By Jake Donovan


Given what took place in the preceding 12 rounds, Keith Thurman ultimately proved that ‘One Time’ was exactly what prime time needed.


The unbeaten Floridian slugger could not have picked a better stage to deliver perhaps his best career performance to date, scoring a landslide decision win over Robert Guerrero in a one-sided yet highly entertaining affair. The welterweight bout headlined at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, airing live Saturday evening on NBC in the inaugural edition of Al Haymon’s ‘Premier Boxing Champions’ series.


It was the first time since Larry Holmes enjoyed the last successful title defense of his lengthy heavyweight championship reign nearly 30 years ago that boxing aired live in primetime on NBC. For about 12 rounds into the telecasts, fans wondered just what boxing was getting itself into, as Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr. offered a dull affair well deserving of the boos rained down throughout and immediately following the contest.


The jeers quickly turned to cheers the moment Thurman and Guerrero got going, which took all of mere seconds into their welterweight brawl. Thurman admitted after his last ring appearance that ring rust marred his performance, one where he was forced to move far more than he’d prefer in a prizefight.


The tune-up win over Leonardo Bundu was tough to watch for Showtime viewers last December, but served its purpose for Thurman, who looked sharper than ever in returning less than three months later. His punching power was the overwhelming difference throughout the evening, drawing blood from a cut over Guerrero’s left eye early in the night.


Thurman was not without adversity of his own, however. A clash of heads left the unbeaten fighter with a developing hematoma atop his forehead. Armed with an experienced corner that includes no-nonsense trainer Dan Birmingham, the wound never became an issue and in fact improved as the action proceeded.


So too, did Thurman’s performance. Each passing round made it clear that the direction of the fight was never going to change. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of trying on Guerrero’s part, as the Californian never showed any signs of quit no matter how bad things were going.


“I’m a Mexican-American. I come with corazon (heart),” Guerrero proudly stated to NBC’s Kenny Rice when asked if there was any point where he felt like calling it a night. “I’d rather go out on my back than to just not continue.”


That ending nearly came about for Guerrero towards the end of round nine. Thurman was able to connect with crippling right hands throughout the fight, including his delivering the bout’s lone knockdown.


Guerrero was put flat on his back, strangely folding his arms underneath his head as if he were prepared to lie down for the night. He was able to make it up just prior to the count of nine, but many wondered if the former two-division titlist would come back out for the start of the 10th round.


He did, and the fans were treated to a thrilling three minutes of action.


Thurman jumped out to a strong start, anxious to see if he could finish what he started. Guerrero took the shots well, overcoming his worst moments of the night to rally back hard later in the round. Thurman was clipped with a left hand on the inside, never to the point of a game-changing moment, but enough to keep him honest and preventing from emptying his clip, at least at that particular time.


“I knew I was hurting him,” Thurman (25-0, 21KOs) acknowledged after the fight. “I thought he was going to press more in the beginning rounds. But he’s a veteran and he knew how to pace himself.”


A stronger start by Guerrero might have made a difference in his night, or it could’ve meant his getting stopped before the fight had the chance to thrill the announced crowd of 10,106 in attendance.


Thurman found a way to adapt in the championship rounds, reclaiming full control in round 11 and never relenting. The marching orders given to Thurman by his head trainer were to “put him on in his ass” prior to the start of the 12th and final round. It wouldn’t happen, but damn if Thurman never stopped trying to close the show, his performance – and Guerrero’s brave stance – bringing the crowd to its feet at the end of the bout.


The lopsided scores – 120-107, 118-108 and 118-109 – may not have suggested a fun-filled slugfest, but it was a night where Thurman was forced to work hard for the win, looking damn good in the process in a performance befitting of prime time viewership.


It was everything that is right with boxing, a sport that often gets it all too wrong. Such was the case in the opening bout of the telecast, as Adrien Broner was content with boxing for 12 rounds while John Molina Jr. was utterly clueless as to why the former three-division champ wouldn’t stand and trade.


The boo birds came out early and never stopped voicing disapproval over the lack of action over the course of the 12-round bout. Scores of 120-108 (twice) and 118-110 came in for Broner, who won his third straight fight in moving to 30-1 (22KOs).


However, it’s that one loss that continues to stall any progress there is to be made in his career.


“The last time I fought for the crowd, I took my first loss,” Broner acknowledged after the fight, while forced to talk over a chorus of boos. “No disrespect to the crowd, but I did what I had to do tonight.”


Fortunately, the same line of thinking never crossed the minds of Thurman or especially Guerrero, who likely would have been forgiven had he opted to call it a night at any point from the knockdown onward. Instead, he proved valiant in defeat, with both sides of the fight drawing raucous applause.


“Thurman’s a tough fighter. Now I know why they call him One Time. He's got a lot of power,” noted Guerrero, who falls to 32-3-1 (18KOs). The loss is the second in his last three fights, having dropped a wide decision to pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in this very venue nearly two years ago.


As rough a night at the office as he endured then, Guerrero was quick to acknowledge that there was something special about the man he just fought.


“He's one of the best,” Guerrero admitted in ranking Thurman against his other notable opposition through the years. “He came to get his job. He stuck to his game plan. I take my hat off to him. I'm not a hater. I fight for my fans.”


So too did Thurman, for all 12 rounds. On a night that could’ve turned disastrous considering its start and the millions of dollars invested, it was precisely what the sport needed, with ‘One Time’ emphatically announcing his arrival right on time.


Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Twitter: @JakeNDaBox