By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Keith Thurman strutted to the stage Tuesday afternoon at Gotham Hall, full of confidence and disbelief, as if Manny Pacquiao disrespected him simply by agreeing to their welterweight title fight.
Two years after defeating Danny Garcia for what’s thus far his career-defining victory, Thurman finally appeared to have his swagger back. He oozed self-belief, rather than spouting perplexing responses unbefitting of an undefeated champion.
“I’ve wanted this for too long,” Thurman said. “This is a dream come true. And when you’re a fighter, you fight for everything. You fight for your dreams. For me to get this fight and not fight, it’s not a disservice to this sport. It’s a disservice to the 23 years that I’ve dedicated to this sport. It’s a disservice to [late trainer] Ben Getty, who dedicated 13 years of his life to make me the champion I am today. This fight means more to me than I can express to you in words. So, I will just have to show you guys what it’s all about July 20th.”
Thurman understands skeptics will believe him only if they see him beat Pacquiao impressively. Hearing him speak about it obviously isn’t enough to convince them that the Keith Thurman that beat Shawn Porter and Garcia during an impressive eight-month stretch in 2016 and 2017 still exists.
A rusty Thurman didn’t provide enough evidence January 26 that he’s still the elite welterweight that topped Porter by unanimous decision in one of the best action fights of 2016 and edged Garcia in an extremely competitive welterweight title unification fight in March 2017. He dropped Josesito Lopez in the second round, but Thurman also struggled through the rockiest round of his career in the seventh at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Lopez’s left hook hurt Thurman with 1:42 to go in the seventh round. Lopez (36-8, 19 KOs), a huge underdog, followed it up with another damaging left hook, a punishing right hand and several more power punches that sent Thurman into survival mode during his first fight in 22 months.
Thurman, of Clearwater, Florida, showed fortitude by withstanding Lopez’s onslaught and regained control of their fight in the eighth round. Judges Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) scored their fight for Thurman, but he settled for winning a majority decision because judge Don Ackerman scored it a draw (113-113).
“You know, a lot of people believe that you’re only as good as your last fight,” Thurman said. “The only thing was my last fight was a tune-up, you know? I’m a world champion and I showed that when a tough fighter like Josesito Lopez tries to take advantage of a champion like Keith Thurman, off of a 22-month layoff, because that boy came to fight. He always comes to fight, but we know on that night we saw one of the best Josesito Lopez we’ve seen in a long time. And I still defeated the man, OK?”
The 30-year-old Thurman indeed left Barclays Center that night with his unblemished record (29-0, 22 KOs, 1 NC) and his WBA “super” welterweight title. But his return from surgery on his right elbow and lingering damage to his left hand created more questions about Thurman than it answered.
There is as much doubt about him entering this FOX Sports Pay-Per-View main event as there is regarding the 40-year-old Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs).
Beyond the obvious rust he tried to shed versus Lopez, speculation persists within the boxing industry that Thurman’s desire dissipated during his lengthy layoff. The cerebral champion has various interests away from boxing and still doesn’t necessarily sound eager to test himself against Errol Spence Jr. in what would again become an intriguing 147-pound title unification fight if Thurman overcomes Pacquiao and Spence, the IBF champion, beats WBC champ Shawn Porter later this year.
For now, Thurman is fully focused on conquering one of the most legendary boxers of this generation at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I knew I wanted to fight Manny Pacquiao,” Thurman said. “I didn’t believe that it would happen. But like we say, man, God is good. Manny’s over here, he’s doing business with us and he signed his contract. So, I’m really grateful. I’m honored to share the ring with him. But I truly do believe that it’s a new era in boxing. Every champion is a new champion that you haven’t heard of. This is a new establishment in the sport. There’s a new heavyweight division and come after July 20th, on July 21st, there will officially be an official, new welterweight division, where you don’t hear the name Floyd Mayweather, where you don’t hear the name Manny Pacquiao, where all you’ll be talking is Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and whoever else that we don’t even know who’s coming up, grinding to be at the top, to compete with the welterweights in the welterweight division today. Manny Pacquiao is the past and I’m gonna make sure of it.”
Thurman promised, too, to make sure to remind his detractors that he’s still the skillful, powerful, tenacious welterweight champion he was when he won the two biggest fights of his career against Garcia and Porter. He has won only one bout by knockout or technical knockout since he stopped Julio Diaz in the third round five years ago, yet Thurman is determined to overpower Pacquiao.
“There’s more to the name ‘One Time,’ ” Thurman said, referring to his nickname. “It’s more than knockouts. I’ve worked really hard to get this one opportunity that I have today. ‘One Time’ is about living a dream of a young man, who was inspired to be a boxer, who won national championships as an amateur. He had a trainer who said, ‘You could be champion of the world.’ ‘One Time’ is about living up to my best legacy. Of course, I wanna be devastating. I wanna be known for my punching power.
“But at the end of the day, when Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman performs, he always puts on a great performance, puts his blood, sweat and tears into the ring. And like I said, I’m really coming this fight. ‘One Time, Sometimes, Once Upon A Time.’ Say what you wanna say about your boy, but Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman’s the truth. There’s a reason I’m undefeated. And I’m proving that.”
The truth about Thurman is, after everything that has happened to him over the past two years, he has at least as much to prove July 20 as Pacquiao.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.