By Jake Donovan
For Keith Thurman, the worst part about not being able to fight for the past 22 months wasn’t the healing proceed, but the absence of a confirmed deadline.
The unbeaten welterweight titlist will enjoy a celebrated ring return this Saturday, when he faces Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19KOs) in the main event of a Fox-televised card live from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The bout will be his first since a 12-round win over Danny Garcia in their March ’17 title unification clash, after which he underwent elbow surgery.
At the time, it was believed that the procedure would only keep the Florida native out of the ring through the remainder of the year. When 2017 transitioned into 2018 and his boxing schedule remained empty, is when the madness began to set in.
“After elbow surgery (in May ’17) I kept pressing my doctor to give me a turnaround date,” Thurman (28-0, 23KOs) noted during a media conference call of the lengthy physical rehabilitation process. “I was like ‘How long, doc, how long?’ He was pretty clever with his wording. He never gave a real date in all those words he used.
“It was like six months after the surgery and it still wasn’t healed. So then it was more like 10-12 months (until a hoped-for return). I spent a lot of time with my (new) wife. I was surrounded by her family and was able to cope with that.”
Hopes for a comeback in 2018 were thwarted when Thurman healed from one injury but suffered from another. Efforts to return to the gym at full strength finally provided a reality check as to why the presiding physician was so coy in his response to an approved comeback date.
“When I was able to get back I the ring and suffered another injury to my left hand, I was like like, ‘This is not fun; I wish someone could tell me when I would be back,’” Thurman admitted of a hand injury suffered by his estimation around this time last year. “It was just very frustrating for me. I just wanted to have a fight date.
“I wanted to be able to get back in the ring. The doctors told me I wouldn’t be out forever. It just felt like forever for me. I feel like this is a real comeback fight for myself. Josesito Lopez is moving up, he has a new trainer, he has new talents a great deal of confidence.”
Saturday’s contest will mark just the fifth title defense for Thurman, who claimed an interim belt in 2014 before being upgraded to full champion in 2015. His first official task as a “real” champ came in his 12-round win over Robert Guerrero, with their March ’15 bout officially launching the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) brand in airing live in primetime on NBC.
Thurman remained a PBC centerpiece, serving as the leading attraction for kickoff shows on ESPN and CBS. The latter network played host to his last two starts, with wins over Shawn Porter (June ’16) and Garcia (March ’17) playing to huge household ratings.
In his time away from the ring, PBC has transitioned from time buy series across a slew of networks to long-term output deals with Showtime and Fox. Thurman will top the second installment of the rebranded PBC on Fox series. Admittedly, he enters Saturday’s contest not 100% healthy, but as healed up as he will ever be likely for the rest of his career.
“The hand is a little bit… the doctor told me it may need monitoring throughout my whole career,” Thurman noted of his left hand, although while making clear that it’s to a point where he can confidently enter the ring. “Fighters go through that.”
“Even if we have to do little things like monitor it, I will stay positive. There are many ways to get to the finish line in a championship fight. I didn’t knock out Shawn, I didn’t knock out Danny. At the end of the day, I’m always going to stay confident.”