Much of the air in the room of the sport has been sucked up by the megastars Manny Pacquiao (who gloved up and beat Tim Bradley on April 12) and Floyd Mayweather (who takes on Marcos Maidana May 3 in Vegas) in the last six weeks or so. To the point that, other cards and other fighters who likely deserve more attention, and more media buzz, have suffered.
One such soul is Keith "One Time" Thurman, a 25-year-old Florida resident stepping into the ring, and looking to defend his WBA interim welterweight crown, on Saturday night in California.
First we all went ga-ga over Manny, and this week we've been starting to perk antennae to near max efficiency as we count down to Mayweather's first tangle of the year.
I wanted to rectify that, just a bit, and chat with the young gun who in the last year has started to have people talk about him as a pound for pound top 10 candidate. I wondered if he felt the same, that his Saturday scrap, topping a Golden Boy card, and a triple-header on Showtime, was under radar somewhat.
"My true opinion is," he said, pausing for effect, "I don't know and I don't care. My job is to step in that ring, and perform, and I will put on a great performance."
The buzz factor has also been limited by the choice of opposition; Julio Diaz is 40-9-1, 34-years-old, and coming off a draw, and two losses. He is excessively fortunate to be given this opportunity against two-fisted banger Thurman. "I was hoping for a bigger challenge," Thurman admitted. "But they gave me this test. It's a stay busy fight for me." He said that he is pleased in knowing the true die-hard fans will watch the tussle, which he termed "high risk, little reward." He noted that Diaz is likely to be fueled by the understanding that he NEEDS to win, or his window will close with a crash. "No, I don't believe he is in my league, and I believe I will outclass him."
Only a fool looks past the task in front of him; but it's not unwise to at least ponder the roads that might be taken further along the journey. Thurman told me he can easily say a road leading to Shawn Porter (24-0 with 15 KOs), the 26-year-old Ohio resident who defended his WBC welter title against Brooklyn's Paul Malignaggi on April 19, notching a TKO4. Thurman didn't go out of his way to shower Porter with praise, however. He told TSS that he thought Malignaggi turned in "one of the worst performances of his career. It was a bad boxing performance, for a guy who knows a lot about fighting. I think it has to do with ego, I think he underestimated Porter. He never had his hands up, for four rounds! He could've blocked those jumping left hooks." I thought Porter was simply too strong for Malignaggi and that the startegy might have been immaterial, because of the power edge, and told Thurman that concept. He continued, noting that Malignaggi was susceptible to power brokers when he fought at 140 pounds, and should really have used a different gameplan, should have run some more to lessen the number of shots he was eating. (Note: I reached out to Malignaggi, to get a response, and heard back. "It's fine, all fighters are allowed to have their opinion," Malignaggi told me. "Thurman is a young man, on some things he is ignorant, but he's got that youthful 'jump the gun' mentality, we all have it and we all go through it. I have my own opinions and I feel strongly about what happened on Saturday night, there's no need for the back and forth from me, however. I will leave it at Porter fought a good fight and was VERY well prepared to fight.")
"I know me and Porter are going to fight," Thurman continued. In fact, he knew that before anyone else brought up the idea, he said. Both are part of the class of 2008, Thurman said, and he's sparred with Porter previously. He said that the styles will work in his favor when he does tangle with Porter, because he has a higher caliber of firepower to draw on.
"I do respect his power," he said, "but I seem to find a way to land big punches" while Porter more so grinds you down. "At any given point, in any given round, I have the ability to put you down," Thurman stated. "And I would love to fight Shawn Porter. When we meet up, there will be only one remaining young, undefeated welterweight. It would be a terrific, fan friendly fight, and we'd see who is the cream of the crop. And the winner would deserve a shot at Mayweather. It could be 2015, or whenever. The longer Floyd stays in it, he will have to answer to one of these young dogs coming up."
I love the idea of a Thurman-Porter clash taking place, as an eliminator, with the winner to get a shot at the Mayweather lotto ticket. Thurman is down with that, he said. He expects to handle Porter when and if that pairing is made. And yes, he'd adore a shot at Floyd. He'd take it ASAP, or later.
"I'm ready now," he said. "I'll be more ready later. The older he gets, the more gray hairs he gets, and wrinkles on his forehead....I'm coming to my prime, he will be fading out of his. He can postpone it till his last hurrah if he wants."
Thurman noted, as have many on message boards, that Floyd has chosen, in his last five fights, a fighter of Puerto Rican extraction, a Puerto Rican, a Mexican-American, a Mexican, and now a Latino, Marcos Maidana of Argentina. "With all due respect, I love the sport," he said, "and I'm mixed, African-American and Caucasian, my mom is white, my father is black, whoever says that on a message board knows their Mayweather history. He's fought more Latinos than Africans or African-Americans." Thurman said Floyd is canny to attach his fights to Latino holidays, which helps insure good PPV numbers, from a marketing perspective, because Latinos tend to regard boxing higher on the sports food chain than most other racial/ethnic classes. Thurman noted that African-Americans, like Shane Mosley, and Zab Judah, and Chop Chop Corley, had more luck finding Mayweather than his recent opponents did, for whatever that's worth.
"Again, with all due respect, boxing is one of the most racial sports," he said. "It's almost always a Mexican vs. an American, a Puerto Rican versus a Mexican, a black versus a white, etc. Fighters are always representing their heritage. Basically, I'd like to see diversity in Mayweathers' choices," Thurman said, in wrapping up.
My take: Thurman is coming into his own in the ring, and finding his place outside, as a talker, as a fight seller, as a self-marketer. Or, more appropriately perhaps, WE are simply finding out in Thurman what has been there in front of us for a spell. Those megastars, and our perhaps excessive attention paid to them, maybe do a small disservice to the sport as a whole, because it means we don't spread the wealth of coverage and attention around like we should.
Readers, talk to me...how do you see Thurman's near-term arc playing out? What would Thurman-Porter look like? And is Thurman a stellar candidate to face Floyd, and would he have a decent chance to beat Mayweather?
Follow Woods on Twitter.
Who wins the WBO Middleweight title fight Dec. 19th?