By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Keith Thurman is a unique commodity.
Not only is he an unbeaten fighter who’s been successful against world-class opponents, but he’s also a good bit more thoughtful, introspective and worldly than your garden-variety championship athlete.
Still, that doesn’t mean he won’t get annoyed with a question now and then.
In the midst of preparation for his pay-per-view debut against Manny Pacquiao later this month, Thurman has been pining for a spotlight date with a high-end welterweight since breaking into the top-10 several years ago. He began copping second-tier WBA title belts in 2013 and ascended to the organization’s 147-pound penthouse upon Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s retirement in 2015.
He’s since handled the likes of Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia while running his record to 29-0, and returned from nearly two injury-prompted years on the shelf with a defeat of Josesito Lopez in January.
But the hiatus – along with the uneven outing against Lopez – has prompted whispers about the now-30-year-old’s career arc, prompting some to believe that his best might already be behind him.
Which, to some, creates doubt as to how he’ll fare against a still-relevant Pacquiao, even at age 40.
Not surprisingly, such skepticism isn’t greeted well by a proud champion.
“I don’t care,” Thurman told Boxing Scene. “You guys are just trying to write articles and sh*t. You guys choose to be critical. It’s just what you choose to be. At the end of the day, Keith Thurman has the best resume amongst all the young welterweights in the welterweight division today.
“Errol Spence is right behind me trying to catch up and outdo me, but with two years of inactivity I still have the best resume in the welterweight division. This is just a really exciting opportunity for me. It’s a dream come true. Twenty-three years in the sport. Undefeated. I’m looking forward to just reminding the world why Keith Thurman is one of the most dangerous and exciting welterweights.”
Thurman is ranked third in the division by Ring Magazine, behind fellow champs Spence (IBF) and Terence Crawford (WBO) and ahead of WBC title-holder Porter and Pacquiao. The top-five spots are occupied by the same men in the eyes of the Independent World Boxing Rankings, though Thurman drops to No. 5 there behind Crawford, Spence, Pacquiao and Porter.
He’s all the way down to No. 7 on the list at Boxrec.com, where Thurman is supplanted at spots five and six, respectively, by former WBC champ Danny Garcia and recent Porter foe Yordenis Ugas.
“I just don’t care. Look where I am. Why should I care?” Thurman said. “I’m at the top. I’ve fought for many years to be at the top. When I unified against Danny Garcia for the WBC/WBA (titles) I took the No. 1 welterweight position. Two years of inactivity, of course they’re going to talk about Crawford. Of course they’re going to talk about Spence. But I’ve been champion. Yes, they’re trying to forget about Keith Thurman. But can you really? Can you really? I am your entertainment.
“I was yesterday, I am today and I will be tomorrow. Keith Thurman versus Errol Spence is what the people want to see. Keith Thurman versus Terence Crawford is what the people want to see. Keith Thurman versus Shawn Porter was already one of the most exciting fights of the year when it happened. I make exciting fights. I make great fights. And I believe that’s why Pac chose me.”
Boxing Scene caught up with Thurman to discuss the fight, how it’s different than it might have been had it occurred several years ago and what might come next if things go as he plans on July 20.
BoxingScene.com: You’ve wanted a fight on this level for years. Does it still provide the same buzz as it would have if you’d have landed it when you first called for it?
Keith Thurman: It’s a different kind of buzz. I wanted this fight six years ago when I was 24 years old. At that time what would the critics say? Thurman’s young. Is he really ready for this kind of fight? This and that. I had less accomplishments six years ago. Today I have tons of accomplishments and yet I’m coming off of a two-year layoff in 2019. That layoff is kind of still overshadowing me and that’s why it’s a great opportunity for me to present myself to the world once again on a stage against Manny Pacquiao.
Manny Pacquiao is 40 years old and he’s got the critics overshadowing him with his age. Does he really deserve this? Is he at the top where he once was? I think it makes the fight right now more interesting. Manny Pacquiao is trying to prove at 40 years old that he’s still is a dominant force in the welterweight division. And here I am out of a two-year layoff just trying to make a statement that Keith “One Time” Thurman is still one of the biggest threats in boxing today.
BoxingScene.com: How much credit do you give Pacquiao for the wins over Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner? Fans of his say they’re huge wins, others are less impressed.
Keith Thurman: He won both fights. He stopped Lucas Matthysse. He dominated against Adrien Broner. I mean what more do you want from the guy? He looked great. But obviously those two names are not the biggest welterweights. They’re not the big welterweights. They’re not undefeated. I’m the current champion. My title is above Manny Pacquiao’s title. We’re fighting for my world title, not for his world title. He’s been winning. I’ve been inactive. I came back and I’ve won. To a degree he has a little bit of an advantage staying busy, staying active. I’m coming back. But at the end of the day this is still one of the best matchups of the year in the sport of boxing.
It’d be a tremendous feat for Pacquiao to defeat me. Winning a title that he’s never held in his whole career. The last person to hold this world title was Floyd Mayweather himself. Upon which Manny Pacquiao lost. I just think it’s exciting for him, it’s definitely exciting for me. My first ever pay per view. Manny Pacquiao, he’s a living legend. And it should be a great night of boxing. I’m expecting a fight that’s definitely more exciting than his last fight. Because I’m gonna throw my hands, I’m going to be looking to mix it up and just take it to him, and really push him and see if his age is or is not a factor.
BoxingScene.com: How close, based on what you’ve seen of him, is he to his prime?
Keith Thurman: Don’t know, don’t care. At the end of the day he still puts his hands together if you let him. He showed that to us against Adrien Broner in the seventh, eighth, ninth. He closed out the fight very strongly, I felt like. Floyd Mayweather did not box the same in his last few years in the ring in comparison to how he was boxing when he was 26 years old. It’s impossible to say Manny Pacquiao is in his prime. But it’s not impossible to say that Manny Pacquiao is still a great fighter.
I’m expecting to be in the ring with a legend, with one of the great fighters of the last generation. But we are coming to a new generation. Manny Pacquiao is the only old name that you hear in the welterweight division. There is no Floyd Mayweather. There is no Sugar Shane Mosley. There is no Oscar De La Hoya. What was was. Nowadays Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter. I wanna make the statement that Manny Pacquiao is just not ready for the young guys at the top of the welterweight division today.
BoxingScene.com: You’re confident and thoughtful and introspective. Do you ever allow yourself to think I can lose, or are you a guy who tells himself there’s no chance this guy can beat me?
Keith Thurman: Every fight. Every fight. At the end of the day, you want to run numbers, you want to run statistics, analytics. There’s a thing we call probability. So they say that there’s a 2 percent chance of rain. That still means there’s a chance of rain. At the end of the day, boxing is just not an easy sport. There’s no guarantee for victory. Of course you know that you have the tools. I knew I was gonna beat Shawn Porter. I knew I was gonna beat Danny Garcia. But I must train properly. I must train properly. And I’ve trained properly in preparation for this fight. I feel like I would have beaten Manny Pacquiao six years ago. I don’t need him to be 40 years old to beat him. I needed him to be 40 years old to get this opportunity. It took six more years before I was presented with this opportunity to share the ring with Manny Pacquiao. I’m definitely going to take full advantage come July 20.
BoxingScene.com: Is the 40-year-old version of him made for you? Is he the style of fighter you can impress against, plus bag a high-end name?
Keith Thurman: Did you not hear what I said a few moments ago, that I would have beaten him six years ago?
BoxingScene.com: Is he still the same name, but not the same as he would have been six years ago opponent wise?
Keith Thurman: That’s the foolishness that you like to write about. At the end of the day, he is Manny Pacquiao, I am Keith Thurman. The real question mark and why this fight is still very exciting right here, right now is the drama. He’s 40 years old. Don’t you remember when Bernard Hopkins won the world title at the age of 45? Boxing throughout its history, and sports in general, there’s fighters that push beyond the regular status quo. Pacquiao is using this opportunity to be one of those fighters in the history of boxing, to show that he can go beyond the status quo. I’ve already shown my greatness amongst my peers, multiple times.
And now I get somebody who has seemed to be a little bit above and beyond, but yet he needs this fight just as much as I need this fight, and the world wants to know what kind of Keith Thurman can we expect in 2019. They saw me against Josesito Lopez. I told the world that that’s not the best Keith Thurman that they’re going to see. It was a comeback fight, a very tough comeback fight. After two years, all I did was train for 8-10 weeks and I got in the ring and I fought. And now we’re taking the momentum and were building on that to give you a better performance against a greater opponent. And it should just be an exciting night of boxing.
BoxingScene.com: Given a better opportunity to prepare and an opponent that’s going to motivate you more, and given a pay-per-view stage that’s you’ve wanted, how does this look on fight night?
Keith Thurman: It’s July, man, there should be some fireworks. It should be very exciting. I’ve waited many years for this opportunity. I’m going to take full advantage. I’m gonna showcase my talents and my skills to the world, to Pacquiao and to all who are in attendance and all who tune in.
BoxingScene.com: Is he a guy style-wise that you can not only win against, but get out of there and look impressive against?
Keith Thurman: Of course we want to look good defeating Manny Pacquiao. The less credit he gets the more credit I get. The more credit he gets the less credit I get. It’s a real fight. We’re fighting for status. We’re fighting for history. We’re fighting for legacy. We’re fighting for world titles. And I want to make a statement. So I believe that with my ring knowledge and the way that I’ve boxed throughout the years, I just believe that Manny Pacquiao’s style was never a good style against my style. And I plan on proving that and just going toe to toe and testing him, man to man. I really don’t think that Manny Pacquiao is going to take my talent. I am looking for a KO. We’ll see if he can survive.
BoxingScene.com: And then Thurman-Spence becomes the Leonard-Hearns of 2020, if you get your way?
Keith Thurman: That’s right. 2020 is a big year. I’m open to all fights, all contracts. This year is brushing off the dust and I just happened to get an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. Of course I could’ve let someone else have the fight and kept moving around in the sport, but that’s boring. Not fighting for two years is really boring. Getting this opportunity is like a wakeup call. I get to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a beautiful stage, showcase my skills and talents, dismantle Manny Pacquiao and then move forward into once again dominating the welterweight division.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBO welterweight title – Hamburg, Germany
Thulani Mbenge (champion/No. 26 IWBR) vs. Sebastian Formella (No. 17 IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Mbenge (15-0, 12 KO): Second title defense; Three stoppage wins in five scheduled 12-round fights
Formella (20-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Four stoppage wins in five fights against unbeaten foes
Fitzbitz says: Formella has spent most a lot of time at 154 and 160, so he’s an interesting proposition. But we’ll go with the incumbent until results suggest otherwise. Mbenge by decision (65/35)
Vacant IBO light flyweight title – Kupang, Indonesia
Tibo Monabesa (No. 21 IBO/No. 26 IWBR) vs. Omari Kimweri (Unranked IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Monabesa (19-1-2, 8 KO): First title fight; Never lost a fight in Indonesia (19-0-2)
Kimweri (17-4, 7 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Fighting in his fourth country (Australia, Japan, Thailand)
Fitzbitz says: Kimweri, an Australia-based African, has been in with better guys – albeit with mixed results. He’s on the road, but we’ll go with the bigger-stage logic as a guide. Kimweri by decision (65/35)
WBC bantamweight title – Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Nordine Oubaali (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Arthur Villanueva (No. 15 WBC/No. 28 IWBR)
Oubaali (15-0, 11 KO): First title defense; Three stoppage wins in four scheduled 12-round fights
Villanueva (32-3-1, 18 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Three losses in six fights outside the Philippines
Fitzbitz says: Oubaali proved his worth by coming to America to win a title. So there’s not a huge reason to believe things will go downhill here against a guy who’s often fallen short. Oubaali in 9 (85/15)
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Commey, Yafai, Andrade)
2019 picks record: 55-9 (85.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,066-352 (75.1 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.