Keith Thurman fights rust and Josesito Lopez Jan.26
By John J. Raspanti
Though undefeated, the WBA welterweight champion was frustrated. His elbow and hand injuries were taking forever to heal. At least forever in the fickle world of sports.
Keith Thurman hasn’t been seen in a boxing ring in 22 months. That’s a long time to be inactive. Some speculated the sidelined champ had lost his desire. Others said he was scared to face IBF champion, Errol Spence.
Thurman scoffed at the theories.
“Listening to anyone’s opinion is not my job,” Thurman told Dennis Taylor and myself a few days ago on The Ringside Boxing Show. “It’s my job to go to the gym, train hard, to do what I’ve been doing since I was seven years old, which is to be the best fighter I can be. That’s all that we focus on. I didn’t just throw a right hand at a gym and decide I wanted to be a professional.
“I’ve been dedicated to this sport my whole life," said Thurman."Listening to people’s opinions about me, they really don’t know me. So their opinions have no merit on the lifestyle I’ve choose, and the dedication I’ve always had for this sport.”
Thurman has achieved in a lot in his seven-year career. He’s captured two world titles and defeated two of the best fighters of his generation, Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia.
Is he as hungry as he was before he won a title?
“I definitely have the same hunger, it’s just different,” said Thurman, who faces Josesito Lopez Jan. 26 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. “I was a little more aggressive in my trash talking when I was younger. That’s because I was young, and I wanted to be heard. I’ve beaten everybody they’ve put in front of me. Floyd (Mayweather) never wanted to fight me.
“I’m at where I am in the sport of boxing for a reason. I was fighting to become champion, so there was a hunger to that,"he said. "But now I am champion, and been champion, and now it’s all about unifying and re-establishing my place in the division.”
Thurman captured the ridiculous “interim” WBA welterweight title when he stopped Diego Chavez in exciting fashion back in 2013. He picked up his WBA world strap by outlasting Robert Guerrero in a barnburner in 2015.
Thurman is loaded with talent. He’s versatile as hell. He can stop on a dime and unload a bomb. If that’s not working, he can move and box.
He’s a risk-taker. Thurman also also makes some mistakes that leave him vulnerable at times. Thurman dominated Guerrero for eight rounds. He hit him with everything but his corner stool.
Guerrero absorbed the blows and kept following after Thurman. In round nine, the fight appeared over when Thurman floored Guerrero with a wicked left hook.
Guerrerro got up and went after Thurman. He forced the aspiring champion into the ropes and unloaded. Thurman held on to win a wide decision but was criticized for not putting the gutsy Guerrero away. It was Thurman who had to dig down deep in his next bout. Paralyzed by a brutal shot to the ribs from Luis Collazo in round five, Thurman used his legs to stay away—winning the fight by stoppage in round seven.
Thurman faced boyhood friend Shawn Porter in what turned out to be a “Fight of the Year” candidate. He rocked Porter a few times and jabbed well, but the feisty Porter also found success to the body and head. Thurman edged the fight by narrow unanimous decision.
Porter asked for a rematch. Thurman said sure, but first he would fight WBC champ Danny Garcia. Their battle went down on March 4, 2017, at Barclays Center, with Thurman prevailing by a split decision. The fight was cerebral at times, with Garcia waiting to counter, while Thurman boxed.
The crowd wasn’t impressed.
A month after the Garcia bout, Thurman had surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs and calcium deposits. He needed months of therapy to recover. Last March, Thurman hurt his hand on the heavy bag, reinjuring it a few weeks later sparring. He mentioned during our interview that the elbow is fine, while his doctors are monitoring his hand. Arthritis is a possibility, he said.
But whatever, he’s raring to get back in the squared circle.
"I’m extremely excited to step back into the ring,’’ Thurman said during a press conference last month. “It’s a little nerve wracking considering the time off and because I want to have a tremendous performance. I want to speak more with my hands more than my words and quiet the naysayers who think that Keith Thurman has lost his passion and skills in boxing. “
His opponent on Jan. 26, Josesito Lopez, is also exited at the opportunity that fighting Thurman presents.
“Keith Thurman is world-class, “said Lopez. “I’ve been in this position before and I’ve never shied away from big battles. This is another big one and I’m going to be ready for it and become world champion.”
Lopez, nicknamed “The Riverside Rocky,” is just that. An underdog in many of his fights, Lopez always brings it. He burst into the boxing headlines when he stopped heavily-favored Victor Ortiz in 2012. Until the Ortiz fight, Lopez’s boxing career resembled a treadmill. He was up after his knockout victory over talented Michael Dallas, but down after losing a close decision to hotshot Jessie Vargas.
The loss cooled Lopez’s career momentum. That is, until fate intervened.
Ortiz needed an opponent. So, when Golden Boy called, asking Lopez if he wanted to face Ortiz for a piece of the welterweight title, (Silver) Lopez jumped at the opportunity.
The fight, held at Staples Center in Los Angeles, was a bloodbath from the third round on. Ortiz was ahead on the scorecards when he quit on his stool after the ninth round with a broken jaw.
Lopez, who felt disrespected before the fight, had ignored his swollen eyes and bloody nose. His victory was one for the ages. Lopez next moved up a division to fight Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas, NV. Lopez hung in as long as he could, before being stopped. He returned to the ring nine months later against tough Marcos Maidana at Home Depot Center (now Stub Hub Center) in Carson, California.
Lopez boxed intelligently, using the ring and jabbing. He resisted standing toe-to-toe with Maidana. In round six, Maidana drew closer. He pushed Lopez into the ropes and let fly with an overhand right.
The blow sent Lopez crashing to the canvas. He hauled himself up, but was soon being battered. The assault prompted referee Lou Moret to wave off the contest. Lopez was victorious in his next three lessor fights, but was then stopped by Andre Berto in 2015. He was 31 and his career appeared over. But instead of hanging up his gloves, Lopez began working with former “Trainer of the Year,” Robert Garcia.
The duo has won three fights in a row since hooking up. Garcia believes that Lopez has a real chance of upsetting Thurman.
“I’m in the gym with Josesito every day,” said Garcia in an article by Michael Rosenthal ““Josesito is a fighter hungry to win a title. He’s had his opportunities but has always come up just short. He’s so strong right now, so physically strong, and so motivated.”
Without doubt, Lopez is motivated, but so is Thurman. Motivation can take a fighter only so far while talent usually pushes them to that next level.
Look for Thurman to stop Lopez inside of six rounds.