Mario Barrios fit all the criteria that Keith Thurman wanted in an opponent for his ring return.
The former welterweight titleholder from Clearwater, Florida will look to break a more than two-and-a-half sabbatical from boxing, when he makes his return against San Antonio's Barrios on Feb. 5 at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. Thurman, 33, has not fought since dropping a close decision to Manny Pacquiao in 2019.
The 26-year-old Barrios is a career 140-pounder looking to make his mark in the so-called glamor division. Barrios had a version of the WBA 140-pound belt, but he lost to lightweight Gervonta Davis in their pay-per-view matchup last June in Atlanta.
Barrios' CV at 140 appealed to Thurman.
“I was given a few names, and Barrios had the best record,” Thurman told Brian Custer on The Last Stand Podcast. “[Barrios is a] former world champion, I’m a former world champion. I don’t even think the other guy was a former world champion. It just seemed like the better name.”
The other guy, as Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) would later reveal, was Abel Ramos, a 30-year-old contender who will appear on the Thurman-Barrios undercard in a welterweight contest against Josesito Lopez, a former Thurman opponent.
“He’s on the card – I don’t mind mentioning names – Abel Ramos,” Thurman said when asked about the other opponent he was considering.
Ramos (27-4-2, 21 KOs) has had a solid, if unspectacular career thus far, although his last few outings have boosted his reputation. The Arizonian notched a come-from-behind controversial win over Bryant Perrella in 2020 followed that same year by a split decision loss to eventual welterweight titleholder Yordenis Ugas. Ramos fought once last year, a sixth round beatdown of shopworn Omar Figueora Jr.
In the end, Thurman, cognizant that neither name was going to have fans hearts’ racing, thought Barrios had the better credentials.
“No matter what, we’re always going to catch a little criticism if we’re not fighting the top guys,” Thurman said. “They’re always going to wonder why you picked this guy, why you picked that guy, so that question is always going to pop up. [Barrios] got one loss, I’ve got one loss, he’s stepping up to the welterweight division, fighting Keith Thurman, that means he wants to make a name at 147.
“That means he wants to redeem himself and he wants to put himself into championship contention. He doesn’t want to just slowly move into the welterweight division, he just wants to make a big splash. And I respect that. And fighters that are coming off of losses are dangerous. Because you don’t know where his head is at. That’s why we’re doing this interview right now. You don’t know where Thurman’s head has been at. Out of the ring [for] two years, this and that.”