By Jake Donovan, photo by Chris Zuppa
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Keith Thurman’s rise in 2012 was that he wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the year began.
Inactive since Nov. ’10 due to an injury, Thurman was viewed by most as little more than another in the vast stable of boxing powerbroker Al Haymon. That meant appearances on the undercards of other Haymon-managed fighters, mostly against soft opposition while waiting for the TV money to eventually roll in.
It’s precisely how his year played out – yet in the end, he emphatically proved worthy of the coverage.
The truth is that he proved himself long before turning pro in 2008. A stellar amateur career included a spot as an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing squad – if he wanted it.
He didn’t. Thurman instead opted to turn pro shortly after falling short to Demetrius Andrade in the Olympic Trials, officially punching for pay in Nov. ’07, just shy of his 21st birthday. Three years later, many wondered when ‘One Time’ would get his career in gear, racking up a string of knockout wins against largely nondescript competition.
Two fights into his 2012 campaign suggested more of the same, a disappointment considering the 15-month layoff preceding his Feb. ’12 off-TV knockout win over Christopher Fernandez. The bout took place in St. Louis, with fellow Haymon clients Adrien Broner and Devon Alexander appearing on the HBO-televised portion of the show.
Five months later, Thurman would make his way in front of the camera. The bitching soon began, but his performance ultimately spoke for itself.
The July slot – in supporting capacity to Broner – was originally to come against Marcos Maidana, whose management instead decided against a second straight fight in which their guy was the B-side. Thurman wound up facing Orlando Lora, who was best known for the fights he lost (Paul Malignaggi, David Estrada) than for anything worthy of garnering HBO airtime.
All that Thurman could do was make the most with the hand that was dealt. He left an impression with the HBO broadcasting crew from the moment they met during the fighter’s meeting earlier in the week. Six rounds into his televised co-feature, Thurman left an impression with viewers.
True, the win was expected and that anything other than a spectacular showing would be viewed as a disappointment. That he consciously fought to entertain was enough to convince the network brass that he belonged back in front of the cameras in the near future.
It was his next ring – and television – appearance that ultimately earned the Floridian accolades as the sport’s most promising prospect.
Carlos Quintana was coming off of a career-resurrecting sixth round knockout of Deandre Latimore when he was tabbed to test the skills and heart of the unbeaten welterweight.
Thurman passed every test with flying colors. One day after his 24th birthday, he blew out the candles on Quintana’s career. The former welterweight titlist was dropped in the opening round and battered throughout before being rescued by referee Jack Reiss late in the fourth round.
The beating was enough to convince Quintana to call it a career. While one journey was ending, it’s merely the beginning of plenty more to come for Thurman.
There have been plenty of fighters who simply fought to win in their first moment on the big stage, playing it safe in hopes of keeping alive another future payday, whenever that day may come. Just winning has never been good enough for Thurman. If he hears music, he’s going to dance.
“It’s highly important to make a statement,” Thurman says of his mindset prior to every fight, whether or not on television. “I want them to know that I belong in that elite class of fighters. The whole goal is to go after a belt. I enjoy exciting fights. I like taking fights that sound risky. You don’t pick your moves and opponents in the amateurs. You step up to the plate and fight everybody.”
A surplus of talent in and around the welterweight division means plenty of fights from which to choose for Thurman in 2013, any given number of them representing a bona fide risk.
Contrary to what most choose to believe, he honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Whenever someone is ready to let Keith Thurman eat, I’m ready to grab that belt,” insists the 24-year old. “That’s my way of making a statement. We have options right now. When I make it up to that point, whoever is holding a belt is on my list.”
While Thurman compiles his list of future challenges, he can take great pride in topping Boxingscene.com’s list of Prospect of the Year candidates.
HONORABLE MENTION (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Julio Ceja –Six wins in 2012 have already advanced Ceja to divisional contention, despite just three full years as a pro and having just turned 20 years old. Ceja has already established himself as a favorite among the Televisa ‘Sabados de Corona’ series. Included among his 2012 campaign were a string of strong showings against former titlist Cruz Carbajal and past title challengers Ronald Barrera, Genaro Garcia and Luis Melendez.
Joel Diaz Jr. – The California-based super featherweight was thrown straight into the deep end to start the year, matched up against fellow unbeaten prospect Guy Robb. Only 19 at the time and with just six fights under his belt, Diaz Jr. survived a firefight to stop Robb in the seventh round of their Shobox thriller. Five wins came of the year, though – for reasons only Boxing 360 (his promoter) can explain – his competition level regressed as the year went on.
Omar Figueroa – Omar comin’, yo! The career paths of Figueroa and Diaz couldn’t have been more similar in 2012. Like Diaz, Figueroa began his year with a huge stoppage win over a fellow unbeaten prospect (Michael Perez) on Shobox. Sadly also like Diaz, the handlers for Figueroa saw it best fit to spend the rest of the year screwing the pooch, as the Texan was matched softly in subsequent bouts. Still, the six wins he racked up in 2012 was a welcome improvement in activity.
Bryant Jennings – The unbeaten Philly heavyweight wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the year began. By the end of 2012, Jennings served as the face of NBC Sports’ Fight Night series. Four of his five fights on the year aired on the series, while developing into a rare breed among today’s markets – an unbeaten American heavyweight worth watching.
Jesse Magdaleno – The first year of Magdaleno’s career was spent sharing fight nights with older brother Diego Magdaleno, now a super featherweight contender. That changed in 2012, with the super bantamweight fighting six times on the year to Diego’s two, with none of the fights coming on the same cards. The younger Magdaleno showed great promise in his most recent ring appearance, pitching a shutout against Jonathan Arrellano in December.
Thomas Oosthuizen – The 24-year old super middleweight began and ended the year in his native South Africa, but managed to impress in back-to-back stateside showings in between. Decision wins over Marcus Johnson and Rowland Bryant helped launch Oosthuizen to title contention among a loaded super middleweight division.
David Price – Four fights on the year lasting just seven combined rounds left boxing fans wanting more of the unbeaten Brit. Knockout wins over Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton has his handlers believing there is plenty of substance behind the 6’8” heavyweight, having already lined up a February showdown with former title challenger Tony Thompson. Price promised after his last fight to bring his talents to the United States in 2013. Chances are, fans on this side of the pond will welcome his arrival with open arms.
Deontay Wilder – Six knockouts in as many fights in 2012 keeps Wilder’s career knockout streak alive. The past three have seen television coverage, including a 1st round knockout win over Kerston Manswell in August to mark the first time in 30 years in which a fight card aired live on television from his home state of Alabama. Wilder (26-0, 26KO) made his Showtime debut by year’s end, blasting out Kelvin Price in three rounds as the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist is finally past the point of still learning while he’s earning and is now on the road to contender status.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox