Welterweight Crown – The king is dead! Long live the king!
If boxing were like royal succession, the coronation of the successor to long-reigning welterweight monarch Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be relatively simple. It’s all a matter of bloodlines. The old ruler passes away and is succeeded by his eldest son, or daughter as the case might be.
But the 39-year-old Mayweather, although retired, is still very much alive, still freely spending portions of his $400 million fortune as if the treasury of his realm will never be depleted, and still dropping hints that, hey, he might just return to the ring if the mood strikes him or he needs another quick $100 million cash infusion. The most obvious claimant to that still-warm throne, Manny Pacquiao, is 37 and also presumably retired, having recently been elected to a Senate seat in his native Philippines, where his legislative duties might preclude his taking off months at a time to train in preparation of punching someone in the mouth.
All of which makes talk of the rise of a new, kind-of undisputed ruler of the 147-pound weight class just a bit premature. At least that’s the position of WBA welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs), who defends his sliver of the fragmented divisional landscape when he takes on Shawn “Showtime” Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) the night of June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
No matter how the welterweight jigsaw puzzle eventually fits together, Thurman-Porter is the capstone of a historic night of boxing in that it marks the return to prime-time, over-the-air network boxing on CBS, the first such exposure of the sport to a cable-less, satellite dish-less populace in America since Muhammad Ali’s first bout with Leon Spinks, on Feb. 15, 1978. The CBS lead-in to the welterweight main event is also a nice attraction, with WBA featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) defending against former WBC featherweight champ Abner Mares (27-2-1, 15 KOs).
And if all that weren’t enough to sate the appetite of fight-loving fans, Showtime (which is a wholly owned subsidiary of CBS Corp.) will serve up some heavyweight hors d’oeuvres that afternoon when IBF heavyweight ruler Anthony Joshua (16-0, 16 KOs), fresh off his knockout of paper champion Charles Martin, makes his first title defense against 2012 U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale (17-0, 15 KOs) in London’s O2 Arena.
“With the return of boxing to CBS prime-time, we’ve got big shoes to fill,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports and Event Programming. “It took something very special for CBS to step back in, and that’s exactly what we have (in Thurman-Porter). For my money, we’ve got the two best active welterweights in the world fighting each other … This is a card that really reflects the best of what this sport has to offer, which is why we want this to be available to the widest possible audience.”
But while certain media members are insistent on trying to get Thurman and Porter to publicly state that, yes, their upcoming scrap is to determine the one true and rightful heir to King Floyd, both fighters, and especially Thurman, are at least somewhat hesitant to take that particular leap of faith. Sometimes kingdoms must be won on the battlefield, and sometimes it takes a series of battles before a single monarch emerges with scepter in hand.
For now, no one is or should be shouting, “The king isn’t really dead, but he isn’t around right now, so long live the princes, all five or six of them!”
Thurman, the 27-year-old Clearwater, Fla., knockout artist whose absolute confidence in his own abilities befits an aspiring monarch, speaks eloquently of his long-term vision for himself and his weight class, but he does so, somewhat surprisingly in a sport where chest-thumping is commonplace, as a voice of reason.
“Everyone’s talking about `the new king, the new king, the new king,’” Thurman said. “It’s not like there was a successor lined up, waiting. There’s work to do. The young generation has a lot of work to do before there’s a `king’ attached to any of our names.
“Yeah, I would love to get through (WBC welterweight champ) Danny Garcia (presumably following a victory over Porter) to solidify more of the debate about who’s best at 147. But it’s going to take a little bit of time. I just feel that you writers are rushing to get (someone) to claim that he’s the best. Now, claiming to be the best is cool. There’s nothing wrong with claiming to be the best. But to get to be the best is going to take more time. It’s not even going to happen this year, but I look forward to the journey and the process.”
And that journey and that process requires that Mayweather, should he make a comeback, to be defeated in the ring or to stay away long enough for his legion of would-be successors to build sufficiently impressive resumes that would approach the exalted level of “Money” and his fellow superstar, Pacquiao.
“I’m not a big fan of what I call the `Mayweather shadow,’” Thurman continued. “Mayweather’s legacy has cast a shadow over the 147 division. The real issue is that Mayweather was on top for over a decade. You want someone to replace him, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s really going to take almost another decade. You have to see who’s going to be the top dog for the next three to five years. Then, you got a king because kings rule. Kings don’t go up and down. Mayweather ruled the 147-pound division.”
Porter, 28, basically agrees with that premise, but he is antsy to get off to a fast start in what figures to be a drawn-out process. For him it must begin with a conquest of Thurman, whom he has known and been on an amicable basis with since both were teenagers in the amateurs.
“You guys (media) have continued to say that whoever wins this fight will be the No. 1 guy in the division, filling Mayweather’s shoes, yada, yada, yada,” Porter said. “I want to do more than just fill those shoes. I want to be the guy that you say, `If Mayweather comes back, he’d better come back to `Showtime’ Shawn Porter because he’s the best fighter in the division.
“I believe in myself. I know what I can do. When I look at the other guys out there in the division, I know that I have more than them.”
Thurman and Porter originally were scheduled to mix it up on March 12, also on CBS and in prime-time, but Thurman was involved in a car accident in February and injured his neck, necessitating a three-month delay. Both fighters said the postponement should not adversely affect them, but the question of possible ring rust can’t be dismissed out of hand. Thurman has not fought since stopping Luis Collazzo last July 11 in Tampa, and Porter has been off even longer; his most recent bout was a 12-round unanimous decision over Adrien Broner on June 20 of last year.
If Thurman and Porter produce the kind of action-heavy fight that both insist will happen, it is possible that the winner (Thurman is a slight favorite) will be considered the leader in the clubhouse, as they say in golf, for recognition as the last man standing from the current welterweight scrum. But other princes vying for the indisputable crown relinquished by Mayweather include Garcia (32-0, 18 KOs), IBF champ Kell Brook (36-0, 25 KOs) and WBO titlist Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs). Also swimming around in perhaps the deepest and most competitive division in the fight game are Errol Spence Jr. (20-0, 17 KOs), Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-2-1, 13 KOs) and Amir Khan (31-4, 19 KOs). Only two of those quite-capable aspirants, Bradley (32) and Brook (30), are not in their 20s.
“This is a great fight,” Thurman said of the immediate task at hand. “It’s a steppingstone. It’s a step in the right direction. But there are many other great fights to come, and it’s going to take every one of those great fights before you can (proclaim someone) the greatest of the great of the new generation. That’s just how I feel.”