer in my life for me to recognize that I need this man in my life.”

MORE: Everything you need to know about Spence vs. Porter

Under the watchful eye of Kenny, Shawn Porter amassed an exceptional amateur career record of 276-14 with victories over the likes of current professionals Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade. Interestingly enough, Porter originally competed as a super middleweight (165 pounds) when he turned pro in 2008 and went 16-0 before dropping to the 147-pound division in 2010. Despite an excellent amateur career and a pro career on the rise, Porter struggled making enough money to sustain his career.

Coinciding with his downshift to welterweight, Porter had a year that challenged his faith in the sport that he loved.

“Nobody knows this, but I was looking for a job in 2011,” Porter reveals.

Although he was undefeated, a contract disputed kept him outside of a boxing ring from February 2011 until April 2012.

“I didn’t have a college education, so I actually applied at a couple of hotels to do housekeeping.”

With no income and his boxing career in limbo, Porter found himself sleeping on couches and eating food from the local gas station to survive. Down to his last dimes, Porter was called in for an interview with the Embassy Suites and laid it all on the line.

“I told the guy, I said, ‘Listen, I know I don’t have any work experience or a resume, but if you want my resume, it’s on YouTube. Type my name on YouTube, you’ll see interviews and you’ll see me boxing. That’s what I really do,’” he recalls.

Porter recalls humbling himself for the opportunity and getting a call back. But the world works in mysterious ways, and a second phone call followed his new job opportunity that would alter his future forever.

“Al Haymon ended up sending me to camp with Keith Thurman so that I could make some money,” he says. “Shortly after that, we finally got out of that long deal, and I started back fighting.”

Porter’s career has been exceptional. He previously held the IBF welterweight title before dropping it in a controversial decision to Kell Brook in 2014. He dropped a hotly-contested decision to Keith Thurman in 2016, but became a two-time champion when he upended then-unbeaten Danny Garcia in 2018 to become the WBC champion.

But Porter realized something along the way.

Just being a fighter wasn’t enough. Looking to diversify in an effort to have a life after boxing, Porter has another “job” as a boxing analyst.

Back in August, Porter was in Los Angeles on the FOX Studio lot, wearing two hats as both the host of “Inside PBC Boxing” and also engaging in some back and forth with his opponent on Sept. 28, Errol Spence Jr.

Alongside fellow fighter Abner Mares and sports broadcaster Kate Abdo, Porter fits in nicely. He’s sharp, and his assessments of the fight game gleaned from years of experience are often spot on. But he doesn’t rely on his instincts alone, as he takes time to study the craft. As much as it is about not embarrassing himself, it’s about being the best at what he does, regardless of what it is.

Although admittedly soft spoken, like his nickname suggests, it’s “Showtime” when the lights come on.

“As uncomfortable as I may feel or get just on a day-to-day speaking to someone who’s a complete stranger, I’m completely comfortable talking about what I know,” he says. “Once the lights are on, just like in the boxing ring, it’s showtime. I prefer to do everything live because there’s no take-backs or do-overs.”

*****

It’s searing outside as Porter addresses the Canyon Springs High School football team after a hard day of practice. But despite the heat reaching into the 100s, Porter takes no issue spending time with these teenagers.

“They were just out here practicing hard, so what would I look like saying it’s too hot?” he asks.

Porter discusses bible scripture, the mentality of being a champion and the challenges of staying out of trouble during your teenage years. His son looks on with a football in his hand as his father addresses the group. Later, Shaddai starts shadowboxing. Porter catches a quick look at his son and smiles.

“Like father, like son,” he beams.

After he takes a few pictures and shakes hands, one student talks about how “real” Porter was with the young athletes.

“You just felt authentic,” the high school student says.

“That’s how you become successful: by being authentic,” Porter responds.

The 16-year-old nods his head and takes off for the locker room. Porter turns to pick up his son and seems satisfied that he got through to the kids.

MORE: Porter feels past adversity gives him advantage over Spence

The biggest life lesson that Shawn Porter has learned is a simple one: be yourself.

He recalls a time where when he was asked to speak at a detention center in Akron and spent much of his time preparing by figuring out how to fit in. He changed how he talked and used different slang so that he would earn respect from those who weren’t like him.

Needless to say, he bombed.

“My dad asked me ‘Son, what was that?” Porter says. “I told him that I was just trying to speak their language. But my dad told me to be myself and they’ll respect me more that way. I haven’t been anything but myself ever since.”

This has translated to his boxing style, and the criticism he’s received from it. Spence has gone as far as to suggest that Porter is a “dirty” fighter who opts to use his head and elbows rather than his fists to brutalize his opponents.

There was a time that Porter would have taken those words to heart and made an attempt to fit in by becoming more of a “boxer.” However, what makes Porter a world champion is his resistance to change to appease the naysayers. Instead, Porter brings his bruising style to the ring and dares you to stop him.

Against Spence, Porter will be a considerable underdog. But it’s undeniable that the 31-year-old will present the undefeated IBF champion his stiffest test to date due to Porter’s relentless style.  

Unlike his opponent, Porter didn’t turn pro to a lot of fanfare, nor was he ever considered to be the next big thing. Instead, he put his head down and pounded his way to the top. Like the blue-collar workers from his home state of Ohio, Porter has worked for everything he has and will be damned if another man works harder than him to take what he has.

“LeBron James said it best, ‘In Northeast Ohio, everything is earned, nothing is given.’ I live by that, man, so you talk about me fighting Errol Spence and me being counted out — he’s going to knock me out? Just wait. I work hard to get what I want, and the same thing holds true against Errol Spence. I know I have what it takes to beat him, and it’s only a matter of time before I shock the world.”

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