By Lem Satterfield
Fresh of his 30th birthday on November 23, exuberant WBA champion Keith Thurman's primed for his third straight and fourth overall appearance at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on January 26, “One Time’s” eighth defense against rugged third-time title challenger Josesito Lopez.
“Everybody wants to see what Keith Thurman’s going to look like, and I wanna know what I feel like," said Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), who ends a 22-month ring absence as Premier Boxing Champions returns to FOX (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.).
"I’m really hoping to have to do one comeback, tune-up fight. We haven’t been in the ring for more than a year and a half. We wanna have a healthy, injury-free camp and fight, return to being an active world-class fighter again, and solidify our No. 1 position at 147.”
Thurman faces a 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.
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.
“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.
“Lopez is game, has grit, has been in the ring with punchers and made upsets happen, but he’s beatable. We've seen people hurt Lopez in the past, and I would like to replicate that, so winning by knockout is a possibility," said Thurman to BoxingScene.com.
"I’m feeling really good in the gym, losing weight, shadowboxing, working the mitts, lifting a little weights, getting our agility back...Of course, I wanna go for the knockout and make a statement showing I do have that one-punch power, but overall I wanna have fun getting back into the rhythm of the game."
Thurman’s title-winning 10th-round knockout of previously unbeaten Diego Chaves in July 2013 featured 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.
“I just want to execute, display my talents, and, ultimately, re-solidify my position by unifying," said Thurman, who is 7-0 with four knockouts in title fights. "I wanna remind everybody why I’m a threat, one of the baddest and why I’m ranked so high."
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 tPorter (29-2-1, 17 KOs) in a “Fight Of The Year” caliber clash in June 2016.
Thurman next won a unification overGarcia (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.
“I did have an elbow issue before I fought Garcia,” said Thurman, who experienced pain with many of the right hand he landed against Garcia. “But my conditioning for Garcia was 100 percent.”
Thurman damaged his left hand hitting the heavy bag in March, aggravated the injury sparring with some amateurs at his gym in St. Petersburg, Florida, and had an MRI reveal bruises to the metacarpal bones in the hand, which also had extensive swelling.
Thurman couldn’t have any impact with the hand for at least eight weeks, which forced the cancelation of a scheduled May 19 return against an undetermined opponent.
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 have my sights set on the WBC [Porter] because that’s my belt, but besides that, I’m open for all sorts of unification bouts,” said Thurman. “There’s going to be an unraveling within the division, and I wanna have an active year of maybe two fights. If my body allows, three fights this year would be ideal.”
Thurman return amidst a sizzling four months of activity at 147 pounds, being preceded by a January 19 defense of his WBA “regular” title by eight-division title winner Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) against four-division champion Adrien Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Showtime Pay Per View.
On March 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Porter’s initial WBC defense happens against 2008 Cuban Olympic bronze medal winner Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs) on FOX return (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.).
A week later on March 16 on Fox Pay Per View, left-handed IBF counterpart Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs) pursues his third defense and 12th straight knockout against four-division champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Then reportedly on March 23, switch-hitting three-division champion Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) could face Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) at New York’s Madison Square Garden on ESPN.
Finally, on April 20 at a site to be determined, Danny Garcia looks to rebound from Porter on April 20 against rugged brawler Adrian Granados (20-6-2, 14 KOs, 1 NC) on FOX (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.).
“We have the starting quarter [of the first year] set for you guys and nobody knows how it’s going to play out,” said Thurman. “But it’s like a good book and you have to take it chapter by chapter. My getting back into the ring is the start of the first chapter for me.”