It’s not the Mandalay Bay, STAPLES Center, Barclays Center or any other huge venue Kenny Porter has worked as the coach for his son Shawn. But it’s boxing, he has a chance for his fighters to get work and better themselves, and that love is still there, even if it’s in a strip mall in Atlanta.
“I've seen worse than that,” said Porter, who has unbeaten prospects Mikhail Montgomery and Hendri Cedeno in action at the Buckhead Fight Club on Saturday. “I went across the border to Mexico with Maliek (Montgomery), and that was no fun. If you heard those stories, they're true, trust me.”
Porter laughs, recalling a recent visit with the unbeaten featherweight.
“There was one fight I took Maliek to, and his opponent did not show up. And the two trainers that had other fighters on the same show who were supposed to bring the opponent who didn't show up, they looked at each other, asked for more money, and one of the trainers decided to take the fight against Maliek and I had to buy him a pair of tennis shoes to fight him. I can't make that up. He said if you pay for my hotel and you buy me a pair of tennis shoes, I'll fight him.”
It’s a far cry from what he’s experienced during his son’s run as one of the best welterweights in the world, but there has to be a little part of him that goes through these situations and laughs about them later, knowing that he will have stories to tell for years to come.
Or maybe not.
“To be honest with you, I definitely would like things to be the way they're supposed to be,” he said. “It's what I call the fight before the fight.”
A fight is stressful enough, so having to deal with other issues in the lead-up to the opening bell isn’t the preferred option. So what is the payoff after all these years?
“The payoff is if I can change these guys' life outside the ring, as well as in the ring,” he said. “But outside the ring, make them better people. I'm doing this altruistically. I get nothing out of it, monetarily. I spend a lot, but it I can change their life, if one day they can sit down and exhale and say, ‘Man, my life's different now, I did this because Kenny Porter helped me,’ that makes it worth it to me. And if they, in turn, do the sane thing for someone else, and do the same things for their own children.”
A no nonsense disciplinarian in the best sense of the phrase, Porter did change his son’s life for the better, and if anyone ever dealt with Shawn Porter over the course of his career, they’ll readily admit that the former welterweight champion is one of the sport’s true good guys. That’s a testament to Kenny Porter’s guidance, and also his tough love. That tough love was never more evident than in his son’s November bout against Terence Crawford, when Kenny threw in the towel after two tenth round knockdowns. And as far as he’s concerned, it wasn’t a tough call to make.
“No, it wasn't, because first of all, he's my son and I recognized that he wasn't doing the things that he normally would do,” said Porter. “Not because he didn't have the ability, but because, as I said at the end, it was the preparation. I didn't see the preparation that I needed to see. I saw things like that going into it and I warned him that things could happen and go bad for him, but he chose to do it his way. And he left me in a situation where I had to make sure he’s safe and protect him from yourself. And to that point, I actually thought he was doing a good job, but again, what was your end goal here? Was your end goal in preparation to do everything you could do and leave no stone unturned? So that's kind of where we were at with it.”
It was a father’s love on full display, and with Shawn not protesting Kenny’s call, another reason why in a sport where most father-son business relationships are poison, this one worked.
“It's a very small list, and you could put Shawn and myself on that list,” said Porter. We think of others that worked, and after some thought, I come up with the Trinidads, Don Felix and Felix. Porter smiles.
“The beautiful thing about the Trinidads, and this is one of the highlights of me being involved in boxing, was that I was at the Boxing Hall of Fame in Nevada some years ago, and Felix literally started running towards me really fast and he was pulling his dad with him and said, ‘I want you to meet this man and his son.’ And that was like opening up a Christmas present or having a great birthday or hitting the lottery for me. I was like, ‘You really know who we are and you brought your dad to meet me?’ That was amazing to me.”
When Porter tells stories like these, you can tell that for as hard-nosed as he is, the love of the game is still there. He recalls being in Morocco for the 2006 Under-19 World Championships and a memorable meeting that took place after Shawn lost a controversial decision to Cuba’s Luis Garcia.
“Shawn just cleans up on this Cuban and it was a great fight,” said Porter. “We were very happy and they announced the decision and we didn't get it. We were shocked. The team manager comes over and he brings one of his guys with him, one of the assistant coaches, and they gave me a gift and he said, ‘Your son won that fight, your son will be a world champion one day.’ It was Teofilo.”
It got better, as Porter’s meeting with Cuban legend Teofilo Stevenson turned into a lot more.
“When we got ready to leave Morocco, his assistant trainers were on a different flight from him, and they came over to me and they said, ‘Mr. Teo really, really likes you and your son, and since you're flying on the same flight, can you make sure that he's safe?’ And I said, absolutely. Then our flight gets delayed, they now have to put us in a hotel and we sat up all night long and he told me all the stories of all the guys he fought from the United States over all these years, when he made Tyrell Biggs cry, how they offered him a million dollars to fight Muhammad Ali and all of these things. I actually had this moment with this guy.”
Moments like that are priceless, and Porter has had many of them. Will there be any more in the ring with his son, who is now enjoying retirement?
“Well, I don't know how long he's gonna do that, but he's making movies right now,” he said. “He's doing TV with FOX and NBC for the Olympics last year. Those are the things that he's doing, but I get the feeling that when you're sitting there, commentating all the time on the fights and also playing a fighter in a movie, that he's gonna actually want to do it again.”
So has Shawn been back in the gym?
“I haven't seen him in the gym,” said dad. “I heard stories, but I have not seen him.”
“Just last week I came into a fitness gym and a guy comes up to me, 'Hey, you know Shawn was in here this morning.'”
“His mind has gotta be in the right place,” said Kenny Porter, another one of the good guys of boxing. That can’t be as easy to do as it sounds, not in this business.
“Honestly, it hasn't been difficult from a standpoint of the individuals that God has chosen for me to work with,” he said. “I could be someone that just said, ‘Hey, everybody, I'm Shawn Porter's dad and we've got a gym in Vegas. Everybody come on out here and train.’ But I'm not that person that's going to invite all those people to the party. I didn't do that and I don't do that, and I really move in a more spiritual way of who I should work with. So it hasn't been difficult from that standpoint. I believe the guys that I work with and am doing things with right now are worthy of my time. What they do with that time depends on them. Sometimes I'm talking to them and I'm saying, listen, don't take this for granted, don't blow this, because I'm still the guy that will shut you down. I'm still the guy who will say, hey, you're not giving me one hundred or you're not doing the things that I expect of you inside and outside of the ring. Those are things guys have to deal with with me. There's zero tolerance there. There's no playing in boxing - you play football, play basketball, play baseball, but you don't play boxing.”
Porter doesn’t play, either. And everyone knows it. Hey, the Trinidads and Teofilo Stevenson can’t be wrong. Isn’t that what the kids call real recognizing real?
“No, that's what we were saying,” he laughs. “They say something different now.”