Former unified welterweight champion, Keith Thurman (29-1, 22KOs) will be hoping that ancient tales of all-powerful men losing strength when losing hair are merely things of folklore. While Samson, the fabled biblical warrior, was able to successfully battle his enemies for decades, aided by virtue of his uncut mane, a freshly chopped Thurman is ready to eventually clamber back to the top of his division looking trim and tidy, feeling better than ever.
“I know with two-and-a-half years, some people are expecting some ring rust, but I’ve worked really hard from the start of camp to shake off as much rust as I possibly could. My body feels really great. I’m surprised at where I am today because I literally feel better today than I did in 2019, I feel fantastic.
“My team’s very impressed; I’m even impressed, and we’re looking forward to February 5th,” explained the returning, rejuvenated Thurman, who headlines this weekend’s Premier Boxing Champion’s card, battling Mario Barrios.
When referencing 2019, Thurman is of course referencing his only professional defeat, suffered at the hands of ring legend, Manny Pacquiao. Though there’s a clear disparity between both opponents’ levels of achievement, there are also glaring similarities.
Barrios, like Pacquiao, is stepping up in weight; he last featured down at 140lbs, suffering a late stoppage defeat to the marauding Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis for the WBA’s regular world title (L TKO11). And Thurman, now aged 33, is returning to the ring again without a steady run of outings. Sure, he’d faced the durable Josesito Lopez six months prior to the Filipino icon, but before that fight, he’d spent another two-years in boxing’s vast wilderness.
“As somebody who just took their first loss to Manny Pacquiao, I know that you can’t just overlook a lighter guy,” explained the Florida-native. “Those are terminologies, and they’re easy to throw around in conversation. But at the end of the day, I look at the fighter, right? The fighter is the most important.
“One thing, when you’re analysing these smaller guys coming up, you see it with Canelo as he’s come up through the weights, lighter guys throw more punches; lighter guys are that little bit more agile. I expect Barrios to be agile. He’s a young man.
“I’m expecting all of that from him; he throws decent combination punches, he’s got a good 1-2-3, he likes to throw that nice left hook to the body, left hook up top, sometimes doubling up on it. Sometimes he puts himself in positions to trade with fighters – I don’t know if he’s gonna want to do that against me. At the end of the day, I see talent.”
When speaking to Boxing Social, Thurman flexes his intellect – though, not to show it off. He’s one of boxing’s thinkers; thinking when putting together his sentences, choosing his words carefully, and thinking strategy between the ropes, taking calculated risks when preparing to unleash heavy punches. He’s a smart fighter, and a smart man.
Boxing fans have loved him and grown slightly frustrated with his gaps in activity, one after marrying his wife, Priyana and another after suffering with repeated injuries.
One thing that can’t be questioned, however, is his willingness to fight the best in the division, after beating Danny Garcia in a unification bout back in 2017 and defending his WBA welterweight crown against the always-tenacious Shawn Porter in the bout prior. Thurman hoped the fight with Pacquiao would act as his springboard, pushing him towards divisional rivals Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, who’ve continued where ‘One Time’ left off.
“Of course, if we’re gonna talk about the future, that’s what Keith Thurman does; I make bigger and better fights happen later in the year. So, this summer, if things go my way, I’ll be in the ring with some form of world champion – no matter who it is.
“I wanna get back to champion status as soon as possible. The saying goes, ‘Once a champ, always a champ.’ No matter what, with or without the belts, I feel like a champion and I just wanna rise back to that status so that I’m recognised within the sport once again, as one of the greatest fighters in the welterweight division today.”
Thurman continued, “The Eastern philosophers will say: If not in this life, then in the next. Not everybody believed in the path I took to become a fighter. We always change in time. You might not change completely overnight, but in time, you change.
“For me, I just feel wiser. I know so much about the sport, I know so much about boxing. I know how to really protect myself at all times and I have the heart of a true warrior. I’m definitely willing to engage, willing to throw myself into the fire fight. I’m looking for action, so, in that sense, not a lot has changed…”
With Barrios standing between Thurman and his legitimate return to welterweight titles, the former world champion took time to reflect on his journey, starting way back when the late Ben Getty, who’d previously worked with the great Sugar Ray Leonard, introduced him to the sport at his elementary school in Clearwater, Florida: “It’s just a beautiful story. The first time I ever put on the gloves was at my school. Ben Getty, he trained me from the age of seven to the age of 20, when he passed away.
“He took me all the way through my amateur career, and we had about 10 fights together in my professional career before he passed away. He told everybody that I was gonna be champion of the world one day, and I can still remember how I met him. He was the head janitor at my elementary school, and he was a boxing coach; he talked to the principle, and he created an after-school boxing program for the YMCA kids.
“Luckily enough for me, I was an attendee because my mother worked late hours as she was a single mother, so that allowed me to sign up to the boxing program. He didn’t charge anybody, he just wanted to work with us and create this boxing program through the school, so that it didn’t cost anything. It’s crazy.
“I got my boxing coach because he was the janitor at my elementary school; I got my fundamentals of boxing in elementary school, he would teach me how to throw the right hand, throw the jab, we would run around the soccer field doing our cardio. And, when summer hit, we would be training in the local park, just training outdoors. He was a militant man, so he didn’t really mind the bootcamp status. He could train a fighter anywhere, and I fell in love with boxing really quick working with Ben Getty.
“He truly believed in me before I believed in me. Growing up, he was always encouraging, telling me, ‘You’re gonna be a world champion, boy. The major networks are gonna love your style of fighting, they’re gonna love what you can do in the ring, don’t forget about your power.’ Looking back, it’s like a fairy tale.”
The kid learning his boxing fundamentals from the janitor at the after-school YMCA, capturing world titles and the attention of the boxing public, sounds like a fairy tale – but it’s not. Thurman made it real for himself and for Ben Getty, fulfilling his promise. And the returning fighter will be hoping to keep thoughts of Samson at the back of his mind; boxing has his renewed loyalty, and on February 5th, he’s set to prove it all over again.