By Jake Donovan
A fighter is either ready for the limelight or he isn’t, regardless of who is standing in the other corner.
Keith Thurman made his HBO debut last Saturday, serving as the chief support to Adrien Broner’s homecoming win over Vicente Escobedo at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. While controversy swirled around the main event, Thurman remained as calm as an assassin in taking out late sub Orlando Lora in six rounds in the evening’s televised co-feature.
“I feel pretty good,” Thurman said in scoring his seventh straight knockout, this one coming in just his second career pro bout to extend beyond the fourth round. “I’ve been hearing a lot of good responses and created some good fans. It was exciting for me and fans and meant a lot to me to hear the HBO announcers say good things. If there was any criticism, it was constructive. It was a very good night.”
The HBO broadcast crew initially slammed the fight as a mismatch that had no business on its airwaves. Thurman – a 15-1 favorite to win – heard and read what the media had to say and knew he had to win and look damn good doing so in order to turn the negative remarks into glowing praise.
By fights end, the HBO announcers were gushing in praise, while most in the media agreed that Thurman deserves a second look, though hopefully against stronger opposition.
In fairness, the slot was originally granted on the basis that he would be facing former 140 lb. titlist and residential badass Marcos Maidana. Thurman himself kept his training habits in accordance with the original opponent, which meant in-ring adjustments would be in order as the fight progressed.
“I was boxing and moving a little more than people like. We were getting ready for Maidana, a come-forward fighter. We didn’t want to change our tactics that much, since the opponent change came so late into training camp. It took longer than expected, but we eventually got him out of there.”
“Lora was tough like I knew he was going to be. He was tougher than what I thought Maidana would be, although I’d have to get him in the ring to prove it. I saw a little tape on (Lora) and I expected to do what I did, which was box smart and use my youth and athleticism to put together my power shots. I broke him down from many aspects.”
Where Thurman didn’t break down was under the pressure of performing in front of the bright lights. At just 23 years young and advancing from a world of non-televised undercard appearances, Thurman appeared to be right at home, whether it was in the ring or casually speaking with the HBO crew before the fight and again in his post-fight interview.
“I remind myself, this is what you’ve been waiting for your entire life. I acted like the cameras weren’t there. I didn’t look at the camera; I looked straight at my opponent. It’s game night and you only have one time to perform.”
Thurman hopes for more to come on HBO. With performances like the one delivered on Saturday, more are sure to come though conceivably against stronger opposition.
There are those who will scoff at the notion that Thurman will have to earn his way to future prime-time slots, given his affiliation with well-connected advisor. It’s no secret that this weekend’s performance came with Al Haymon’s influence as he advises both Thurman and Broner among his ever-growing stable.
No apologies are made on Thurman’s end. Everyone can use a little help getting through the door, but it’s what you do once you arrive on the scene that ultimately matters the most. In that regard, the young fighter represented himself well.
“I’m young, still growing and I’m living the dream. I want to be a PPV fighter one day. I want to entertain. It’s great that HBO loved my charisma and love my fighting ability. I’m certainly indebted to Al. He cares a lot about his fighters.
“People talk about his pull. But fighters are here to entertain. Do you want to see the same guy over and over? If he’s the best, he will prove it. If not, it’s time to bring in fresh talent.”
Though just a few days from his last fight, Thurman is anxious to get back into to the ring and do it all again. His post-fight hit list – Paul Malignaggi, Tim Bradley and pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather - is a bit more ambitious than most expected. Thurman sees them as goals, but for now will just settle on the next best opportunity as long as it’s sooner rather than later.
“I would say within the next three months, I’ll be back in the ring. We’re not done for the year,” insists Thurman, who has fought three times this year after missing all of 2011. “We’ll be back in the gym shortly and go back to the drawing board. We’ll see what fights open up.”
On Wednesday, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer advised BoxingScene.com that Thurman would likely return to action on October 6th at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, as part of a possible tripleheader with Broner and heavyweight Seth Mitchell in separate televised bouts. The network has not been revealed.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox