After more than two and a half years out of the ring, the former unified welterweight champion Keith “Once” Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) finally retreated inside the squared circle earlier this month.
Thurman won a unanimous decision over the former WBA 140-pound titleholder mario barrios and, for the most part, looked exceptional for someone who had been out of the ring for so long.
The fight with Barrios didn’t prove Thurman ready for the welterweight elite, but a way for the Florida native to get some rounds. Now that the pseudo-warm-up is over, the question is what route will Thurman take next?
Luckily for the 31-year-old Floridian, there are a plethora of options for him that range from kind of staying busy to fights that could still be big events.
The fight Thurman has in his sights now is the winner of the upcoming welterweight unification match between Errol Spence and Yordenis Ugas. The winner would be in the same promotion as Thurman, but a fight against the WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford would be much more meaningful for the winner, especially if it turns out to be Spence.
Still, the former two-time welterweight champion could line up for a chance to fight for undisputed status at 147 pounds should he face Crawford himself.
“So I had the WBA, I had the WBC,” Thurman said. “I dropped out of the WBC. Nobody beat me for the WBC world title. These belts, I want them back in my possession. I like the fight with Terence Crawford, but we’ll just have to see what happens. opens, what really trades, how stubborn we are when it comes to the type of division. You know, it’s just business as of now. I like the fight, though.
Crawford’s last PPV appearance last November against Shawn Porter generated about 135,000 buys, supposedly, leaving open how a split with Thurman would be negotiated.
However, with only one fight in two and a half years, should Thurman jump straight into a fight with an elite fighter?
before facing Manny Pacquiao in the summer of 2019, Thurman met Josesito Lopez in January of this year. Regardless of inactivity, the fight with Pacquiao was set up for Thurman to emerge victorious. He was 30 and the Filipino was 40 with many wars under his belt.
While Pacquiao was a few years past his prime, Crawford, 34, is still at or near his best and could cause more damage than the aging Filipino.
This era of boxing was plagued with inactivity. One sometimes wonders, despite advances in pharmacy and in-depth knowledge of nutrition, if the sport has really evolved with more qualified participants.
Over time, many skills in boxing, such as inside fighting, have depreciated, with fighters entering the ring less and less.
Because of this, Thurman would have to take one or two more fights before stepping back into the ring with top welterweights.
“I want to do what I haven’t done in the last two and a half years,” Thurman said. “Keith Thurman wants to be an active fighter. So we have to go back, talk to our team, see what’s on the table through the networks, through Al Haymon, and just with the stream, man. I really want to have a more active year. I want to have more performances for the fans. I want to have more performance for me.
“But whatever happens – if it happens this summer, if it happens in November and December, Keith Thurman is on track to be champion of the welterweight division again.”
Thurman could lead a fight that would always be a major event against former IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook. More recently, Brook put up a dominating performance against his British rival Amir Khan stopping him over six one-sided rounds.
Brook, of late, has been fighting above welterweight, with four of his last five fights coming above 147lbs, including the bout with Khan at a catchweight of 149lbs. Thurman has fought a few times at junior middleweight, although the last time was nearly a decade ago against Carlos Quintana.
The same way Terence Crawford used Shawn Porter as a measuring stick to compare himself to fighters under the First boxing champions banner, Thurman can also use Brook since the British fighter has faced Crawford, Porter and Spence.
Another fight that could generate a large following for Thurman would be against the four-division champion Mikey Garcia. In his previous outing, Garcia was largely beaten by Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin. With Thurman just headlining a PPV with a fighter who just lost a stoppage to Barrios, a fight with Garcia could still be interesting, especially given the Californian’s popularity.
Let’s assume Thurman is really willing to get busy, having only had four fights in the past five years. In this 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 No. 2 in the WBC welterweight rankings and has stoppage wins in his last five fights. He will face Oskari Metz for the EBU European welterweight title on March 19, and if he emerges with a victory, a fight with Thurman could be a huge opportunity for the Russian.
Stanionis and Butaev will fight for a version of the WBA welterweight title on the Spence-Ugas undercard 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 go around it.
UK’s Conor Benn probably falls into the same category as Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Jaron Ennis in high risk, low reward fighters.
Thurman would no doubt receive enormous respect for taking on what many see as the future of the sport. But there will also be a significant portion of the boxing fanbase who will have considered them overrated for losing to him.
“I want the belts,” Thurman said. “I want the champions. I want to be back on top, so whoever is ready to send the contract to Keith Thurman, let’s go!
In this social media era of boxing, few fighters can provoke reactions, whether negative or positive, like Keith Thurman. Over the past decade he has proven to be one of the most exciting fighters when the bell rings.
Even the main criticism of its harshest critics is that we don’t see it enough. Whichever route Thurman decides to take, fans and pundits will have his attention.