Dad knows best: Shawn Porter needed a sparring partner — and he turned to his father


Like many athletes around the world, former welterweight titlist Shawn Porter’s career was sidelined when the coronavirus pandemic closed his regular training facilities this spring.

But as May rolled around, Porter and his father/trainer, Kenny Porter, began preparations for a possible late-summer fight.

As they started to get back into sparring sessions, they found that their options in their home city of Las Vegas were limited by the Nevada state guidelines.

So they turned to each other. Shawn sparred with his father.

Just like the old times in Ohio when Shawn was an aspiring amateur, father and son were at it again inside the ring.

As Shawn prepared to face Sebastian Formella on Saturday in a WBC/IBF welterweight eliminator, he and Kenny discussed the unusual twist in their relationship.

Shawn: It was a little awkward. I actually think it took me three or four sparring sessions to actually recognize that my dad is just not the same physically, and neither am I. I had to tone it down a little bit, but I had to do what I had to do, and we had to do what we had to do, at that point in time, just to get back moving. My dad is smart; he felt like that was the best thing to do, and I agreed with him.

Kenny: I had to step out of being a sparring partner to be a coach, and say, ‘Hey, man, you hurt your sparring partner, you’re not going to have nobody.’ Because he was lighting me up; I mean, I was able to defend somewhat. We used the hand pads and body shield to wear him down before I would go in with him, because he was just overwhelming and he wasn’t holding back enough. So when we would slow his energy down by giving him six rounds of work, then I would come in for rounds seven, eight, nine and 10. I did much better with him in that situation.

Shawn: We actually had a couple of laughs during our time sparring this camp. One of the last sessions, I’ll never forget, I threw a fast combination at him, and he took a step back and he started speaking out loud. He was speaking to himself, he said, ‘Man, this is like a video game’ and we just had a good laugh over that one.

Kenny Porter never had a professional career, but he had extensive amateur experience.

Kenny: I fought in the Golden Gloves, Ohio State Fair, and what they used to have before the U.S. Championships, they had what was called the ABF, the Amateur Boxing Federation. I did all that back in the ’90s, and then from there I moved on to winning the Ohio Toughman Contest a couple of times, won the Ohio kickboxing competition. So yeah, I did a lot of fighting.

In 2006, as Shawn was crafting a storied amateur career that included wins over Oleksandr Usyk and Daniel Jacobs, among others, father and son actually competed together.

Shawn: I went to Kansas for the under-19 tournament in 2006, and at that point in time they were also holding the Ringside Tournament at the exact same location. I don’t know what it was that told my dad that he should do it, but he decided to get into that tournament. The weird and funny thing about that is who else is going to work that corner but me? I’m working his corner, I’m going up there trying to be a coach, be serious, make sure my dad wins, make sure my dad makes adjustments, all this kind of stuff — and my dad doesn’t want to hear anything I had to say. My dad was in the ring being a coach, my dad was in the ring telling the referee, ‘Hey, this guy’s doing this, watch out for the ring, it doesn’t feel right, right there,’ all this kind of stuff.

The Porters had great success as they advanced through their respective brackets, both getting all the way to the finals. But only one of them competed in the ring in the final.

Kenny: So I made a coach’s decision the night before the fight. I’m like, ‘I’m not going in here and fighting nobody, and we’ve got to fight the No. 1 guy at that weight class.’ So I coached Shawn, [he won] and he went to the world championships in Morocco.

Shawn: We’ve always sparred, and we’ve always worked. I think that’s the one thing about my dad that separates him from a lot of other coaches. He understands hard work, and he will never do anything but give his all. Which is why even at 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, he would spar with me, he would spar with my brother [Kenneth Porter II]. He felt he was the best thing for us at that point in time. Even now, 32 years old, and I’m sparring with my dad, who is 51, because he understands that at that point in time, it needed to be done. The hard work needed to be done.

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