The frequent conversations between Shawn Porter and Pastor Randall Cunningham rarely revolve around their athletic careers.
It comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the accomplishments of both men, but they both view their relationship as having a much higher significance.
“He doesn’t care about your status, doesn’t care about who you are,” Porter said. “All he cares about is you as a human being and as a Christian man.”
On Saturday night, Shawn Porter takes on fellow former world champion Andre Berto in a 147-pound title eliminator at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT). And although Cunningham won’t be there in person, he and Porter’s entire extended family from Remnant Ministries in Las Vegas will be in his corner from afar.
Porter and the former four-time NFL Pro Bowl quarterback connected not long after he and his father/trainer Kenny Porter moved from Akron, Ohio, to Las Vegas full time in 2013, and a bond was formed almost immediately. The boxer attends church multiple times a week and has also served as an usher at Remnant Ministries for more than two years now.
“I only knew Randall Cunningham from football—a little bit from the Philadelphia Eagles, but a lot from the Minnesota Vikings,” Porter said. “I didn’t know that he had his own church. I don’t care who you are, if you’re a good pastor, you’re a good pastor. From the moment I watched him preach, I fell in love with his style of preaching.”
The relationship is meaningful in both directions, as the 54-year-old Cunningham has gone out of his way to take Porter under his wing.
“Treating him like my little brother, because I don’t have any little brothers, allows him to be on the same page as me,” Cunningham said. “I try to impart the wisdom with some of the things I went through as an athlete, as well.”
That type of wisdom is especially important for Porter, 29, as he enters a crucial fight in his career.
Saturday’s clash in Brooklyn is what many typically call a “crossroads fight” between two veterans who can’t afford to swallow another defeat.
Berto (31-4, 24 KOs), at 33 years old, is making quite possibly the final push toward a third world title in a pro career that began in 2004.
Porter (26-2-1, 16 KOs), however, is in the prime of his career and ending a 10-month layoff after losing a razor-thin unanimous decision to Keith Thurman in Brooklyn last June. Thurman remained unbeaten as he retained his world title in PBC’s 2016 Fight of the Year, and a rematch is something no fight fan would object to seeing.
“ Treating him like my little brother ... allows him to be on the same page as me. I try to impart the wisdom with some of the things I went through as an athlete, as well. ” Former NFL star-turned-pastor Randall Cunningham, on his relationship with Shawn Porter
This could be the one hurdle Porter must clear to make that rematch a reality, as this fight is an eliminator bout for the world title Thurman took from Danny Garcia via majority decision in March in a 147-pound title unification. Everything Porter does at this point in his career is with the end goal of becoming a two-time world champion.
Cunningham, who played in the NFL for 16 seasons, compares what Porter faces now to what he and his Eagles teammates stared down entering the playoffs in 1992.
Despite massive individual success early in his tenure as Philadelphia’s starting QB, including winning the Pro Football Writers Association MVP award in 1990, Cunningham’s postseason résumé was lacking, going 0-3 in the playoffs in the 1988-90 seasons.
In January 1993, the Eagles finally broke through, netting the franchise’s first playoff victory in 12 years before bowing out against the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round.
Cunningham’s greatest postseason accomplishment came in 1998, when he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, but he still speaks proudly of cutting through the built-up pressure with the Eagles and finding a way to get that breakthrough win.
“A boxer can lose a certain number of matches, but then there comes a time where there’s that match where you just have to get that one,” Cunningham said. “Before [Shawn] fights Berto, I’ll be able to tell him about the time we’d lost a couple of playoff games and things didn’t look good.
“We had to win. We got that victory, we all kept our jobs, got raises and things like that, just by getting that one victory. I think he’s at a point where he’s prepared to do that, and I think God is going to give him this one.”
And just for good measure, Pastor Cunningham and his entire Remnant Ministries family, which also includes former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks and Hall of Fame boxing referee Richard Steele, will have his back through prayer.
“We let Shawn be Shawn; we don’t treat him like a celebrity,” Cunningham said. “But when it’s time and he’s boxing? The whole church is praying for him. We let them know from the pulpit that we need to be covering Shawn.”
For a complete look at Berto vs Porter, visit our fight page.