By Jake Donovan, photo by LatinBox
Unbeaten rising contender Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman doesn’t need any extra incentive to win or look good doing so. The Floridian knockout artist delivers a professional effort every time he steps into the ring, regardless of the opponent or of the potential stakes.
Still, the thought of putting some extra pocket change doesn’t hurt. Nor does the opportunity to slow down the current Argentine bum rush the sport has endured in recent years.
“There’s no question, the Argentinean fighters are bringing it these days,” Thurman says of his opponent this weekend, fellow unbeaten welterweight Diego Chaves. The two clash in the opening leg of Saturday night’s Showtime-televised tripleheader, live from the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The headlining bout for the evening is a welterweight clash between Andre Berto and Jesus Soto Karass.
At stake in Thurman’s bout is the interim welterweight belt Chaves has in tow. The unbeaten Argentine also carries into the ring with him a five-fight knockout streak, and 16 of his 22 career bouts having ended in three rounds or less.
What he also brings is a 10-month stretch of inactivity, having only fought a total of seven live rounds in a span of nearly two years. It’s not the best formula for success heading in against one of the sport’s rising young stars. Not that any of the details particularly matter to his challenger.
“I know of him, but am not going to lie and tell you that I know all about him,” Thurman admits, a procedure that’s par for the course for the 24-year old. His job is to fight; the details are left in the capable hands of renowned trainer Dan Birmingham, best known for his longtime allegiance with former 154 lb. king Winky Wright.
Come fight night, Thurman knows everything he needs to know about his opponent; he’s simply standing in the way of a long-term vision.
“What I know about (Chaves) is that he’s 22-0 with 18 knockouts. He has a title that will be on the line. I know enough about boxing to know those things don’t happen by accident. Anyone can pad a record. There are plenty of belts to go around. But he’s knocking people out and made a few defenses. You don’t get to that point without knowing how to fight. I’m taking this fight very seriously.”
There’s no reason to believe that Thurman will take any other approach on fight night. He has made headlines ever since the amateur days, racking up six national championships and more than 100 wins in the non-paying ranks. There existed the opportunity to attend the 2008 Beijing Games as an Olympic alternate, having lost to Demetrius Andrade in 2008 during the Olympic Trials for a spot on the team.
Instead, Thurman decided to begin punching for pay, turning pro in late 2007. His promised reign of terror immediately followed, with his first eight fights all ending inside of a round, lasting less than 15 minutes of combined ring time.
Injuries have been the only thing to slow down Thurman’s progress at any point in his career, now approaching six years in the pro ranks. Only two of his 21 opponents to date have managed to go the scheduled distance, one of which came in his last ring appearance.
Former welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck marked a step up in class for Thurman, who drew mild criticism for receiving past HBO appearances that was deemed by some groups as a result of association (advised by Al Haymon) rather than merit.
Thurman had already knocked out Orlando Lora and Carlos Quintana in his previous HBO-televised bouts, with the showcase against Zaveck airing on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins’ historic win over Tavoris Cloud earlier this year. The rising contender knew what he was up against, both in his own fight and in terms of what was required to demand the spotlight on that March evening.
The knockout didn’t come, but not for a lack of trying. Zaveck endured everything his younger opponent had to offer and even managed to give some back in return. In the end, it was a rout for Thurman, who won a well-deserved near-shutout to serve notice that he was ready for the world’s best welterweights.
It was the type of breakout fight where most in his shoes would have put winning first and the extra effort to entertain a distant second. That thought never came close to entering Thurman’s mind.
“The difference between most fighters and myself is that I know what I’m capable of, and always come to thrill the crowd,” Thurman insists. “I don’t throw caution to the wind and take foolish risks; I know how hard I can hit and that I’m capable of ending a fight at any given moment.
“That’s what was going through my mind against Zaveck, even as he took it round after round. I knew that the fight was bound to go the distance, but I tried until the very end to get that knockout. I hit him with a shot in the last few seconds of the fight that made me realize, time to just let the clock run out. But I’ll never settle for a decision win. I’ll take it if comes, but my goal is to knock you out.”
That direct approach will come in handy this weekend, his first appearance on Showtime Championship Boxing. First, it puts him in line for the knockout bonus promised by promoter Oscar de la Hoya.
It also appears to be the best course of action to help put a dent in the current boxing surge enjoyed by Argentina. Sergio Martinez continues to enjoy life as middleweight king, even if his career is rapidly heading towards the twilight. Very much in the heart of their respective primes are Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana. Matthysse is gearing up for a mouthwatering showdown with 140 lb. titlist Danny Garcia in September, while Maidana is on the hunt for a title fight with Adrien Broner.
Also enjoying life at the top of the boxing heap from the boxing-rich South America country are fighters such as Juan Carlos Reveco and Omar Narvaez.
In order for Chaves to join his countrymen, he has to survive the stiffest challenge of his young career in just his second ever fight outside of his native Argentina.
Thurman is here to let him know that simply isn’t happening.
“The first time I touch his chin, he’ll understand what he’s up against,” Thurman promises. “I have a lot of plans for the future, but they’re all on hold until I get this guy out of my way. That’s where all of my focus lies, which is bad news for (Chaves).”
With a win, the goal for Thurman is to conquer the welterweight division as a whole. It doesn’t matter that the other titlists and top contenders are all either with Al Haymon or under the promotional umbrella of Top Rank, presently embroiled in a long-running cold war with Golden Boy Promotions, who has guided most of Thurman’s career.
Politics be damned, the budding knockout artist refuses to let any obstacle stand in his way.
“Nobody is off limits,” Thurman states in regards to potential future opponents. “I talk with Al and my team all of the time about the reality of fighting some of his other clients. When you have most of the talent and a lot of those guys fighting around the same weight, they’re eventually going to run into each other.”
“Besides, it’s not like he is against his guys fighting each other. It’s not first choice, but look at Peter Quillin, who fought Fernando Guerrero. They’re both with Al.”
So, too are Garcia and Matthysse, who agreed to terms last week to square off in the chief support to the September 14 pay-per-view headlined by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’ pursuit of the unlikely as he faces Floyd Mayweather, the centerpiece of the Haymon boxing stable.
The winners of each of those bouts are on Thurman’s radar, as well as Berto – another Haymon fighter – should he get past Soto-Karass in this weekend’s main event.
“You can name anyone in my weight class or near my weight class, and I will tell you that if they matter, then they are in my future plans,” Thurman summarizes.
Presently in his way is the only obstacle that concerns the unbeaten contender – and not for a fear of losing.
“Everybody’s talking about these guys from Argentina doing damage in the sport, and they’re doing their thing. Once that bell rings, I’ll be doing my thing and that’s the last time anyone will be talking about Diego Chaves like that.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox