The Keith Thurman Legacy – Looking At His Career Before Thurman vs. Barrios PPV
The Thurman Legacy
Thurman faces Mario Barrios Saturday, February 5th, 2022, on PPV starting at 6 PM PST click here to buy
For many, they probably don’t remember the Keith Thurman saga, as it is playing out like Joel Embiid in the NBA currently. A talented fighter, who in his prime seemed to combine movement similar to Sergio Martinez, with big punching power. Fans love trash talk and knockouts. Thurman did both, and when everyone was looking around for someone to replace Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, Thurman looked to be the guy.
Thuman debuted on HBO Boxing knocking out Carlos Quintana in four rounds. Not unlike his rival, Shawn Porter, Thurman was a 154 lber who sacrificed to get to 147 lbs, and that was noted when he fought Jan Zaveck, winning a rather ho-hum decision on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins vs. Tavoris Cloud. He even remarked that he would explore going up to 154 lbs in the future, and ten years later is still a welterweight which speaks to his professionalism to keep pushing in the gym.
I couldn’t find highlights of either fight that were professionally edited, but more notable was his post-fight exchanges, after the Zaveck win, he called out Paulie Malignaggi, who was a world champion at the time, got a lot of traction.
This is one of the many forks in Thurman’s career. Al Haymon advised fighters left HBO Boxing, shortly after this, as Thurman began fighting exclusively on Showtime – which at the time was putting together deep-stacked cards that rivaled the industry leader, the UFC at that time.
His first fight was a good one, against Diego Chaves, a tough guy, who never won on American television, but was game, durable, willing to get beat up or beat you up if you didn’t offer resistance. Thurman was rocked in the fight but got a dramatic KO to finish the bout in the tenth round of the scheduled twelve-round fight. This made him the WBA interim welterweight champion in the Floyd Mayweather era, and many expected him to campaign for that fight. On top of that, he continued to look like one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
The prime of Thurman’s career to me was from Chaves to Jesus Soto Karass, as the Soto Karass fight combined everything that made him an interesting fighter. Great fight week interviews, elusive movement, and a big KO to win the fight.
Yet, Thurman followed up these performances against Julio Diaz and Leonard Bundu. The Diaz fight ended with a quick KO that I was at just so I could say I saw Thurman. Bundu took him 12-rounds and fans were a bit flustered. Thurman was one of the most interesting fighters in his weight class, and we were not getting the best fights after dropping Bundu early Thurman coasted which started some fight fans frustrations of the prizefighter.
His next bout was his first with the recently launched Premier Boxing Champions against Robert Guerrero, who had just fought Floyd Mayweather in a bout that was a good fight for the time, place and in a historical sense. The issue was as PBC entered the boxing space, and with a big treasure chest of money, rather than big fights being made one after another, it seemed as though a lot of the fights we were getting seemed to be tune-up bouts, for big purses on big platforms. No fighter seemed to embody this more than Thurman and Danny Garcia who the fans enjoyed making note of this about them.
Also for context it is important to remember the last decade was really the switch to digital for media, and in boxing video became the new frontier as many outlets don’t have a written word component to their website, rather just publish press releases and film press conferences, etc. We saw a lot of older media outlets go against PBC which was a market disruptor, whereas new media embraced it. The fact that PBC is a black-owned business also raised questions about some people’s disdain for the promotion, as in this era, not many historical bouts occurred in sequential weeks for anyone, but it was an era in which the fight fan fled. This is best shown by the de-investment in the sport of boxing from major sports outlets that don’t have a direct interest in the sport.
During that time here are some prime Keith Thurman interviews that sort of show the beloved showmanship of the fighter.
Fans started to turn on Thurman after he fought Luis Collazo. Collazo who had a big win over Victor Ortiz, was beaten by Amir Khan, and a hard-luck fighter, who seemed to be at the end of his career, but having a good run at the top of the card faced Thurman. After Thurman’s back-to-back impressive victories, Thurman had spent two years taking fights a lot of fight fans heavily favored him in, and more so didn’t have a major interest in. This, along with the fact he was hurt to the body in the bout, seemed to rise the descending fans voices from the Leonard Bundu fight, and sour a large base of fight fans to Thurman. In short, people wanted to see Thurman’s ceiling as a fighter, and Thurman seemed to want to see if he could make his money touch the ceiling, and the fight fans were getting fed up.
Thurman would go on to face Shawn Porter in his next fight, not before the two would come together at a media room scrum in which Porter asked Thurman, who was the WBA welterweight world champion about when they were going to fight. Despite having lost to Kell Brook, Shawn Porter seemed to have the fan support at the time, both then and now, since it always felt as though Porter was taking the biggest challenges whereas Thurman was just taking fights to defend his title and receive checks. Thurman had the perfect record, but the fans were more aligned with Porter, who had fought world champions Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Kell Brook, and Adrien Broner, during the time, Thurman had taken the fights I outlined above. Even with a loss, Porter created more Saturday night memories for fight fans.
The bout was massive being broadcast on CBS, and a true big fight-feel, and felt like the rebirth of the middleweight classics of the 80’s. It also was also postponed, due to a car accident that forced Thurman to push back the fight, so when the fight was set – people were genuinely intrigued in the bout as it seemed to set up the current best in the division, with 2016 Olympian Errol Spence Jr., rising in the ranks behind them and setting his sights on the other great Kell Brook, who had lost to Gennady Golovkin at middleweight of all things around this time.
