It's something you hear all the time about budding fighters on the way up that haven't fully flowered. You watch them fight during the infancy of their career and you see their obvious skill set and ability. Sometimes they'll blow you away on the way up and you think just maybe the particular fighter has a chance to be a factor in their division. A little later down the road they'll step up in class and fight an opponent who thinks its okay to fight back and that's when their warts become more pronounced. Not so much so that you're ready to dismiss them or write him off, but there's enough there to which you proceed to evaluate them more judiciously.
This Saturday night on NBC at 8:30 WBA welterweight title holder Keith Thurman 24-0 (21) will defend his title against Robert Guerrero 32-2-1 (18). Guerrero, 31, has won a piece of a world title in four different weight divisions. He comes to fight, he's tough mentally and physically, you don't have to look for him and he has never been stopped. He's faced two upper-tier opponents fighting as a welterweight. He won a 12-round unanimous decision over Andre Berto to retain the interim WBC welterweight title and then lost it to Floyd Mayweather via a 12-round unanimous in his next bout.
Heading into their upcoming bout, it's easy to look at Guerrero and think of him as being the past and seeing Thurman as the future. Hopefully, Keith Thurman doesn't make that mistake. Because if you know nothing else about Guerrero, you better know that Robert doesn't come to the ring with the mindset of being an opponent or a stepping stone for anybody, Mayweather included. And that can be both good and bad for Thurman.
The good thing about that is, Keith can count on Robert showing up and expecting to fight. Guerrero will not be hard to find and you know that he couldn't care less about Thurman's reputation of being a big puncher. In fact I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Guerrero isn't longing for the moment Thurman nails him with his Sunday punch – just so he can shrug his shoulders and smirk back at him as if to say “now what tough guy?” This is something that shouldn't break Thurman's will but it will send the message that this is certainly going to be a full day at the office. I also can't get the image out of mind in which Thurman doesn't always attack back or defend instinctively when he is under heavy fire, something Guerrero will feed off of if Thurman becomes predictable and only throws one punch at a time under fire.
The downside of being in the ring with a fighter like Guerrero is, he'll force Thurman to fight under some duress and we'll find out just how much pressure his pipes can take without bursting. And if there's any dog in Thurman, Guerrero is the type of fighter that if he doesn't bring it out completely, we will at least see the signs that one resides inside of him if pushed hard enough.
On the other hand, this is a well thought out match for Thurman. As fighters, with the exception of toughness and inner constitution, Thurman probably gets the nod in every conceivable category except stamina and big fight experience over Guerrero. Keith has faster hands, he's the harder and more accurate puncher, and he's probably the physically stronger man because he's the natural welterweight and didn't begin his career as a featherweight like Guerrero did. And it must also be noted that Guerrero probably doesn't punch hard enough to take advantage of Thurman's questionable chin.
This is a high profile bout for both fighters, but most eyes will be on Thurman because everyone has wanted to see him step up in class and show what he has.
This will be the maiden event for NBC’s premier boxing telecast. Legendary broadcaster Marv Albert will be calling the bout with former champ and boxing icon Sugar Ray Leonard providing the analysis.
If Keith Thurman wants to show what he's got and figure into the future mix at the top of the welterweight division, he couldn't have asked for a better opponent and time to announce his arrival. For the past few years the names Mayweather, Pacquiao and Cotto have dominated the welterweight division. With Floyd Mayweather 38, and Manny Pacquiao 36, about to fight in less than two months, how much longer are they going to be around? Maybe they'll have a rematch depending on what happens on May 2nd, but they're close to hanging up their gloves. And the same thing applies to Miguel Cotto, 34, who will fight maybe twice at the most. Thurman must see that the old guard at 147 is on its way out and the door is open for him and a few other young welterweights to mark their territory.
Robert Guerrero has never been stopped, he's easy to hit and Thurman has been hyped up as being a destroyer in regards to his punching power. If Thurman is the real deal he'll separate himself from Guerrero Saturday night and show that he must be included among the best fighters at 147. He doesn't have to knock Guerrero out or even stop him, not even Mayweather came close to doing that. However, he has to beat Guerrero convincingly and leave no doubt that he's improving and the best of him is yet to come. That would be the ideal way for him to exit the ring Saturday night with fans wanting to see his next fight. But if he struggles or has to hold on to win a disputed decision, his stock will really decline and some will even write him off.
I'm almost ready to say that I've seen enough and doubt that Keith Thurman will ever be a complete or elite fighter, but I haven't closed the book on him yet either. I'm willing to see what he does with an ideal opportunity and opponent on March 7th.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com