BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Thrones are wherever you find them, and one of the many would-be princes in Showtime’s undeclared tournament to crown an undisputed king of the welterweights, or something akin to it, was seated on one this past summer, in a bathroom stall in close proximity to a roll of regal toilet paper.
Andre Berto was tending to business, in a manner of speaking, when he took a call on his cell phone from Shawn Porter. The call was on Face Time, meaning the two fighters could see one another on their respective mobile devices. Fortunately for Porter, the view of Berto was from the shoulders up. In short order, they agreed to fight one another, a Showtime-televised bout that will take place here April 22 at the Barclays Center and, as of Saturday night, has been made an eliminator for the WBC 147-pound championship by WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman.
That title now belongs to Keith “One Time” Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), the WBA welterweight champ who wrested it from Philadelphia’s Danny “Swift” Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) on a technically proficient if less-than-rousing split decision at Barclays that advanced a Showtime agenda that is intriguing in concept, if something of a false narrative.
The welterweight division just might be the deepest in boxing at the present time, and the Thurman-Garcia unification matchup, unbeknownst to most fight fans, apparently is a retooled version of Showtime’s ambitious Super Six World Boxing Classic, which succeeded in part (Andre Ward rose to or near the top of the pound-for-pound rankings when he handily outpointed Carl Froch in the finale on Dec. 17, 2011, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall) and failed in part when two of the original six super middleweight participants (Mikkel Kessler and Jermain Taylor) dropped out along the way and had their places taken by fill-ins Glen Johnson and Allan Green.
Maybe that’s why Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, never made a formal announcement of his plan to bring some sense of order to a talent-rich division that has many alphabet kings or pretenders to such designations, but no true monarch that can be fully embraced by a public accustomed to fragmented fiefdoms. In any case, Espinoza wasn’t running the boxing operation at Showtime when the Super Six launched its up-and-down two-year run in 2009; Ken Hershman was.
“If you announce a tournament, it’s very structured,” said Espinoza a few hours before Thurman and Garcia squared off, confirming the non-tournament tournament which consists of a series of highly intriguing welterweight matches (and some not as much so) that aren’t meant to be fitted into the confines of a bracket. “There’s a set of expectations and if you deviate, people get distracted and sometimes disappointed.
“But we all sat down over a year ago and said, `Let’s map out something where at the end of ’17 or early ’18, we could be talking about something pretty close to an undisputed champion. It’s guys like we have cooperating, in Kell Brook, Danny and Keith because there’s certainly no contract in place. We said, `Let’s clarify things. We have one of the deepest divisions in the sport. Let’s get to work and find out who’s the best.’”
Thurman took a long step toward claiming that golden scepter, even if the Clearwater, Fla., resident’s fancy steppin’ drew mixed reviews and sapped some of the early enthusiasm from a Barclays Center boxing-record-crowd of 16,533 (and a Premier Boxing Champions on CBS television audience, with a Showtime announcing crew) that had hoped to witness a pugilistic heavy-metal concert and instead got 12 rounds of mostly chamber music. After jolting Garcia with several overhand rights in the first round, it evidently became apparent to Thurman and his trainer, Dan Birmingham, that the WBC champion with the misnomer of a nickname lacked the foot and hand speed to deal with the WBA titlist’s superior lateral movement.
Although Garcia said he believed he had done enough to win, and his father-trainer, Angel, complained that “You can’t win a fight running … (Thurman) ran all the way from the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th (rounds). How’d he win the fight? You got to be kidding me,” judges John McKaie and Joseph Pasquale favored the newly unified champ by respective margins of 116-112 and 115-113. Kevin Morgan was the contrarian, favoring Garcia by 115-113.
Punch statistics were inconclusive, with Thurman connecting on 147 of 570 (26 percent) to 130 of 434 (30 percent) for Garcia, who closed the gap down the stretch but gave away too many early rounds. In any case, the consensus among those with no horse in the race – the crowd was demonstrably pro-Garcia, no surprise given Philly’s relative proximity to Brooklyn and the fact that he had fought at Barclays five previous times – was that Thurman had done more to pass the all-important eye test. Promoter Lou DiBella said he couldn’t understand the tightness of the scoring because “(Garcia) got his ass boxed off. Danny came on in the last three rounds, but he was so far behind. The right guy won.”
