“His time has come and gone. Would I want to fight Manny Pacquiao? Of course, the man is an icon and a living legend but he's past his prime. That's just a fight that would look good on the resume.”
—WBA “Regular” welterweight champion Keith “One-Time” Thurman, July 2015
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And this is where things get dicey.
To understand a situation or an event only after it has happened is called hindsight. In retrospect, WBA “Super” welterweight champion Keith Thurman (28-0, 22KOs) would not make those remarks about Senator Pacquiao today. Hell, he didn't come close to saying anything of the same kind during Wednesday's international media conference call, ahead of his much anticipated return Saturday night at Barclays Center against a tricky Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19KOs). Then, the WBA “regular” champion of seeming irrelevance and irritated about it, Thurman was a brash 26 year-old fighter in search of stardom and the WBA “Super” champion at the time, some guy named Floyd Mayweather.
Keith was beyond mystified as to how “TBE” could just fight his mandatory Andre Berto– and not him, and vowed to make a punishing statement against crafty southpaw veteran Luis Collazo.
To this day I don't know how he knew, but Thurman approached me – out of nowhere – in the USF media conference room and asked, “You're a southpaw, right?”
I was and I am. He wanted to demonstrate what he was going to do to Collazo with a very specific punch sequence based on something he’d seen… and he almost pulled it off. He knew Collazo's favorite punch was a left hook to the body, and had schematics for a “One-Time” overhand right to end things. Boxing beautifully and showing never-before-seen ring generalship with technical brilliance, Thurman headed into round 5 looking to come over a throwaway right jab with for a KO. The problem is, Collazo's left hook got there first, sending Thurman on a perilous journey that really hasn't ended.
What made me think about what he said about Pacquiao then, is the irony of their situation now. The much maligned Adrien Broner would've been a much tougher test for the current “Super” champion, in as much as Josesito Lopez makes more sense for a “Regular” champion expected to do, well, regular things. But the setup for Pacquaio V Thurman couldn't get any clearer; Lopez is also a tricky southpaw– something Pacquiao has redefined; and Thurman desperately needs a name like that on “the resume.” What's more, is he needs an emphatic KO; something a fighter like Broner was unlikely to give him, unlike the daring Lopez.
“Fast, but not elusive…strong, but not powerful…brave, but not fearless, Thurman is less than the sum of his parts…”
—Paul Magno, from “Keith Thurman is NOT that good” in October 2017
We last saw Thurman capture the WBC welterweight crown via narrow escape of Danny “Swift” Garcia in March 2017.
Prior to that, he nearly drowned against new WBC belt renter “Showtime” Shawn Porter in the summer of 2016. The physical toll exacted in both fights resulted in well documented surgical procedures; not to mention a near fatal crash in his Mustang in February 2016.
He's had a hematoma courtesy of Robert Guerrero, general fits while expending tremendous energy against Leonard Bundu, and endured the doubts from both critics and peers– none bigger than WBO welterweight king Terence “Bud” Crawford and IBF champion Errol Spence Jr, considered the best 147lb fighter on the planet. No fight is ever easy for Thurman, who has somehow found a way to make every outing a thriller. Should Thurman actually go “One-Time” on Lopez in impressive fashion, the next logical step would be a dream defense against Pacquiao, a bout I'd mentioned in the New Year's piece “19 Rounds”. Thurman would fight a busier and far braver fight than AB, with the only question being: “Would Pac-Man's sudden explosiveness gobble One-Time?”
I don't think it would, but Lopez should provide some answers on Saturday night.
THURMAN GETS A PICK SIX
One of the world's best conditioned athletes in all of sports, Thurman stepped on the scale Friday and appeared ready to maintain that position. What we're looking to see is if a more technically proficient, sharper Thurman emerges following his prolonged hiatus. If this is indeed an audition for Pacquiao, Thurman will need to showcase more nuance and subtlety than he produced against Collazo, without any moments of real peril. Will Lopez pull a Pablo Cesar Cano tonight? That's unlikely- but possible; it’s always unknown in terms of how such a dramatic layoff will effect a fighter. Throw in the variable of Lopez being a Robert Garcia trained fighter, and the potential for disaster is there. But it says here that the pride and will of Thurman will be too great, his volume too impactful, and his desire for a superfight with Pacquiao too real.
It won't be perfect, but look for Keith “This Time” Thurman to chop down a game Josesito Lopez in six action packed rounds.