There comes a time in every prospect's boxing life when he finds out whether he has "it" -- the ability to rise at ever-escalating levels of the sport. For Keith Thurman -- and for Diego Chaves as well -- that time has come.
Each man has passed through his "Godzilla" phase with flying colors and they've gotten past the intermediate levels without a defeat. Between the two, only a butt-induced no-contest against Thurman represents the only blemish in 43 combined fights. For the first time, however, each is meeting a fellow beast and the prospect of defeat is now very real.
Which man will continue his ascent through the ranks and which man will be forced to pick up the pieces? Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
A Balanced Attack: Although Thurman has 18 KOs in 20 victories, he is not just a knockout machine but rather a fighter who seeks out versatility. In three of his last four fights, "One Time" has featured a two-dimensional attack that has featured more than its share of jabs.
In comprehensively out-pointing Jan Zaveck in his most recent outing, Thurman threw 817 punches (68.1 per round), of which 481 -- or 58.9% -- were jabs. His 40.1 jabs per round is well above the 24.5 welterweight average and it didn't really matter that they landed just 13.1% of the time; the variety alone helped Thurman connect on 45% of his power punches while limiting Zaveck to 33.1 punches per round and 32% power accuracy. In all Thurman out-landed the ex-titlist 217-110 (overall), 67-33 (jabs) and 150-77 (power) and proved he could hold his nerve in a more important circumstance.
Against Orlando Lora and Brandon Hoskins, Thurman's attack also prominently featured the jab. He threw 179 jabs and 197 power shots against Lora while he while he threw 76 of each in disposing of Hoskins. He landed 21% of his jabs and 44% of his power shots versus the sieve-like Lora while tasting just 13% overall and 20% power while against the overmatched Hoskins he connected on 49% of his jabs and 62% of his power shots en route to a third round TKO.
He proved against the tricky southpaw Carlos Quintana, however, that he can switch back to beast mode if need be. There he threw just 47 jabs and 123 power shots (a 72-28 punch distribution split) and Quintana's defensive skills limited Thurman to 34% overall and 39% power. But in the end, Thurman's power spoke loudly as he scored a first round knockdown via a liver shot and a frightful flurry to end the fight in round four. That versatility may well be a danger for Chaves, who is fighting for the first time in the U.S.
Early vs. Late: In terms of power Chaves is most dangerous early as 16 of his 18 knockouts have occurred within three rounds. One interesting statistical quirk with Chaves is that while his knockouts are of highlight-reel quality, his accuracy is not overwhelming. When he stopped Jose Miranda in two rounds, he landed just 23% overall and 32% power while against Jorge Miranda (KO 3) the numbers were 29% overall and 38% power and versus Ismael El Massoudi (TKO 2) they were 34% and 40%, around or below the welterweight norms of 32% and 39%. Chaves' blowouts are often the result of extreme pressure and volume, for he averaged 79.4 per round against El Massoudi, 107.4 versus Jorge Miranda and 80.2 versus Jorge Miranda.
When forced to go longer distances, as was the case against Eduardo Flores (KO 9) and Omar Weis (W 12), Chaves' prodigious power is lessened but his volume remains the same -- if not better. Chaves maintained an excellent pace throughout the Flores fight as he ranged between 72 punches per round (round four) and 92 (round three) while unveiling a prodigious body attack as 109 of his 186 power connects (58.6%) targeted the flanks. The result was an attrition KO that saw Chaves out-land Flores 232-74 overall and 186-58 power, including bulges of 124-35 (total) and 109-27 (power) from round five onward.
Against the still-slick 38-year-old Weis, Chaves had his problems in the early rounds as he was out-landed 129-110 overall and 99-75 in power shots through the first seven rounds. He also suffered a shocking knockdown courtesy of a right uppercut and a series of unanswered head shots. But starting in round eight Chaves shifted into overdrive and from rounds eight through 11 he out-landed Weis 143-84 (total) and 124-60 (power) en route to a narrow but deserved victory. In all Chaves out-landed Weis 271-226 overall and landed 29% overall and 35% of his power shots while tasting 31% of Weis' total punches and 38% of his power punches.
Prediction: Chaves is tough, willing and talented but he comes at opponents in straight lines and lacks outstanding precision on his punches. Thurman, on the other hand, has shown versatility and genuine power in his outings and those dimensions will serve him well here. One must wonder about Chaves' chin since he was knocked nearly senseless by the usually light-hitting and past-his prime Weis and that's bad news against Thurman's bombs. This fight should go rounds but Thurman will emerge with a TKO in the middle to late portions of the bout.