The coronavirus pandemic-caused lockdown had just begun, and former welterweight champion Shawn Porter needed a place to train.
No problem. Kenny Porter hung a heavy bag from a tree in his backyard for his son to hit.
It wasn’t long before Shawn Porter needed a sparring partner he knew was COVID-19 free.
No problem. Kenny Porter laced on a pair of gloves.
”None of us were comfortable with having anyone come over,” Shawn Porter said. ”My dad said: ‘Hey, you’ve got to spar. I’ll be your partner until we get this figured out.”’
For three weeks, the Porters mixed it up in a makeshift backyard ring. In 100-degree Las Vegas heat, they sparred twice a week until Kenny Porter finally decided it was time for a father-son talk.
”Each time we sparred I did a little better,” Kenny Porter said. ”I guess he saw my levels start to rise and the dude just started to tee off on me again. I finally went to his corner and said, ‘If you beat up your sparring partner you’re not going to have anyone to spar with.”’
Kenny Porter should have known better to begin with. He taught his son to fight only one way, no matter who was in the ring against him.
Even his dad.
”It was great work and great moments in the ring,” Shawn Porter said. ”In some capacity I wasn’t looking forward to it because I can’t go all-out. I mean, he is my dad. I think I did that twice and he finally said, save it for the fight, save it for the ring.”
The real fight comes Saturday night when Porter returns to the ring for the first time in nearly a year, taking on Germany’s Sebastian Formella at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The bout is the main event of a card televised by the Fox network.
Kenny Porter will be in his son’s corner, as he has been since he first put on gloves at the age of 4. Father-son teams are nothing new in boxing, but the Porters stand out because of how successful they’ve been and how close they remain.
So close that Shawn Porter lived in his father’s house until he was 28. So close that, now married and with two sons of his own, Shawn Porter bought a house in December across the street from his father even though he already lived nearby.
”He was just two (traffic) lights away from me before, but he wanted to be across the street,” Kenny Porter said. ”He said, ‘I thought it would be cool to walk over to your house and see you any time.”’
Shawn Porter would eventually get sparring partners as his fight got closer. The backyard gym grew, too. What began as a heavy bag became a collection of equipment set up in stations surrounding the swimming pool.
And it wasn’t long before Kenny Porter returned to the corner where he belonged. He was never a top pro like his son, but he’s no stranger to boxing, competing in amateurs and then later in tough guy competitions for a few hundred bucks at a time.
At the age of 54 he probably shouldn’t have been risking life and limb against Shawn. But, hey, his son needed the help.
”The key to ours working is love,” said Kenny Porter, who never knew his own father. ”More than anything else we don’t let anything we’re doing – whether it’s a fight on TV, popularity or money or fame – outshine the fact that we’re father and son and we love each other. And when boxing is over we’re still father and son and love each other.”
Boxing isn’t over just yet, even though Porter lost his 147-pound title last September in a competitive and entertaining fight against Errol Spence Jr. But at the age of 32, he’s been fighting as a pro for 12 years now and his aggressive, all-out style is not conducive to a long career.
He’s also got a future career in broadcasting, after serving as a ringside analyst for Fox and as co-host of the recently canceled ”Inside PBC Boxing” show on the network.
For now, though, there’s still plenty of work to be done in the ring. In a welterweight division full of big names there are a number of attractive – and lucrative – fights looming, possibly including the winner of the Danny Garcia-Spence title fight.
And, of course, there’s Formella, who could mess up everything should he pull off an upset win.
”Now is a time for me to represent the sport and be professional and do what we can to be ready for a time like this,” Shawn Porter said. ”I’m hungry all the time but I really want people to see what boxing has to offer right now.”
So hungry that six weeks ago, Shawn packed up his stuff, walked across the street and moved back into his old bedroom at his father’s house. He wanted to be focused, and to be with his father when it counted the most.
And dad couldn’t be happier.
”He’s told me on numerous occasions he wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t doing it with him,” Kenny Porter said. ”It’s the same with me. He’s got a great, great worth ethic and he’s a good person genuinely. I like to think I help him, but he’s the one who makes me better.”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg