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Keith “One Time” Thurman Looks to Make It an Early Night on Saturday

Thurman (L) - Zaveck (R)- Photo © Rich Kane - Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions
Thurman (L) - Zaveck (R)- Photo © Rich Kane - Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions

By Juan C. Ayllon

CLEARWATER, FL – It was November 24, 2012. The savagery began with a single, thudding left hook to the ribs that nearly ended it in the first round and terminated with a walloping right to the head in the fourth. Lead-fisted Keith Thurman had won the NABO junior middleweight title by halting the dangerous former WBO welterweight champion Carlos Quintana in four.

A native of Clearwater, Florida, Thurman is trained by Dan Birmingham (whose résumé includes former world champs Jeff Lacy and Ronald “Winky” Wright) and managed by Al Haymon. At 19-0 with 18 knockouts, the 2008 Olympic trials silver medalist won The Ring magazine’s “Prospect of the Year” award in 2012.
Fast forward to now. On Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, he faces his biggest challenge to date in former IBF welterweight champion Jan Zaveck, 32-2 (18), who gave Andre Berto a rugged battle before losing his title to him when he could no longer see out of his right eye in the fifth round. Thurman and Zaveck will be fighting in a WBO welterweight title eliminator in support of Tavoris Cloud versus Bernard Hopkins for Cloud’s IBF light heavyweight crown (broadcast on HBO, 9:30 p.m., ET/PT).

Juan Ayllon: What are your thoughts on Zaveck?
Keith Thurman: He’s a real tough fighter even though people don’t know him in the U.S. He’s real tough with age and wisdom on his side and he’s gone 12 rounds before. I consider him my toughest challenge to date but I’m looking forward to Saturday night.
JA: Tell us about sparring for this fight.
KT:  I don’t want to name any names. We just worked with some local guys. I had two main sparring partners. One had speed and good footwork and the other guy was strong and physical. We worked with the speedy guy to keep my reflexes sharp and maintain my hand/eye coordination. We had good sparring.
JA: What can you tell us about your approach going into your fight this Saturday?

KT: Box smart; try to land some big shots and hopefully get him out early.
JA: When did you find out you could really punch?
KT: I was nine years old and I stopped a kid in the first round in my first fight. But once I got to the age of 13, I took a break from boxing for about eight months. I got into football. I knew right after the season, I was going to go right back into boxing and day one, back in the gym, I was hitting the heavy bag and my trainer told me, ‘Boy, you’re going to start knocking people out!’ Sure enough, we got in shape, went for a few sparring sessions and I started dropping people left and right. My first fight back from football season, I got a KO victory, so it just hit, man. It just hit at a certain age and a certain time and it’s been with me ever since.
JA: Recently, [former IBF welterweight titlist] Randall Bailey called you out. Would you like to fight him?
KT: I got no problem facing Randall Bailey. I really don’t think he has anything besides a nice power shot of his own. Skills and technique-wise, I think it would be an easy fight.
JA: What about guys like Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland and [WBC junior middleweight titleholder] Saul “Canelo” Alvarez?
KT: Definitely, because I’m interested in being entertaining and creating good fights. We’ll try our best to continue to campaign at 147 for as long as I can but if a big enough fight opens up at 154, don’t be surprised if I take it.
JA: Tell us about your reaction to Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV.
KT: I’ve been waiting for someone to catch “Pac-Man” with that straight right hand! In my opinion, Pacquiao is a great fighter; he’s really exciting and he’s made a real nice career for himself but he is a very beatable fighter. Look at his record. I used to say before this fight I wished Floyd Mayweather would have beat him two years ago so they wouldn’t have created this hype. And like Marquez told everybody, he’s a little bit smarter. It took him four fights but he finally placed that picture-perfect right hand that we’re supposed to throw at southpaws.
JA: Are you still interested in fighting him?
KT: I’m interested in fighting anybody – let’s get in the ring; let’s fight. But I’d be really surprised if I got an opportunity to mix it up with him before he retires.
JA: What do you say to the criticism that you get a little wild when you hurt someone and are open to counters?
KT: I’m in the ring. I know what I’m doing. I know you’re about to get knocked out and you want me to protect myself? I protect myself by using my reflexes. If I’m getting in the mix with you, I might be open for a counter but to be able to place that counter and time that counter - how do you not know that I might see your counter, that I might counter your counter? If I feel that I have the match in my hands, if I’m in control, then sometimes I loosen up my guard but that doesn’t mean that I’m not paying attention at all times.
JA: Take us through a typical training day.
KT: Go for my morning run - no shorter than about three miles - then make sure I get a good breakfast. Sometimes, I try to eat a little bit of oatmeal before my runs. After the run, recovery drinks, then a decent lunch. Then we hit up the gym somewhere around two, three o’clock and we put in that gym work, just basic gym work. Sometimes, it’s strength, sometimes conditioning or technique. Sometimes, I’ll hit up the YMCA on that night. Going into training, we do two-a-days and every once in a while, we do three-a-days.
JA: What do you do for strength training?
KT: A lot of plyometric training. We don’t do really weight training; I’m not trying to bulk up. I just want to be strong and explosive. I do a lot of jump training to build up the legs and a few other things. I even do the P-90X Workout. I hop on their plyometric platform and do a few of their things.
JA: To what do you attribute your punching power?
KT: I attribute it to God. Obviously, my mother and my father, the good genes, the genetics, but it’s also how I place my punches, how I turn and shift all my body weight with my punches. The arm only weighs so much. We have the turn. Some fighters never throw a punch with their full body mass or force and because of that, they are lacking power. I make sure that when I’m in the ring that I use my full body and force at all times and thus you get to see the power that you see in the ring.
JA: Who excites you when you’re watching boxing as a fan?
KT: I’d have to say that “Canelo” is exciting. I like watching Andre Ward. He’s just a technician. He can almost do anything. He can adapt to about any style and he’s beating world-class fighters with ease. And even though “Money Man” doesn’t fight too much, [I like watching] Floyd [Mayweather].
JA: Is there anyone special in your life?
KT: I do have a girlfriend. Her name is Emily. I tried really hard not to get caught up in the females but whenever you come across something nice that’s worth holding onto, you might as well. I saw something special in her and we’re taking it slow and seeing what the future holds.
*  *  *
Winding down, Thurman thanked those who would be watching him this Saturday for their support and then he was off. He’s been quite affable and accommodating but the hectic media schedule has taken its toll. With his big fight mere days away, Thurman is keying on the savage, primal struggle that awaits him. Don’t miss it.
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