Keith Thurman: “If You Can Beat Me, Beat Me”

THURMAN VS. GARCIA, BEFORE AND AFTER — On March 4, Showtime Championship Boxing on CBS featured the highly-anticipated WBC-WBA welterweight championship fight between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia.

Thurman is one of the more intriguing personalities in boxing today. And that statement could be amended to extend beyond the sweet science.

Dan Birmingham, who trains Thurman, said last year, “I’ve known Keith since he was kid. I’ve been working with him since he was fifteen. And I still don’t really know him. He’s very opinionated. He has an opinion about everything. And he reminds me of a hippie from The Sixties. Outside the ring, Keith is all peace and love. He’s a giver. He plays the flute, guitar, and a little piano. He would have done well at Woodstock. But when the bell rings, he’ll rip your head off.”

Thurman’s mother was a telemarketer. His father worked, among other things, as a nursing care assistant. They divorced when Keith was young, and his father had three more children in a subsequent marriage.

“There’s no blueprint for being a perfect parent,” Thurman says. “But both of them tried. My father always talked to me like a young man, not a little boy. My mother raised me as a single parent, which was hard and I probably made it harder because I was rambunctious at times. I have my own home now. But when I started making money, I kept living at home and helped my mother pay off the mortgage. I’m grateful for everything they taught me.”

Thurman has strong self-belief and a personalized faith. “I’m more spiritual than religious,” he explains. “I believe that the Creator knew what He was creating and that there’s harmony amidst the chaos. I believe that human beings were created to love and respect each other. I was raised as a Christian, but I don’t practice a specific religion because of the structure. My connection to my Creator is personal. I’ve read a lot about the world’s religions and studied them in my way. I look for what they have in common rather than their differences. Religion can help you understand how to build character, in yourself and in others.

“It’s important to me to always be growing as a person,” Keith continues. “I was a high school dropout, but I like to learn. Part of me has always wanted to go to college.”

Thurman likes to talk. He has a preference for hip-hop and rhythm and blues, but says, “Good music is good music, whatever kind it is.” Then, in the next sentence, he acknowledges, “I have a love-hate relationship with music. Songs tend to seep into your subconsciousness, and it interferes with my meditation. Sometimes, when I’m meditating, it feels like I’m turning on the radio.”

He also has thoughts to offer on government and politics:

*         “I’m proud to be an American. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of subjects. One of the best things about being an American is the right to have opinions and speak openly about them.”

*         “I’m a boxer. I know how to take a punch. America is the strongest nation in the world. But after 9/11, America didn’t know how to take the punch. Go to war in Iraq? What was that for?”

*         “Life is hard. There’s no easy way of going about it. Sometimes the government makes life easier. Sometimes it makes life harder.”

*         “I like to break down words. Like politics. ‘Poly’ means many. Ticks are blood-sucking parasites. So it’s there, right under your nose.”

Thurman is an articulate, thoughtful, complex man. But none of that matters in a boxing ring unless a fighter can fight.

Thurman can fight. His first mentor in boxing was Ben Getty, who trained Keith from a young age. Getty died in 2009, leaving his charge in Dan Birmingham’s hands. To this day, Thurman quotes Getty on aspects of life ranging from finance to Frank Sinatra. But most of the quotes are on boxing:

*         “Ben Getty always said, ‘Smart fighters win and dumb fighters lose.’”

*         “Ben Getty always said, ‘You can’t wait on a rematch. You have to make adjustments now.’ There’s no reason that someone should be able to hit you again and again with the same punch. If he hits you more than twice with the same punch, you’re doing something wrong.”

*         “Ben Getty used to tell me, ‘It’s just around the corner, boy.’ If I could have Ben back for a day now, I’d tell him, ‘Well, I guess we’ve reached that corner.’”

“Boxing has been my whole life since I was seven years old,” Thurman says. “It’s the only thing that has stayed consistent except my mother and father. I’ve never had a job. I never delivered pizza. I mowed lawns from time to time when I was a kid to pick up some extra change, but that’s all. I don’t know how to do an oil change. I don’t know calculus. But I know boxing.”

“Boxing brings happiness and excitement to me,” Keith continues. “I had difficulty with team sports. I didn’t like relying on others for victory. Not everybody can be a boxer. It’s a whole other kind of sport. You need a special mentality and some very special qualities to be a boxer. But I love the sport. It’s more than a source of income for me. I love being tested. If you can beat me, beat me.”

Thurman sees himself as a boxer first and a puncher second, explaining, “Every training camp, I focus on a new technique. I want to be able to adapt to anything that comes my way.” But he’s quick to add, “Not one opponent ever got in the ring with me and said afterward, ‘Keith Thurman can’t hit; his power is overrated.’ People used to say about me, ‘Man, this kid can punch. Wait till he gets his man strength. He’ll be at his strongest by age twenty-eight.’”

Thurman smiles: “Well, I’m twenty-eight now.”

Thurman-Garcia shaped up as an attractive fight. Each man turned pro in November 2007 and is in his prime.

Thurman brought a 27-0 (22 KOs) record into the bout and was the reigning WBA 147-pound champion. His signature win was a 115-113, 115-113, 115-113 decision victory over Shawn Porter at Barclays Center last year.

Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) is one year older than Thurman. He rose to prominence with a fourth-round upset knockout of Amir Khan in 2012, won several 140-pound belts, and claimed the vacant WBC 147-pound crown last year with a unanimous decision win over Robert Guerrero.

Thurman was a 2-to-1 betting favorite.

Ever since Luis Collazo doubled him over with a body shot (Keith stayed on his feet), the naysayers have said that Thurman doesn’t like it when an opponent goes hard to the body. Eighty years ago, the naysayers said the same thing about Joe Louis, who responded, “Who do?”

“I know how to handle being hurt,” Thurman said in the build-up to Thurman-Garcia. “Danny has power. If he lands right, he can hurt me. But he’s not going to match me in power. I’m bigger; I’m stronger. Danny’s resume isn’t a welterweight resume. It’s knockdown power versus knockout power. He’s dangerous, but I’m more dangerous. Round by round, minute by minute, second by second, the truth will be revealed.”

But Garcia had faced similar odds in overcoming Lucas Matthysse and more daunting ones against Amir Khan.

“At the end of the day,” Danny said at the final pre-fight press conference, “all ‘underdog’ means is that there’s a bunch of people who don’t know what I can do.” To which Angel Garcia (Danny’s father and trainer) added, “Thurman beat guys he was supposed to beat. Danny beat guys when people didn’t think he’d win.”

That brings the narrative to Angel Garcia.

Angel gives the impression of being tightly coiled, physically and mentally. Even on good days, there’s a lot of anger bubbling just beneath the surface. He talks with his hands and tends to get in people’s space when he talks to them, often jabbing them with a finger to make his point. When Danny was young, Angel spent several years in prison for drug-related offenses.

At a January 18 press conference to announce Thurman vs. Garcia, Angel hurled racial epithets at Thurman (who’s African-American) and ranted about “mother****ing immigrants [who] come from another country.” Thereafter, there was talk that the New York State Athletic Commission might deny Angel a license to work his son’s corner on fight night.

Thurman wanted Angel in Danny’s corner. At the time of the tirade, Keith told reporters, “Danny knows how to deal with his father. He was raised by his father. He knows what to expect from his father. At the end of the day, crazy Angel doesn’t get to do anything but run his mouth. He can’t punch for Danny. He can’t take the punches for Danny. What they do in the ring is what matters. I care about the fighter, not the fighter’s father.”

Also, Thurman reasoned that, if Angel were denied a licence, Team Garcia would try to tarnish a Thurman victory by claiming that Danny was disadvantaged by his father’s absence.

It was all moot. The New York State Athletic Commission as presently constituted doesn’t upset applecarts when the applecart is owned and operated by powerful economic interests (e.g. Barclays Center and CBS).

On February 22, Angel met with NYSAC chairperson Ndidi Massay, acting executive director Tony Giardina, and director of boxing Eric Bentley to discuss his transgressions. On March 2, shortly after the final pre-fight press conference ended, the commission issued a terse statement that read, “The New York State Athletic Commission has approved Angel Garcia’s license application to participate in Saturday’s bout.”

Angel wasn’t on the dais at the final pre-fight press conference. But he did attend the event and spoke extensively with the media afterward. In these conversations, he was careful to not repeat any of the thoughts that had landed him in hot water. He was also careful not to say anything that could be remotely construed as an apology.

“I had a little meeting with them,” Angel said of his sitdown with commission personnel. “But it was nothing. I didn’t do nothing [wrong], but I did my part. They told me to do something, and I did it. I completed my half. I did a small video. We do a lot for kids anyway. We donate haircuts and we do things for the kids in the neighborhood [in Philadelphia]. So it ain’t nothing new for us to do something like that. So I donated to the Joe Frazier Foundation, money, and then that was it. And then I had to say, if I offended any immigrant or whatever, or refugees. I made a video like that.”

The New York State Athletic Commission declined a request for information regarding whether the video referenced by Angel Garcia is available for viewing and how much money Garcia donated to the foundation. A Google search raised questions as to whether such a foundation currently exists.

Then it was fight night.

Barclays Center has shown a commitment to building an ongoing boxing program, and the announced crowd of 16,553 constituted an arena record for the sweet science. Gerry Cooney, who was in attendance, captured the anticipation as the moment of reckoning arrived: “Right now, if you’re a fighter, you want the bell to ring. Just ring the bell, baby, and let’s fight.”

Thurman-Garcia was a great match-up, which is all fans can ask of a promotion. It wasn’t a great fight.

Round one was the most exciting of the bout Thurman came out hard, stunned Garcia with a left hook up top, and followed up nicely. But from round two on, the excitement waned. Thurman was wary of Garcia’s counterpunching (“I was impressed with the way he read my punches,” Keith said after the fight) and spent long periods of time circling away from his opponent. Meanwhile, Garcia was cautious about engaging and more invested in countering than getting off first. Each man took the other’s punches well when they landed. There was drama because of the stakes involved. But the expected fireworks were few and far between. The crowd booed sporadically from the midway point on.

The New York State Athletic Commission had agreed to accommodate CBS by allowing 70-second rest periods between rounds instead of the standard 60-seconds. That allowed CBS to program its commercials the way it wanted to. There’s no way of knowing whether that altered the flow of the bout.

It was a hard fight to score. Each judge gave Thurman the first, fifth, and eighth rounds, while leaning toward Garcia in rounds six and ten. The other rounds were up for grabs. In the end, two judges – John McKaie (116-112) and Joseph Pasquale (115-113) – favored Thurman, while Kevin Morgan (115-113) sided with Garcia.

Earlier in the week, Angel Garcia had spoken with the media about Danny and said, “He’s not my son now. He’s my fighter.”

At the post-fight press conference, Danny was asked, “How did your dad like the decision?”

“My dad is always upset,” Danny answered.

Then Angel, who was a late arrival at the press conference, had his say: “You can’t win a fight running, bro. You gotta make contact. You can’t just run. You can’t be a world champion like that.”

At that point, Keith Thurman and Dan Birmingham entered the room and the Garcias walked out. Speaking to the fans’ disappointment over the way the fight unfolded, Thurman put the night in context: “Sometimes when you come to a boxing match, you get what you want. You see a fight. And sometimes you get boxing. I finessed my way to victory tonight.”

As for the future . . . Within the Premier Boxing Champions universe, the most attractive options for Thurman’s next fight are match-ups against the winner of the upcoming bout between Kell Brook and Errol Spence, rematches against Garcia or Shawn Porter, and an outing against Adrien Broner. Alternatively, Thurman, who’s a big welterweight, could test the waters at 154 pounds.

Thurman has his eye on history. “Either you’re the best or you aren’t,” he says. “I want to prove that I’m the best.”

However, he’s also a practical man, who notes, “Boxers are entrepreneurs and the life of an athlete is short. You have to ride the wave while it lasts. The goal is to find a way to produce income that will give me a good cash flow for life after I retire from boxing.”

Then he adds, “Having money is a job in itself. Growing up, I didn’t have much. I’d hear the saying, ‘More money, more problems.’ And I’d ask, ‘How is that so? It seems to me, more money, more solutions.’ But I understand that now.”

And a final thought . . .

“When you’re a kid,” Thurman observes, “time seems to last forever. And now, time seems so short. But I’m happy to be in this moment. I’m living the life I want to live.”

 

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

COMMENTS

-Kid Blast :

"Thurman could’ve accomplished both victory and glory Saturday night…but by obsessing on the former, he forfeited the latter." And his outside the ring story has grown stale. I do not see Thurman as a compelling person. Just my take, but something seems to be missing with him. When I can determine what it is, I shall write about it.


-Kid Blast :

"Thurman could?ve accomplished both victory and glory Saturday night?but by obsessing on the former, he forfeited the latter." And his outside the ring story has grown stale. I do not see Thurman as a compelling person. Just my take, but something seems to be missing with him. When I can determine what it is, I shall write about it.


-New York Tony :

Way too many words devoted to someone who is NOT "one of the more intriguing personalities in boxing today."


-Skibbz :

"Thurman could?ve accomplished both victory and glory Saturday night?but by obsessing on the former, he forfeited the latter." And his outside the ring story has grown stale. I do not see Thurman as a compelling person. Just my take, but something seems to be missing with him. When I can determine what it is, I shall write about it.
When he was "One Time" it was a different story. Brash, unapologetic, and exciting. It all changed in the Collazo fight for me. Then Bundu. Then I stopped following his career as closely. I heard someone mention that he's become Keith "Run Time" Thurman....