The long break evidently served Keith Thurman well.
The former welterweight champion, returning after a 2½-year hiatus from boxing, outboxed and outworked Mario Barrios to win a one-sided decision Saturday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
The victory was Thurman’s first since he outpointed Josesito Lopez in January 2019, more than three years ago.
“I’m just so grateful to everyone who got me into this position I’m in now,” he said. “And I look forward to having a better year later this year, 2022. ‘One Time’ is back!”
It appears so.
Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) hadn’t looked particularly good for at least half a decade, in part because of injuries to his elbow and hand that required surgery.
Keith Thurman (right) looked a lot like the world champ of old in his victory over Mario Barrios. Joe Buglewicz / Getty Images
He was able to get past Lopez but wasn’t the sharp, athletic boxer-puncher the fans had come to know. And while he rallied to make his fight with Manny Pacquiao in July 2019 close, he lost his title to a 40-year-old.
So when it was announced that he would make his return at 33 years old on Saturday, people had questions. Would he continue to struggle? Would we see ring rust? Would he look like the Thurman of old? Or would we see some of all of the above?
In the end, he was probably was closest to looking like the Thurman of old, although he was unable to stop an opponent who was moving up in weight.
Thurman, as fit as he has been in years, moved around the ring like he used to, planting his feet long enough to land hard, accurate punches and then using them to dance out of harm’s way round after round.
Barrios (26-2, 17 KOs) boxed well and landed meaningful punches at times. For example, a shot to Thurman’s gut in Round 8 seemed to knock him for a loop, as he took out his mouthpiece to get more air.
However, that was the exception. The Texan spent most of the fight eating punches and finding it difficult to reciprocate.
He didn’t have a horrible night. He was able to remain on his feet against a naturally bigger man with considerable power and he kept the fight competitive. He simply wasn’t able to do enough to put himself in position to win.
Thurman had his hand raised for the first time in three years. Joe Buglewicz / Getty Images
The scores were 118-110, 118-110 and 117-111 for Thurman. Boxing Junkie also had it 118-110, 10 rounds to two.
Thurman was asked to grade his performance and gave himself “a C+ or B-,” which apparently stems from his inability to take Barrios out.
“I rocked him a few times,” he said. “I just have to get back to the gym, get grinding, and push that high intensity, high endurance. That’s what I’m missing right now. I got the stamina, I got the timing. I just have to go a little harder. And we’re going to prepare to do that later this year.”
The fight was billed as a WBC title eliminator, which makes him a legitimate opponent for any of the 147-pound titleholders after just one fight back from his hiatus.
It sounds as if he’d be perfectly happy to fight any of the champions, the winner of the projected Errol Spence Jr.-Yordenis Ugas title-unification bout or Terence Crawford. He doesn’t care.
“I want the belts, baby,” he said. “I want the champions. I want to be back on top. So whoever’s willing to send Keith Thurman a contract, let’s go, baby, let’s go.”