After over two and half years out of the ring, former unified welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) finally stepped back inside the squared circle at the beginning of this month.
Thurman won a unanimous decision over former WBA 140-pound titleholder Mario Barrios and, for the most part, looked exceptional for someone who has been out of the ring for so long.
The fight with Barrios didn’t prove that Thurman was ready for the elite at welterweight, but a way for the Florida native to get some rounds. Now that the pseudo-warm-up is over, the question is, which route will Thurman take next?
Fortunately for the 31 year old Floridian, there are a plethora of options for him that range from the stay-busy type to fights that could still be significant events.
The fight Thurman has his eye on now is the winner of the upcoming welterweight unification match between Errol Spence and Yordenis Ugas. The winner would be within the same promotion as Thurman, but a fight against WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford would be much more significant for the victor, especially if it turns out to be Spence.
Yet, the former two-time welterweight champion could put himself right in line for a chance to fight for undisputed status at 147-pounds if he were to take on Crawford himself.
“So, I had the WBA, I had the WBC,” said Thurman. “I relinquished the WBC. Nobody beat me for the WBC world title. Those belts, I want back in my possession. I do like the fight with Terence Crawford, but we’ll just have to see what opens up, what really negotiates, how stubborn we get when it comes to what kind of split there is. You know, its just business from here on out. I do like the fight, though.”
Crawford’s latest appearance on PPV last November against Shawn Porter generated roughly 135,000 buys, supposedly, leaving it open how a split with Thurman would be negotiated.
However, with just one fight in two and half years, should Thurman head straight into a fight with an elite fighter?
Before facing Manny Pacquiao in the summer of 2019, Thurman 2 in January of that year. Regardless of the inactivity, the fight with Pacquiao was set up for Thurman to come out victorious. He was 30, and the Filipino was 40 with many wars under his belt.
While Pacquiao was a few years past his prime, the 34 year old Crawford is still at or near his best and could cause more damage than the aging Filipino.
This era of boxing has been plagued by inactivity. At times one wonders, despite the advancement in pharmaceuticals and detailed knowledge of nutrition, if the sport has truly evolved with more skilled participants.
Over time, many of boxing’s skill sets, such as fighting on the inside, have depreciated, with fighters stepping in the ring less and less.
For this reason, Thurman should take one or two more fights before stepping back in the ring with the best at welterweight.
“I want to do what I haven’t done in the past 2 ½ years,” stated Thurman. “Keith Thurman does want to be an active fighter. So we have to go back, talk to our team, see what’s brought to the table through the networks, through Al Haymon, and just with the flow, man. I just really want to have a more active year. I want to have more performances for the fans. I want to have more performances for myself.
“But no matter what- if it happens this summer, if it happens back in November and December, Keith Thurman is on the road to being champion in the welterweight division once again.”
Thurman could take a fight that would still be a major event against former IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook. Most recently, Brook displayed a dominant performance against British rival Amir Khan stopping him over six one-sided rounds.
Brook, as of late, has fought above welterweight, with four of his last five fights taking place above 147-pounds, including the fight with Khan at a catchweight of 149-pounds. Thurman has fought at junior middleweight a few times, although the last time took place almost ten years ago against Carlos Quintana.
In the same way that Terence Crawford used Shawn Porter as a measuring stick to compare himself to fighters under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, Thurman can similarly use Brook since the United Kingdom fighter has faced Crawford, Porter, and Spence.
Another fight that could generate a large audience for Thurman would be against four-division champion Mikey Garcia. In his previous outing, Garcia was soundly out-boxed by Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin. With Thurman just headlining a PPV with a fighter coming off a stoppage loss in Barrios, a fight with Garcia could still be of interest, especially considering the Californian’s popularity.
Suppose Thurman is genuinely willing to keep busy, after having just four fights in the last five years. In that case, fighters such as David Avanesyan, Conor Benn, Eimantas Staniosis, and Radzhab Butaev would present challenges for the Florida native. Avanesyan is ranked just above Thurman at the number two spot in the WBC’s welterweight rankings and has scored stoppage victories in his last five fights. He will face Oskari Metz for the EBU European welterweight title on March 19th, and should he come out with a win, a fight with Thurman could be a massive opportunity for the Russian.
Stanionis and Butaev will fight for a version of the WBA welterweight title on the undercard of the Spence-Ugas in April in a battle of undefeated fighters. Thurman winning another WBA 147-pound title could force Spence or Ugas to fight him, should they decide to bypass him.
The United Kingdom’s Conor Benn likely falls in the same category as Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Jaron Ennis in high-risk and low-reward fighters.
Thurman would undoubtedly be given a massive amount of respect for taking on what many consider to be the future of the sport. But there will also be a significant part of the boxing fan base who will have viewed them as overrated for losing to him.
“I want the belts,” said Thurman. “I want the champions. I want to be back on top, so whoever is willing to send Keith Thurman the contract, let’s go!”
In this social media era of boxing, few fighters can provoke reactions, whether negative or positive, like Keith Thurman. Over the last decade, he has proven to be one of the most exciting fighters when the bell rings.
Even his harshest critics' main criticism is that we don’t see enough of him. Whichever path Thurman does decide to take, fans and pundits will have his attention.