Most boxing fans know Kenny Porter as the father and hard-nosed trainer of onetime world champion Shawn Porter. What they likely don’t know is the long road—part tragic, part inspiring—that the elder Porter had to travel to get to where he and his sons are today.
Flashback to the early 1970s and a drug-infested Cleveland-area neighborhood, where a fatherless Kenny Porter was being raised by a mother whose illicit lifestyle often meant that her two young boys were left unattended. On one of those occasions, 4-year-old Kenny and his 3-year-old brother, James, went searching for her.
“When you’re home alone, there is a natural tendency for children, especially babies, to want their mother,” Porter recalls. “So we decided to go look for her.
“We were probably about half a mile from our house when we arrived to the house where she was. We were crossing the street, holding hands, and a car came very fast. My brother tried to run back, and he was hit by the car and killed. The driver was drunk and continued to drive. It was a hit-and-run.”
The loss of his brother, coupled with his challenging upbringing, instilled in Porter a resolve to not allow his struggles to become generational. So by the time he became a father at the age of 18, Porter vowed never to let his sons—Kenneth II was born first, followed a year later by Shawn—stray far from his own brand of discipline and tough love.
It’s a parental philosophy Kenny Porter cultivated all on his own, having only twice met the man who claimed to be his father.
“This guy that I met once or twice was supposed to be my father, but I don’t know if he actually was or not,” says Porter, who emphasized sports, education and church attendance for his boys. “In order to be a father, you have to be involved in every aspect of raising your child [no matter] your financial situation.”
Always self-motivated, Kenny Porter says he was tested as reading at a ninth-grade level when he was 9 and eventually graduated from the Cleveland-based Health Careers Center High School, a vocational school with a medical focus. He then worked in hospitals for seven years, all the while coaching his sons.
“My mother sent me to a Catholic school, had to pay tuition for me to go there,” the elder Porter says. “You had to wear a tie, study, get good grades, and you were pushed to be a better person. My mother had her [negative qualities], but that was something good she did for me.”
“ What my dad and I [share] is our love, bond and respect for one another. There’s nothing we go through that doesn’t help us raise each other’s level. ” Shawn Porter on his father, Kenny
Clearly, Kenny Porter fulfilled his promise to keep his children from suffering the same fate he did as a youngster.
Kenneth Porter II, 29, lives and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while 28-year-old Shawn moved to Las Vegas with his dad in 2013, eventually teaming to open the Porter Hy-Performance boxing gym in the shadows of the Las Vegas Strip.
It is there where father is prepping son for the biggest fight of his life: On June 25, Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) will challenge 147-pound champion—and longtime friend—Keith Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Kenny will of course be in his son’s corner on fight night, just as he’s been since Shawn first laced up the gloves. With his father guiding him, Shawn went 276-14 as an amateur, earned a spot as an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and ultimately won a 147-pound world championship in December 2013 when he dethroned southpaw Devon Alexander by unanimous decision.
Porter defended his crown in April 2014 by twice flooring former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi to gain a fourth-round stoppage, but he lost the title to Kell Brook four months later by majority decision.
While Porter and his father are equally driven in their desire to excel, they go about their business in completely different ways—the father tough and vociferous, the son more passive and reserved. Shawn Porter says the personality extremes don’t result in conflict, even when his father occasionally makes demands of or admonishes him during training.
“My dad’s a hard person, and I’m the opposite—easygoing and more laid-back, like, ‘Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,’” Shawn Porter says. “When you take a look at the history of boxing and some other father-son duos, the son is a hothead.
“But what my dad and I [share] is our love, bond and respect for one another. There’s nothing we go through that doesn’t help us raise each other’s level.”
Porter’s brother acknowledges that their father could be a tough disciplinarian growing up, but that was only one side of his personality.
“Until the times when we had to be disciplined or have our behavior corrected, there was always a playful side to my dad when we were more like his younger brothers than his sons,” Kenneth Porter II says. “Through my dad and the way he grew up, we understand how hard things can be, the value of hard work and what we have to be grateful for.”
As for how he was able to raise his sons without the help of a mentor to teach him the parental ropes, Kenny Porter points to the sky. “I didn’t have a father. I didn’t have any uncles or male role models as examples, and my grandfather had passed away by the time I was 14. Anything and everything about the direction I was able to give my boys—that all came from God.”
Says Shawn Porter: “What makes Dad special is that the grace of God guided him, even when he didn’t realize it was God. How else was he able to show me and my brother the things that he’s shown us without having the proper guidance himself?”
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