“De-fense. De-fense. It’s boxing, baby,” said a beaming Thurman, who also won the post-fight press conference with a glib delivery that would have done Muhammad Ali or Bernard Hopkins proud. “Look, man, I told (Garcia) ahead of time, `You fought (Amir) Khan, he can box. You fought (Lucas) Matthysse, he can punch. But you never fought somebody who can box and punch at the same time.
“People forget that boxing is a sport. And sports are scored on a point system, right? Fight fans love to see a tremendous fight. Sometimes when you go to a boxing match, you do get that. You get what you want, what you desire. But sometimes, you see boxing. Boxing is an art. I finessed my way to victory.”
The time line for the Showtime welterweight tournament that isn’t, began – unofficially, of course – on June 25 of last year, when Thurman scored a close unanimous decision over Porter in a fight that registered much higher on the excitement level than did Thurman-Garcia. Next up is Porter-Berto, which figures to be an easy cruise for Porter as Berto is 4-4 in his last eight ring appearances, is clearly on a career downturn and would seem to have as much right to participate in a welterweight eliminator at this juncture as, say, the ghost of Carmen Basilio. A much more compelling entry in the series is the defense by IBF champion Kell Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) against Errol Spence Jr. (21-0, 18 KOs), which is tentatively scheduled for May 20 in Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England, and will be televised in the United States by Showtime.
So, what’s next for Thurman?
“I will be stepping back in the ring later this year,” Thurman said. “We’re going to see what manifests. There might be some form of a rematch fight (against Porter or Garcia). There might be some sort of a stay-busy fight. There might be a great fight (against the Brook-Spence winner) in the near future because the welterweight division is a great division. The motto remains the same. I got an `0,’ and I’m not afraid to let it go. If you can beat me, beat me.”
The snag to any talk of an ersatz welterweight tournament – as is the case at featherweight and super welterweight, other deep weight classes in which Espinoza is attempting to orchestrate similar round-robins – is that it apparently will involve only fighters affiliated with Al Haymon’s PBC and amenable to appearing on Showtime. Can an indisputable king of the welters emerge if a still-active and winning Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2, 28 KOs), again the WBO ruler, is not involved? And what if Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0, 26 KOs), who has been hinting at a comeback against MMA superstar Conor McGregor, decides he still has a boxing itch that needs more scratching?
Being the undisputed anything in boxing is likely a concept as extinct as T-Rexes. But at least Keith Thurman has two of the four slices of the 147-pound pie, with designs on a third. It still ain’t perfect, but until something better comes along, it’ll have to suffice.
LUBIN MAKES STATEMENT
In the Showtime-televised lead-in to Thurman-Garcia, 21-year-old Erickson Lubin (18-0, 13 KOs) knocked out rugged Mexican Jorge Cota (23-2, 20 KOs) with an overhand left in a matchup of southpaws. The victory in the WBC super welterweight eliminator made Lubin the mandatory challenger to the winner of the forthcoming title bout between champion Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs) and challenger Charles Hatley (26-1-1, 18 KOs).
Lubin was viewed as America’s best hope for a medal, maybe even a gold, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He decided instead to turn pro at 18 with the now-defunct Iron Mike Promotions, and is now part of Al Haymon’s massive stable.
“I have no regrets,” Lubin said of chucking his bid for Olympic glory to get a head start on his pro career. “This is my gold medal right here,” he said, an allusion to his place now at the front of the line for the next WBC 154-pound title shot following Charlo-Hatley. “Me and my team made the decision not to stay in the amateurs. We felt like we made the right decision.”
In other undercard bouts of note, light heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara (29-4, 17 KOs) scored a 10th-round stoppage of faded former light heavyweight titlist “Bad” Chad Dawson (34-5, 19 KOs); popular Brooklyn-based women’s WBC International featherweight champ Heather Hardy (19-0, 4 KOs) scored a unanimous, eight-round decision over Edina Kiss (13-3, 8 KOs) and rising super lightweight prospect Sergey Lipinets (12-0, 10 KOs) bombed out Clarence Booth (14-3, 7 KOs) in seven rounds.
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