Fighting

Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter to rising stars

Before it needed to be rescheduled three months ago, the welterweight title bout between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter was gaining attention among the sport’s loyal enthusiasts.

Thurman and Porter are considered two of the best in the division. Bouts featuring young and talented fighters, with Thurman’s and Porter’s championship pedigrees, are often difficult to match. Factors for the infrequency of such bouts include promotional conflicts or fighter ties to different television networks.

But Thurman and Porter fight under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, thus a new fight date was inevitable. Thurman’s neck injury sustained in a car accident two weeks before the original fight date on March 12 didn’t scrap the fight for good. Instead, Thurman, a Clearwater resident, will defend his World Boxing Association belt against Porter on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in New York.

“We’re both really getting what we wanted out of this fight,” Thurman said in a recent conference call that also featured Porter. “It was worth the wait. I’ve had plenty of time to recover from my accident, get back in the camp and do what I need to do to perform for you guys on (Saturday).”

Unbeaten in his 26 first bouts (22 knockouts), Thurman could eventually elevate his stock into the pay-per-view medium now seeking new attractions with the retirements of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

A successful defense and noteworthy performance against Porter could shorten Thurman’s path to coveted fights, yet he realize the trail often is met with new obstacles.

“The way I look at it is I’m not a big fan of what I call the Mayweather shadow, right?” Thurman said. “Mayweather’s legacy has casted a shadow over the 147 [pound] division. And the real issue is that Mayweather was at the top for over a decade and you want somebody to replace him, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Thurman, 27, acknowledges that Porter also looks for the coveted perch once held by Mayweather. Moreover, Porter (26-1- 1, 16 KOs) seeks to recapture a welterweight title. Porter had a brief, nine-month reign as International Boxing Federation champion until he lost the belt on his second defense against Kell Brook in August, 2014.

“There is no better time than this time for this fight to go down and for each one of us to showcase our skills and our talent to the world and take it to the next level.” Thurman said. “So nothing — there should be not one ounce of hesitation from either fighter. It should be a great night of boxing.”

Porter, 28, also anticipates a fight fans will appreciate.

“Our levels will be raised just from a competitive standpoint, from the standpoint of him not wanting me to take that belt and from the standpoint of me wanting to take that belt,” Porter said. “And I think we both appreciate that about one another is that this is a fight where the public is watching, waiting, wanting to know who’s going to be the winner and we want to give the public all they want.”

Fans also will be treated to a bout that would usually air on pay TV on network television instead. Normally, a fight such as Thurman-Porter would be broadcast on premium cable. But Saturday’s fight will be broadcast on CBS. The network has not aired a title fight in prime time since Muhammad Ali lost his heavyweight title against Leon Spinks in 1978.

“I’m excited to be on CBS and for it to be on prime time and to be part of history,” Porter said. “I’m humbled to be the first fighter on CBS since a Muhammad Ali fight. That’s awesome.”

▪ Saturday’s CBS telecast also was scheduled to feature a WBA featherweight title bout between champion Jesus Cuellar and three-division title holder Abner Mares. But an undisclosed medical issue involving Mares forced the cancellation of the fight.

Coming up

Friday (11:30 p.m., Telemundo-Ch. 51): Ricardo Rodriguez vs. David Quijano, 10, junior-bantamweights.

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