The bout was close, and I scored it for Porter, but I think this was the last time we saw the vintage Keith Thurman, and maybe even Shawn Porter, as the two put forth a boxing classic, that might get forgotten as history is unkind. One of the best fights of that year, and one of the most impactful fights upon the division, saw Thurman edge out the decision, and look to be one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world by getting a narrow decision win over Porter.
Thurman was set to be the next great American welterweight after Floyd Mayweather.
Nine months later, Thurman would face the former unified 140 lbs world champion Danny Garcia in his second career-defining fight of his career, against a fellow star in back-to-back bouts broadcast nationally on CBS. Once again, Thurman would win, but this time it was a quick start, and a gradually slow-down that lacked a lot of dramatic momentums – after this bout, boxing didn’t return to CBS – again, or at least to my memory. Thurman also never felt like he went to the next level in terms of star power from this too marquee bouts, and Thurman won the fight just as much as Danny Garcia had a very low output as well, that somewhat muted the achievement of Thurman’s victory.
With the win, Thurman was now the best welterweight based on resume, yet – two months later 2016 Olympian Errol Spence Jr. would go to the U.K. and stop Kell Brook to win the IBF welterweight title. Spence Jr had called out Thurman, and Thurman had basically regarded Spence as a nobody. With the win, Spence was even more vocal about making the fight against Thurman.
What would happen next would be another strike against Thurman, two years of inactivity, as he was injured, got married, and seemed a bit distant from the sport of boxing, followed by awkward and very uninspired answers in which he didn’t seem thrilled at the idea of fighting Errol Spence Jr., didn’t make him feel like the man that had a achieved what he had.
His return in January of 2019 against Josesito Lopez was very similar to what happened when he faced Luis Collazo, Thurman was hurt to the body, and looked flawed. Fans were tired of this trend, inactivity, not getting the fights they want, and then at times when he returns he goes life or death with fighters that people believed Thurman should be a level above based on his resume. Not just did Thurman take time off, when he came back, he seemingly always hurt his stock a bit in the process.
Thurman returned six months later getting the fight, every welterweight wanted, Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, in particular – Manny Pacquiao. It would’ve been a great win that could have secured a seemingly hall-of-fame resume, yet Pacquiao beat Thurman. Now, Thurman hasn’t fought since the COVID-19 pandemic started. It is nearly two-and-a-half years of being out of the ring for Keith Thurman, and one has to question if Thurman is still motivated by legacy or the sport of boxing, and if this is not just a job that pays really well for him, that he has invested so much money in, it is hard to not take big money fights?
Keith Thurman was the guy, after Floyd Mayweather, but even being that, he was unable to beat the legend of Manny Pacquiao, who added to his hall-of-fame career beating the best of the following era of Pacquiao’s welterweight run.
So, what is the Keith Thurman story?
It is one of inactivity. Even at the busiest moments of his career, Thurman at the world level fought only three times once, and that was during his ascension and probably when he was most popular. His inactivity, which increased as his career went on, his inactivity became more frequent, and fans seemingly just stopped caring or waiting.
With age comes maturity and perspective, Thurman become more reasonable and well-adjusted as his life moved on, and it seems Thurman might be too interesting to be a pro athlete, let alone a pro boxer. Thurman has found other passions than boxing, and seems to also have devoted himself to his family, one of the untold stories of Keith Thurman, is as he grew in the sport, he seemingly grew as a person, in a healthy manner. Keith Thurman is not the same fighter in the ring as he once was, but the person he is outside of the ring, is massively different.
The sport somewhat moved on without him, as was a problem with boxing in the last decade, we got the fights we wanted, but far too late. No fighter is more evident of being a victim of not translating success into big fights than Keith Thurman, poised to fill the American star role that Andre Ward had left vacant once he left the sport, guys like Errol Spence Jr., and Terence Crawford, outworked him to the point in which we forgot about Thurman. Thurman is feeling like a modern Terry Norris, a fighter we all wanted to watch, but history often forgets.
Thurman beat the guys of his era, but his long stints of meaningless fights in terms of historical value or injuries, as well as inactivity, helped people forget about him or even worse delegitimize him.
Thurman is no longer young, and even though he is only 31-years-old, he somehow feels like an old 31-years-old as the passion just doesn’t feel the same to me.
His bout next week against a truly world-class fighter in Mario Barrios who is making the move from 140 lbs to 147 lbs after his first career loss to Gervonta Davis, is now seen as a pick’em, in Thurman’s prime it probably would see him as the favorite.
The simple truth is, how much does Thurman have left? Since Mario Barrios is committed fully to the sport of boxing, Thurman seems to be in the gym now only for big fights and big money. What is Thurman’s why in the sport of boxing anymore?
What looms in the distance is the winner will probably face the winner of Errol Spence Jr. vs Yordenis Ugas, which is a good fight in its own right, and the type of fights boxing needs to make for people to even care to watch a boxing match.
I just have to wonder how much motivation Thurman has left, as he achieved financial freedom, preserved the legacy of Ben Getty, his first coach, and has had an outstanding pro career. This fight against Barrios tells me, what Thurman wants in the sport – is he content with what he accomplished or is he trying to be a hall-of-famer?
You can find out Next Saturday, February 5th, 2022, on PPV starting at 6 PM PST click here to buy.