By Cliff Rold
Sports should be simple: win, progress, and ultimately end up with the other winners. There doesn’t need to be that much thought to it.
In boxing, a sport lacking the structure and internal logic we might find in a team sports concept, doesn’t always work that way. If it did, the next big fight in the welterweight would be obvious. If fans start asking for it, it couldn’t hurt.
Last Saturday, in a fight that did the sort of viewing numbers that accentuate the value of network television coverage, WBA titlist Keith Thurman kept his undefeated record and added the WBC belt to his trophy case. The win makes him one of the few unified titlists in boxing.
It doesn’t necessarily make him the best fighter in his division. There is more to be done in that regard and that’s fine. While he might not be the undisputable best in class yet, he has become its most seen winner.
With all due respect to Errol Spence, whose post-Olympic fight did somewhere in the neighborhood of six million viewers, it is Thurman’s numbers on television that have been the most organic and impressive. His fights against Robert Guerrero (NBC), Shawn Porter (CBS), and now Danny Garcia (CBS) have all peaked at higher than four million viewers in the last two years. The Garcia fight, at its most watched, had over five million households tuning in.
Now, no, Thurman-Garcia was not a great fight. It wasn’t a bad fight either. It was just one of most fights that happen and we move on and that’s fine.
The bonuses of the night came by way of the sport not stepping on itself. It was competitive, clean, and the right guy won. Angel Garcia mostly acted like a grown up while the cameras were on. Those are all net positives.
Boxing’s credibility issues may be its biggest plague in the US, but sports fans will tolerate underwhelming if it’s fair.
There have been plenty of Super Bowls, World Series, and NBA Finals that everyone forgot shortly after they finished. Those sports retain their credibility because the outcomes are viewed as fairly achieved.
Thurman won, fair and square. Good enough.
His wins over Porter and Garcia also give him a pair of quality top ten wins at welterweight that establish him as one of the men to beat in class. He’s earned the right to find out if he can be the man.
The best way to do that would be a chance to beat the Manny.
This week, speculation about a clash between WBO titlist Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan went up in smoke. That leaves the dance card of Pacquiao empty. The name Jeff Horn has resurfaced, carrying with it the same “who the hell is Jeff Horn?” questioning that went on when first he was mentioned.
That’s not the fight fans should be asking for.
And they’re not.
Boxing politics being what they are, there are still plenty who would love to see Pacquiao versus Terence Crawford. Adrien Broner was reportedly negotiated at one point and most would enjoy that as well.
None of that gets us towards answering the question of who the world’s best welterweight is right now. Three men have some claim to the honor: Thurman, Pacquiao, and to a lesser extent Kell Brook. Brook was seen as sort of a de facto number one last year but the situation has changed. Brook moved to middleweight, lost to Gennady Golovkin, and hasn’t had any notable wins over contenders at welterweight since defeating Porter in 2014. That could change for Brook when he faces Spence, his mandatory and the assumed rising light of the class, later this year.
If it does or doesn’t, it’s enough to say Brook’s dance card is full. Pacquiao’s is empty. Thurman’s just got cleared.
Shouldn’t this be where we want to go?
Thurman, the most organically viewed fighter in the US in the last two years, against a Pacquiao who is still the most recognizable active fighter in the world, should be a no brainer. It’s a three-belt unification at a time when Pacquiao, age 38, still appears to have plenty in the tank.
He might not be the whirling dervish he was in years past but he was still able to easily outpoint Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas last year. That gives both he and Thurman solid top ten wins in each of their last two fights.
Style wise, it’s also interesting. Thurman made his name with early knockouts but he’s proven to be more comfortable boxing in many recent fights. The exception was his battle with the aggressive Porter. Pacquiao, even subdued, is a fighter who forces fights and brings offense. How would Thurman handle his power? Could Pacquiao force him into exchanges? Does he have one last feather to add to his cap by way of an undefeated, unified titlist at welterweight?
It’s a simple question: who is the best welterweight in the world. The fight that might get us closest to the answer right now is Pacquiao-Thurman. Neither has a fight scheduled.
Is it too much to ask that they fill their dance cards with each other?
It shouldn’t be. Let’s get the ball rolling.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]