Keith Thurman fights for a dream. It’s not so much his dream; it didn’t originate with him. It began with someone else who believed in him before Thurman himself could see where boxing might take him.
Thurman can still hear his voice, too. It has the distinct sound of an army drill instructor: “That’s all you got boy ÔÇª so-and-so is coming for you, boy ÔÇª he’s coming for you.”
Thurman doesn’t need to memorialize his former trainer, Ben Getty, with a tattoo. The rising undefeated welterweight doesn’t have to. Getty’s memory runs in Thurman’s blood stream. This was the man who would drive his kids four hours across Florida for sparring sessions, blaring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin along the way. And you better hope you did well that day, because on the ride back home, you’d hear about it.
Thurman (19-0, 18 knockouts) will be thinking of Getty, who started Thurman in boxing at the age of 7 and died of diabetes in May 2009, with each punch Saturday night against former IBF welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck (32-2, 18 KOs). The welterweight WBO eliminator will be on the HBO-televised Tavoris Cloud-Bernard Hopkins undercard at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Zaveck poses Thurman’s biggest threat to date.
“I feel pretty confident about this fight,” said Thurman, 24, who has stopped his last eight opponents, including kayos of Carlos Quintana and Orlando Lora in his last two fights. “I always want to do my best and shut up my critics as much as I can, though I know that’s pretty impossible to do. That’s their art, to critique, that’s their job.
“I do believe that I’m ready for this challenge. I do believe I’ve passed every challenge that’s come my way. I am getting a lot of criticism. I have no problem being honest. I’m still young. I’m still rising. Some people don’t like the fact that I’m an Al Haymon fighter. Al Haymon gets a lot of criticism himself in the fight game. I just call haters motivators. I understand that I’m not a perfect fighter.”
What rankles Thurman most is the thought that his growth has been built on smaller opponents. He’s a power puncher listed at a sinewy 5-foot-11, though he may be closer to 5-9. He says all you have to do is refer to the pictures of his weigh-ins against Quintana and Lora. Quintana is listed at 5-9¾ and Lora at 5-10.
“If I’m 5-11, Quintana has to be 6-2, or 6-3, because I was shorter than Quintana and pretty sure I was shorter than Lora,” Thurman said. “I’m a big welterweight, I’m beating up on all of these little guys. But the one thing about the welterweight division, it is packed with little guys. I don’t know if there is a welterweight champion that wasn’t a champion campaigning at 140 pounds in the last 12 to 14 months. It’s not my fault I’m a true welterweight. I don’t have to apologize about who I am.”
Thurman, from Clearwater, Florida, began boxing through the head janitor at his elementary school, an old-school guy who was a Vietnam veteran and had a military styleÔÇöGetty.
Getty, who died at 63, worked with Sugar Ray Leonard and developed 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Kenneth Gould. Thurman began boxing through the after-school YMCA program Getty started. He can’t forget the day, running home from school with permission slips shoved into his backpack for his mother to sign.
Thurman’s father was into karate, and Thurman used to watch Steven Seagal and Bruce Lee movies with him. He was originally a big fan of karate himself. But once the impressionable grade-schooler saw Getty’s boxing exhibition, he was hooked.
“I remember throwing the backpack to the floor, unzipped it and grabbed the paperwork, pulled it out and said, ‘Mama, mama, I want to box,’ and she knew I was athletic and that I was into karate, and she saw nothing wrong with it,” Thurman said.
His exciting, go-for-broke knockout style began then. By the time he was 13, Thurman was knocking out grown men. He had a distinguished amateur career that included two national Silver Gloves championships, a 2006 national PAL champion and a 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing trials appearance, where Thurman lost on points to Demetrius Andrade.
So far, the biggest challenge for Thurman has been fighting on without Getty, a thick, stocky man who had a loud, evocative way of pushing the right buttons on Thurman. In Getty’s own words, he was “not a bullshitter.”
“His name is going to be stitched into my trunks this Saturday night against Zaveck, and from here and forever more, he will always be with me in the ring,” Thurman said. “I tell people, and I’m not ashamed to say it, that I am a Ben Getty fighter. Ben Getty told a lot of people in boxing and saw it when I was a kid that I would be a world champion some day. He helped me get national titles when I was an amateur.
“He was always by my side. I wish that the man was still here so that you could hear his passion. My passion comes from Benjamin Getty. Every fight that I have and he’s not in my corner, it hurts. I have to tell myself that he’s in every punch that I throw, because he taught me everything I know. The dreams I had about being a champion were his dreams first. That gives me the strength to move forward.”
Photos: Pat Lovell & Rich Kane – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions