NEW YORK — The last time CBS telecast a fight in prime time, Muhammad Ali was in the ring — 38 years ago.
Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter did their best to ensure the wait won’t be anywhere near so long for the next such boxing telecast.
Thurman defended his WBA welterweight title Saturday night with a 12-round unanimous decision over Porter. The bout was fierce and packed with action from the beginning until the final bell.
Both fighters landed precise combinations and also missed wildly. Each was coming off lengthy layoffs, and their eagerness to show their skills made for an entertaining evening. Indeed, some observers were calling it the fight of the year, and the fans at Barclay’s Center couldn’t have asked for more.
Thurman won on all three cards 115-113. The AP also scored the fight 115-113 for Thurman.
“Defense is the key to victory,” said Thurman, who got hit plenty. “He smothers his punches a lot and makes it difficult for the judges to score. I was able to rock him with clear, effective blows and I believe that was the difference today.”
Supporters of Porter in the crowd of 12,718 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center booed the decision, and the fight was close throughout. But Thurman (27-0, 22 knockouts) landed the more effective punches.
In all, Thurman, 27, of Clearwater, Florida, connected on 43.6 percent of his punches to 35.6 for Porter, 28, of Akron, Ohio.
Both exhausted men had welts by their eyes at the end, and they each held up their arms in triumph at the final bell. But Porter (26-2-1) came up just short.
“I think I won the fight,” Porter said, “but I’m satisfied because the competitor came out tonight. “
The ebb and flow throughout the Premier Boxing Champions feature had the crowd cheering all night. Porter had several big rounds when he was able to trap Thurman against the ropes, particularly the second and ninth, when Thurman was in trouble.
But Thurman had more ring command much of the night, and that proved decisive.
Thurman and Porter, a former IBF champion, are close, and their mutual respect showed for all 12 rounds, and again afterward.
“I want to thank Shawn Porter for a tremendous fight,” Thurman said. “He’s a great warrior.”
Added Porter: “At the end of the day, I’m blessed. We worked hard, Keith is a great champion.”
Thurman won the interim WBA crown in 2013 and had successfully defended it six times, the last three without the interim tag. None of his fights were more testing than this one.
Porter earned his shot at Thurman with an impressive unanimous decision over Adrien Broner a year ago. The loss Saturday shouldn’t hurt his stock in a strong division.
Back in 1978, Ali lost to Leon Spinks in that last CBS fight. Lou DiBella, promoter of this card, claimed the network couldn’t have had a better show for its return.
“A great night for boxing,” DiBella said.
In the main undercard bout, unbeaten Jarrett Hurd punished 2012 Mexican Olympian Oscar Molina before stopping him with 58 seconds remaining in the 10-round super welterweight match.
It was a total mismatch almost from the beginning, when Hurd (18-0, 12 knockouts) put down Molina with a short, sharp right uppercut. That punch was a staple all night for Hurd, who landed twice as many punches as Molina.
“This fight here puts me up with the top contenders in the division,” Hurd said. “I felt like I could have gone three or four more rounds. I was getting stronger as the fight went on.”
Molina fell to 13-1-2.