Now that Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley 3 has come and gone, the most important and most compelling welterweight bout on the horizon is the long-awaited June 25 showdown between undefeated WBA welterweight titleholder Keith Thurman and former IBF titleholder Shawn Porter.
If this isn’t the biggest Premier Boxing Champions fight to date, it’s most certainly the most interesting.
Both Americans will be part of a brave new welterweight world in 2016, one without Pacquiao, who announced his retirement after defeating Bradley on Saturday night, and one without Floyd Mayweather, who retired last year 49-0. Interestingly enough, both departing greats retired as the lineal welterweight champion.
Can Thurman become lineal champ? Can Thurman help fill the void left by those two superstars? He’s certainly on the shortlist of candidates to do so, especially at 147 pounds.
But Thurman has still much to prove. While some fight critics are enamored with his punching power, elite athleticism and world class boxing skill, others point to the lack of quality competition on his resume to date. That isn’t to say he’s faced a bunch of nobodies. Rather, folks are ready to see the 27-year-old against truly elite opponents. Porter is a very good start at that.
Thurman did media rounds recently for the upcoming fight. One of the things that struck me most was the type of fight he expects that night. Not only does Thurman expect the fight of his life, but he also believes Porter will shuck the conventional wisdom that says Porter will have to come right at Thurman for a full 12 rounds to win the fight.
“We grew up side by side in the amateur rankings,” said Thurman. “We know each other very well. I know his father. I know his work ethic. I expect a great fight from Shawn Porter.”
Thurman has great respect for his opponent, and even the trash talk of Porter’s father and trainer, Kenny Porter, has done nothing to detract from it. In fact, Thurman said he doesn’t even pay that much attention to it.
“A father should always be proud of his son. A trainer should always be proud of his fighter. Kenny Porter is both. He’s the father and he’s the trainer. I just think it’s his way of being like a Don King or something, someone who just talks and tries to amp the fight up. Sometimes you need it. Sometimes you don’t. People have different opinions on how necessary it is for the sport.”
Just from the few conversations I’ve had with Thurman, I can tell he’s an intelligent and reflective man. It’s refreshing. Sure, he likes to talk about himself in the third person, but I don’t know. I think probably anybody who makes a living by beating people up can call himself whatever he’d like. Besides, Thurman is just a different kind of dude.
When the bell rings on fight night, Thurman said Porter will attack him with a very specific strategy.
“I predict that you are going to see very herky-jerky movements from him during the first half of the bout. For the first six rounds, you’re going to see a lot of head movement. You‘re going to see a lot of feinting. You’re going to see a lot of double and triple jabbing. He’s going to pump it. Pump. Pump. Pump. He’s going to pump his way in. He’s going to stutter step his way in.”
While the two have never faced each other officially as amateurs or professionals, Thurman and Porter have sparred before. Because of this, Thurman feels confident in predicting Team Porter’s strategy for the fight.
“I know all this because I’ve already been in the ring with Shawn Porter. And I know this because you shouldn’t just walk into Keith Thurman. I know this. I know Team Porter knows this. Due to that, what kind of game plan will he have? He’s going to have to be as tricky as possible.”
Porter is a mauler. If you watched him steamroll Paulie Malignaggi in 2014, you know what I’m talking about. Porter isn’t the most polished fighter in the world, but he doesn’t really try to be. Porter wants to make things ugly. He wants it rough. His jab is more a battering-ram than scalpel. Porter isn’t a surgeon in the ring. He’s a butcher.
But Thurman doesn’t expect an uneducated butcher. He expects someone who has meditated on how exactly he wants to cut the meat. It’s his job, then, to not end up the main course.
“He’s going to have to try to make his rhythm unpredictable. That way, my timing is off. When my timing is off, he’ll hope to be able to slip my punches and be out of the way of my counters. And then, hopefully, he’s going to be coming right back in to try and take advantage of the moment.”
Here’s something else intriguing: Thurman said he’ll have to display top-notch infighting skills against Porter—if not to win in totality, then to force Porter back on the outside where Thurman’s boxing from long range can rule the day.
“I’m going to have to bring my A-plus inside game. A lot people think I don’t have one. But really, it’s that I don’t like to smother my punches. I’m a boxer-puncher who likes to utilize the full distance of his arms to get maximum damage.”
Anyone who has watched Thurman fight knows he’s one of the hardest punchers in boxing. He knows how to inflict maximum damage. Sure, he’s a good boxer who uses his feet to get position. Yes, he’s decently fast, incredibly athletic, has a good jab and knows how and when to vary the speed of his punches. But the thing that separates Thurman from most other fighters is the one attribute a fighter can’t learn in the boxing gym. He either has power or doesn’t, and Thurman has it.
“I’m going to have to be smart through the whole process.”
Thurman-Porter is a great matchup. PBC has a ton of good welterweights, and it’s about time they started putting them in the ring together. In the post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era, both Thurman and Porter have the potential to become recognized as the best welterweight in the world.