Mario Barrios obviously could’ve chosen an easier transition into the welterweight division than Keith Thurman.
Coming off an 11th-round, technical-knockout loss to Gervonta Davis in his final fight at the 140-pound limit, Barrios would’ve been well within reason to face a lesser opponent in his return to the ring than a former welterweight champion who has lost only to Manny Pacquiao. The 33-year-old Thurman will end a 2½-year layoff when he boxes Barrios on February 5 in Las Vegas, but the ex-WBA and WBC champion is the most accomplished opponent of Barrios’ eight-year, 27-fight pro career.
San Antonio’s Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs) explained his rationale for fighting such an imposing opponent in his welterweight debut during an appearance on “The PBC Podcast,” which is available on premierboxingchampions.com.
“It was a decision, you know, that again, when I was talking to Luis De Cubas, you know, my manager, you know, about just, you know, the whole move up to welterweight, you know, he was more or less picking my brain and asking who would I wanna be in there [with], you know, who would I kinda wanna be against,” Barrios told co-hosts Kenneth Bouhairie and Michael Rosenthal. “And I told him like, ‘Man, I don’t want an easy fight. Like if possible, like man, like I wanna fight like one of the best, you know, welterweights. You know, I mean, I want those big fights, you know, while, you know, I’m at an age, you know, where I am not past my prime.’
“You know, I’m 26 now. You know, this is, you know, I’m at the age where I wanna take these big fights. You know, I wanna take the risky fights, you know, that a lot of people aren’t willing to step up to. You know, for me, you know, again, just to test my abilities in this sport. And, I mean, I know for a fact that it’s a fight that, you know, boxing fans and just sport fans in general, you know, are gonna be able to enjoy.”
Baltimore’s Davis (26-0, 24 KOs) knocked Barrios to the canvas three times – twice in the eighth round and again in the 11th round. The 26-year-old Barrios believes he could’ve continued when he got up from that third knockdown, but he respects referee Thomas Taylor’s decision to halt a 12-round fight he was losing on all three scorecards June 26 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC), of Clearwater, Florida, hasn’t boxed since Pacquiao dropped him in the first round and won a 12-round split decision in July 2019 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Pacquiao won the WBA “super” welterweight title from Thurman that night.
FOX Sports Pay-Per-View will distribute the four-fight card headlined by Thurman-Barrios from Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing