By Jake Donovan
Boxing returns to primetime on NBC for the first time in nearly 30 years. Al Haymon’s time-buy slots on the free TV network paved the way for the launching of “Premier Boxing Champions,” which begins Saturday evening at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
In the headliner, Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero square off in a battle that will play a pivotal role in the lucrative and talent-rich welterweight division.
Thurman (24-0, 21KOs) remains a star on the rise, but in need of a signature win. The unbeaten Floridian has thrilled crowds in his climb up the ranks, particularly in back-to-back stoppage wins over Diego Chaves and Jesus Soto Karass in a breakthrough 2013 campaign.
His career progress was momentarily stalled following the messy implosion at Golden Boy Promotions and the ripple effect it had on Haymon-advised fighters affiliated with the promotional outfit but not directly under contract.
With that came a pair of tune-ups for Thurman in 2014. In April, the knockout-thirsty slugger was forced to settle for an anti-climactic stoppage win over faded former lightweight titlist Julio Diaz. A hand injury kept him sidelined for most of the rest of the year, returning in December but offering a rare stinker in taking a 12-round decision over Leonardo Bundu.
All the while, the interim title in Thurman’s possession meant he was the mandatory challenger to Floyd Mayweather. He was recently upgraded to full titlist after it was clear that he wans’t next on Mayweather’s list, though to his defense the pound-for-pound king settled on a long-awaited showdown with Manny Pacquiao.
As for Thurman, he settled for a fight that was on the table more than a year ago, though with both fighters making far more now than would have been the case when it was first offered in Nov. ’13.
It turned out to not be the right opportunity at the time for Guerrero, who had just signed with Haymon and was in the process of attempting to sue out of his contract with Golden Boy. All that came of the mess was an extended ring absence following a points loss to Mayweather in May ’13.
The former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist (along with interim title reigns at lightweight and welterweight) returned last June, scoring a 10-round win in an unexpected war with Yoshihiro Kamegai. The bout was all-action, though perhaps not a scenario desired by Guerrero’s handlers for his first fight in 13 months.
Read on to see how the staff at Boxingscene.com believes tonight’s action will play out.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: KEITH THURMAN vs. ROBERT GUERRERO
Ryan Burton (Guerrero SD): Just a gut feeling that Guerrero can handle One Time's power and dish out some of his own, shocking many in the process.
Jake Donovan (Thurman UD): Even with the loss to Mayweather looming overhead at the time, this seemed like a better fight for Guerrero to take when it was first offered in Nov. '13. This will be just his second fight since the Mayweather defeat. Thurman uncharacteristically played it safe last fight, but a performance attributable to ring rust which won't at all be the case in a less-than-three month turnaround.
David Greisman (Thurman TKO): Although Guerrero's incorporated CrossFit in hopes of stepping up his game, and although he's growing into being a welterweight, he'll be in against a true and improving 147-pounder in Thurman. Guerrero will get sucked into a brawl, and a fighter who was getting caught by Yoshihiro Kamegai won't be able to get away with it against Thurman. I could see Guerrero winning is if he throws two- and three-punch combinations, moves and resets. I could also see him winning if he tags Thurman early and never allows him to recover. But otherwise I foresee Thurman grinding Guerrero down for a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
John MacDonald (Thurman KO5): After getting booed in his last performance, Thurman will have a point to prove and will return to his normal all-action style, battering Guerrero in to submission early.
Takahiro Onaga (Thurman UD): Thurman takes a wide UD in unexpectedly tough test. I see Thurman starting fast but backs off when he realises he's not going to blow Guerrero away. Another mostly negative performance from "One Time.”
Cliff Rold (Thurman KO): Thurman will be charged up after that last boring outing and this is as big a stage as he could ask for. Guerrero is more experienced but he's not hard to hit and as Thurman starts to find the target he could swell into a mess. A late corner stoppage is possible here.
Reynaldo Sanchez (Thurman TKO8): Thurman must win this fight to get a chance with Floyd; he will.
Alexey Sukachev (Thurman UD12): Talk about "long distance" curse of Mr. Haymon. This one is going the distance. Guerrero is too small and already over the hill to trouble Thurman but his chin will hold up and One Time isn't a unique finishing beast like some other KO artists.
Keith Thurman – 7
Robert Guerrero – 1
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: