By Andreas Hale
When Showtime unveiled it’s schedule for the first half of 2018, there were some who wondered who WBA & WBC welterweight champion Keith Thurman would be facing as his opponent for his return to the ring on May 19th. With Errol Spence slated for a June 16th defense of his IBF title, it certainly wouldn’t be him.
But could it happen later on in 2018?
Thurman, unequivocally, shot down the idea that a Keith Thurman-Errol Spence Jr. fight could happen this year. No ifs, ands or buts about it. In an interview with Fight Hub TV, Thurman made it clear that his immediate future doesn’t include a man who some already have pegged as higher on the pound for pound list.
“You’re not gonna see it in ’18, baby,” he said. “This is a get-back year; you’re not gonna be able to see it.”
Thurman cited the fact that there are “many” challengers to his 147-pound titles and he wanted to do the due diligence of defending the titles he won against Danny Garcia last March. However, elbow surgery put him on the shelf for the past year.
"Later on this year, we will do an exciting fight for you. But it will not be (Errol Spence Jr.),” Thurman continued. “(Errol Spence Jr.) is to come in the near future, but not that soon.”
Maybe he’s right. Considering that he will have spent over a year on the shelf, jumping in with perhaps the best 147 pounder out there isn’t the best idea. He’s well within his rights to compete in a “get-back” fight and test the elbow out. Honestly, he doesn’t necessarily need to fight Spence before 2018 is over. There are a lot of names that either fighter could take on before the year closes out. Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Jessie Vargas are all quality opponents that could face either Spence or Thurman.
However, does Thurman need to keep telling us that he won’t be fighting Errol Spence? I get it, people ask him all the time when he and Spence are going to square off, so he has to say something. But it’s the manner in which he’s saying it that is rubbing people the wrong way. Critics have already started tearing him to shreds on social media. But it appears that maybe Thurman is taking a page out of Floyd Mayweather’s playbook in an effort to build the hype for a showdown between two of the best welterweights in the world.
Is this the right way to go about building that hype?
In a way, the answer is yes. But with that comes a caveat, much is expected from Keith Thurman. He he were to face, say, Jessie Vargas and then follow it up with a rematch against Danny Garcia or Shawn Porter, then the criticism should fall on deaf ears. However, if he were to take on a pair of fighters who are well beneath him, then the critique would be just. More importantly, Thurman is no Floyd Mayweather. And that’s not necessarily a negative thing. But what Mayweather accomplished while remaining undefeated and becoming the world’s highest paid athlete was create a character that people were invested in, one way or another. Even if you hated Mayweather, you would pay to see him lose. Unfortunately, Mayweather never gave us the opportunity to see him lose. So he was creating cache with an audience that was deeply invested in his character.
Keith Thurman has a long way to go in that regard. However, he’s an exciting fighter to watch and could drum up a different kind of hype as long as he plays his cards right. So it is a slippery slope when being very straightforward about the prospect of a Thurman-Spence fight not taking place in 2018. On one hand, the detractors are going to come out in full force. But, on the other, those very detractors will be watching Keith Thurman fights in hopes of hearing him call out Spence.
He’s playing a unique hybrid heel role with this. He’s a likable guy but will do these smaller things to needle at his detractors. Meanwhile, Spence is the good guy in this scenario where he calls out opponents and continues to climb the ladder in devastatingly impressive fashion. If and when they finally do meet, it’s likely that Spence will be the fan favorite but Thurman will be the one responsible for all of the hype.
It’s smart, but dangerous. The only thing that will keep Thurman afloat is by clearing out the division of all the competition until only Spence is left. That means that he’ll have to face Garcia and/or Porter. In a perfect world, Garcia and Porter will fight each other in order to face Thurman. But, ultimately, “One Time” is going to have to take on the right opponents in a very crowded welterweight division before facing Spence. Hopefully, that means we do see Thurman-Spence next year. We should all be able to live with that thanks to a 2018 year that could see some big matchups in boxing. After all, we do need something to look forward to.