By Lem Satterfield
WBA champion Keith Thurman will end a 22-month ring absence in pursuit of his third straight and fourth overall appearance at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on January 26, but expect “One Time” to experience some potentially treacherous moments during his eighth defense against durable third-time title challenger Josesito Lopez as Premier Boxing Champions returns to FOX (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.).
Showtime's ringside analyst Paulie Malignaggi believes the 30-year-old Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) will have to “bang it out” at times against the 34-year-old in Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs), whose unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Miguel Cruz in April was his third straight victory in as many bouts under trainer Robert Garcia.
Thurman has endured neck, hand and elbow injuries, the latter two of which hindered his return to the ring until this month.
“I think you’ll see great effort from both fighters, but Thurman hasn’t been in ring in a while,” said Malignaggi, a 38-year-old former 140- and 147-pound champion. "So I’m interested in how he comes back, and you’re expecting him to have to shake off some ring rust."
Lopez previously lost to two-time 147-pound champion Andre Berto in 2015, being dropped twice in the sixth and final round of stoppage he led on two of the three judges’ cards.
But “The Riverside Rocky's" career-defining victory was a ninth-round stoppage in 2012 of southpaw Victor Ortiz, whose jaw he broke. Ortiz was a player at 147 pounds at the time, having handed Berto the first career loss by unanimous decision as each fighter twice hit the deck.
“Josesito Lopez is a guy who comes to fight all of the time," said Malignaggi. "I think he’ll come in with the intentions of banging it out with Thurman, and I think this will be a fight where Thurman’s welcomed back into a firefight pretty quickly.”
Thurman is 7-0 with four knockouts in title fights, his championship-winning 10th-round knockout of previously unbeaten Diego Chaves in July 2013 featuring ninth- and final-round knockdowns.
Among “One Time’s” defenses were those over former world champion Julio Diaz (April 2014) and left-handed ex-titlists Robert Guerrero (March 2015) and Luis Collazo (July 2015) by third-round stoppage, unanimous decision and seventh-round stoppage.
Lopez would do well to observe Thurman’s clash with Collazo, whose crippling fifth-round left to the liver doubled over and nearly floored "One Time." But Thurman opened a cut over Collazo's eye, resulting in Collazo retiring on his stool after the seventh round.
“Josesito comes into every fight firing both hands at Thurman, who is not only the more naturally bigger guy but I think also the more skillful," said Malignggi. "Thurman's trying to get his feet back under him, and Joseisto likes to trade and will try to catch Thurman off guard in a firefight."
Thurman debuted at Barclays Center in March 2013 with a unanimous decision over former champion Jan Zaveck. Thurman’s past two fights were his other wins at Barclays comprised of unanimous- and split-decisions over two-time champion Shawn Porter (June 2016) and two-division title-winner Danny Garcia (March 2017) before injuries sidelined him for nearly two years.
Thurman injured his neck in a car accident in February 2016, delaying by three months his win over Porter (29-2-1, 17 KOs) in a “Fight Of The Year” caliber clash in June 2016.
Thurman next won a unification over Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs), adding Garcia’s WBC crown to his WBA version. A month later, Thurman had major surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs and calcium deposits, requiring months of therapy afterward.
After vacating the WBC’s title in April with the caveat that he can challenge its reigning champion upon his return, Thurman watched from ringside at Barclays in September as Porter earned his injury-vacated WBC crown by unanimous decision over Garcia, becoming a 147-pound world titlist for the second time.
“I think it’s going to be a fight where you’ll see very gritty performance from Josesito, who will put hands on Thurman and make it an exciting fight. I just don’t think he has the natural size and firepower to overcome Thurman over the long run," said Malignaggi.
“I just see the natural firepower of Thurman making it difficult for Lopez, who I don’t think Josesito knows how to fight any other way. You’re probably going to see Thurman bang him out in the first six rounds. I just don’t see it going past six rounds.”