By Jake Donovan
Keith Thurman didn’t know what to expect when he returned to the ring earlier this year, doing his best to remain as transparent as possible about his intentions.
Even more surprising than how it felt to land—and take—that first punch in his first back back in nearly two years, was that very comeback fight leading to the biggest opportunity of his still young career.
“We had no clue when I got back in the sport that a fight like this would happen this quickly,” Thurman (29-0, 22KOs) admitted to BoxingScene.com of his landing a superfight with former eight-division titlist Manny Pacquiao, which takes place July 20 in Las Vegas, Nevada. “There was no guarantee that I would get this fight. I was just ready to return after losing two years of my prime.
“It wasn’t like I was in secret training, working on some Bruce Lee 6” punch that I wanted to show the world. When I came back, we let everyone know you’re going to see a world class performance from Keith Thurman because I’m a world class fighter. I didn’t promise the best Keith Thurman because I was still wiping off some of that (dust). But if that’s what helped me land a fight like this, I’ll take it.”
Their forthcoming welterweight title consolidation clash will top what has become a loaded Fox Sports Pay-Per-View card, marking Thurman’s first PPV headliner. The 30-year old Floridian always sensed that day would come; just not in 2019.
The intention was to return to the ring early this year against a respectable welterweight foe. He received that in the form of veteran spoiler Josesito Lopez, who managed to buzz Thurman midway through their Fox-televised fight in January, but with the unbeaten titlist scoring an early knockdown and otherwise outboxing the aggressive Lopez en route to a majority decision win.
Thurman’s win came one week after Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39KOs) scored a 12-round decision win over four-division titlist Adrien Broner atop a Showtime PPV event. The bout marked Pacquiao’s first under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner, a platform which Thurman helped launch with his March 2015 NBC televised win over Robert Guerrero.
In aligning himself with PBC, Pacquiao would have the pick of the litter among relevant welterweight opposition. As the two fought on back-to-back weekends and functionally share the same title—Thurman has owned the WBA “Super” World welterweight title for more than two years, while Pacquiao claimed the “Regular” version in a knockout win over Lucas Matthysse last summer—a head-on collision was a natural fit.
This being boxing, it’s not often the stars perfectly align and all parties involved wind up doing the right thing. Because it did, Thurman gladly revised his own original plans dfor how the year was supposed to play out.
“I told everyone (late last year) when I was ready to return to the sport what my 2019 was going to be about,” notes Thurman. “There wasn’t going to be a fight with Danny Garcia or Shawn Porter—two guys I already beat, by the way—or Errol Spence in 2019. It was about returning to the sport, then building towards the superfights in 2020.
“But when they put me on the week after Manny Pacquiao, I felt like we were on the same (timetable), we both just fought so we should both be ready. When they offered me the fight, I couldn’t say no. No other welterweight in the world would let another take their place against Manny Pacquiao. It almost makes up for the inactivity these past two years.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox