LAS VEGAS — This is how good Keith Thurman is, when he’s healthy and interested and fighting regularly: One can look at his record of 29-1 with 22 knockouts and rightly feel a bit disappointed, like there’s a lot more there that we still haven’t seen.
Professional sports are the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” business. And as Thurman prepares to fight Mario Barrios on Saturday in the main event of a pay-per-view card at Michelob Ultra Arena, he has a lot to prove.
• He says he’s the best welterweight in the world, but is he? He hasn’t fought since losing to Manny Pacquiao on July 20, 2019. He hasn’t won since edging Josesito Lopez on Jan. 26, 2019. He hasn’t had a KO since stopping Luis Collazo on July 11, 2015.
• He says he’s healthy, but part of his most recent 30-month layoff is the result of hand surgery. He’s 33 now, and the injuries are piling up.
• And while he’s back, he’s back with an asterisk, given he’s fighting an opponent who has never competed at welterweight. Oh, Barrios weighed 143 for a fight in 2019, but that was really a super lightweight bout.
So Thurman needs to step up and remind us why he matters. From 2013-15, he was the guy who seemed to be the next big thing after Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao moved on.
But the Barrios fight will be just his seventh since 2015, when he defeated Robert Guerrero in the first Premier Boxing Champions card on NBC. He fought twice in 2015, once each in 2016, 2017 and 2019, and not at all in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
That’s not the way to make the public fall in love, particularly when Terence Crawford emerged as a superstar in that span and young fighters like Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz appear to have that kind of potential.
We’ll see if he has the answers when it counts on Saturday when the bell rings, but no one in recent boxing history talks a better game than Thurman. He’s the best interview in the sport by a long shot, and after listening to him explain his absence, he begins to get back some of the goodwill he lost during his numerous hiatuses.
“It’s not an ideal situation and it kind of rubs some fight fans the wrong way,” Thurman told Yahoo Sports. “In 2019, we definitely got a lot of people back on the Thurman boat, the Thurman train, however you want to put the analogy. But once again, post-Pacquiao fight, I had hand surgery. We had a fusion of bones here in the left hand. The metacarpals came together. I have two staples in the left hand. It’s stronger than ever, but that took 10 months.”
And then there was COVID, and things got upside down quickly.
So there is a lot riding on the bout for Thurman. He needs to win, and perhaps needs to win impressively, to regain the stature he held going into the Pacquiao fight.
He also has to come out of it healthy so he can come back and perhaps get a bout with Crawford or the Errol Spence-Yordenis Ugas winner.
Thurman was built for big fights. He’s a power puncher as well as a volume puncher, and his ability to talk and sell fights is among the best in the game. There’s no such thing as a bad Keith Thurman interview; some are just greater than others.
He’s going to face a tough sell on this one, but he’s already sold himself on its importance. He knows what’s at stake with a victory.
“This is my presidential campaign,” Thurman said. “I am back. The welterweight division is back. Without me, the division has been whack. I bring the most exciting fights at welterweight. With or without a belt, I’m a champion and that’s the statement I’m making Saturday night.”
There are few like Keith Thurman in boxing, but there are ominous signs out there. Fighters who get injured as often as Thurman does tend to fade into the background as the credits roll off the screen.
He’s had a great career, won numerous title fights and earned millions. If there is going to be a second act, he has to start on Saturday.
Thankfully for those who plan to plunk down $75 to buy the pay-per-view, Thurman seems to know it, too.