Thurman hoping to come back strong, but questions linger
By John J. Raspanti
Former WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman fought twice in 2019. He won one, and lost one.
His victory was over fringe contender Josesito Lopez. Thurman looked good in the early going. In round two, he landed a crisp three-punch combination to the head and body. A sharp left hook put Lopez on all fours. Lopez got up at seven and glanced at Thurman.
Thurman tried to end things. He wobbled Lopez with a right as the bell rang, but the challenger was on steady legs as he walked back to his corner. Thurman dominated the next few rounds, but was reminded in round seven why Lopez is nicknamed, “The Riverside Rocky.”
Lopez hurt Thurman with a combination. As he backed off, another right found pay dirt. Thurman tried to fight back, but Lopez, who entered the fight a 35-1 underdog, let fly with more blows, many of them landed. Thurman was probably happy when he heard the bell ending the round.
Told by his trainer to box, not slug, Thurman jabbed and moved, but Lopez was in his grill. He dug to the body and head. Thurman, came back with a good right hook to the jaw. In round 10, it was Thurman who came out punching, but he had to surprised how tough Lopez is. Or maybe not. Lopez walked through Thurman’s blows in round 11. Thurman bounced off the ropes and caught Lopez with a couple of combinations. Lopez absorbed the blows and stayed aggressive. He motioned for Thurman to fight. Entering the 12th and final round, Lopez needed a knockout to win. He chased after Thurman, who strafed him with blows. Lopez let fly with a left hook from his hometown of Riverside. It didn’t land. Thurman looked relieved after it was announced that he won the fight by majority decision.
Next up was six-time world champion Manny Pacquiao. Thurman was the odds-on favorite to win, until a few weeks before the bout. The talk was he looked sluggish in camp, while the 40-year-old Pacquiao, ten years older than Thurman, looked sharp. Pacquiao trained Freddie Roach was non-plussed.
“Manny loves beating undefeated fighters, especially the younger ones,” Roach said in an article on boxingscene.com. “Heck, at this stage of the game, everyone Manny faces is younger. But that makes it fun for Manny. And when Manny is having fun, his opponents had better watch out.”
Truer words were never spoken. Pacquiao had a lot of fun last July. He collapsed Thurman with a combination in the opening stanza. Thurman got up with a bemused look on his face, but Pacquiao had already proved a point. Thurman missed with a hook. Pacquiao quickly moved inside. His quickness, even at 40, had Thurman confused. He went to the body, and seconds later, came back with a combination. Thurman did better in round four. Pacquiao used angles to punch. He was outworking the soon to be ex-champion. He drove Thurman into the ropes with a right hand. Thurman was still searching for answers in round five. He was there, but Pacquiao was winning. Pacquiao moved to his left and fired. Thurman went to the body. He landed a right. Pacquiao jabbed. Thurman, bleeding from the nose, connected with another right. Pacquiao fired freely. Thurman went to the body as Pacquiao connected with a wicked shot to the face. He rallied in rounds six and seven. He was finding Pacquiao more consistently for the first time in the fight.
In round eight, Thurman tried to build off his recent success. He moved to his left and jabbed. Pacquiao whipped a combo. Thurman did well in rounds nine and 10. He fired a right to the body. His success was due to taking the fight to Pacquiao, but a shot to the ribs killed his momentum. Entering the 12th and final round, Thurman needed a knockout to win. He fired an uppercut. Pacquiao kept his hands up and looked to counter. He went to the body and head. Thurman was loading up his right hand, but the shot was filled with blanks.
Pacquiao won the fight by split decision. Thurman was classy after his first defeat, but recently he’s talked of wanting a rematch. “
I want my belt back,” Thurman told ESPN. “Deep down, there’s still a part of me that wants to grab my belt back (against Pacquiao).”
Thurman thought he’d be fighting Errol Spence Jr. after defeating Pacquiao. The loss left him sidelined and needing more surgery on his troublesome left hand. Spence, who was anxious to fight Thurman a few years ago, has lost interest.
“I don’t really care about him anymore,” Spence told Premier Boxing a few months ago. “He didn’t give me an opportunity when I wanted it. I was calling him out and wanted to fight him, but he didn’t want to give me an opportunity. He didn’t want to fight me. So now I don’t need him. I’m looking for big names like Pacquiao, Terence Crawford, Danny Garcia.”
Ouch. So where does this leave Thurman? For one thing, he’s feeling good.
“I’m looking forward to being back in good health and dominating the welterweight division.”
Thurman wants a shot at the champions.
“Give me a fight and give me the opportunity to be a challenger for any one of those titles,” said Thurman in an article by Chris Williams of ringnews24.com.”I’m a two-time champion of the world.”
Yes he is, but he’s also a former champion with injury issues who some say, has lost his edge. If and when he fights again, Keith Thurman has a lot to prove.