Thurman looks beyond the homecoming party
Showing off a championship belt in front of a hometown crowd is a desire every fighter develops as soon as he wins a strap and unbeaten welterweight Keith Thurman is no exception.
Thurman (25-0, 21 knockouts), rated at No. 5 at THE RING ratings, will be getting his wish on July 11 (Premier Boxing Champions, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT), when he’ll be facing former titlist Luis Collazo (36-6, 19 KOs) at the USF Sundome in Tampa, Fla., in Thurman’s first fight in his home state in over five years. And this time, he’ll wear the WBA “regular” belt he recently defended against Robert Guerrero after holding the “interim” version for his previous three bouts.
The recognition of Thurman’s belt is limited in the boxing world [Editor’s note: THE RING does not recognize Thurman’s title. Floyd Mayweather Jr. holds the organization’s “super” title, therefore is recognized as sole WBA representative] and is almost unanimously considered as little more than an ingenuous way for the WBA to collect the occasional five-figure sanctioning fee. But his sense of achievement is there anyway. Feeling the roar of the hometown crowd as one lifts his belt over his head at the end of a victorious outing will be more than enough for Thurman to feel excited about his chance to score a win in front of his fellow Floridians.
But beyond the excitement ahead of his local showcase, Thurman also relishes the opportunity of feeling the goosebumps and the butterflies in the stomach.
“I enjoy some of the spotlight but there are moments where it can be a little overwhelming,” said Thurman in a recent conference call. “This camp, in general, I’ve had more appearances that I normally make. More interviews and less time to myself, less time to stick to my regimen. I used to think it was all boxing but now I’m understanding the business and that’s all that I’m really trying to wrap my mind around.”
One of the aspects Thurman is still trying to figure out is his status as a knockout artist. As his career progresses, Thurman will feel more pressure to get the stoppage against more solid opponents and, even though Collazo may be the right opponent to stop in front of his hometown crowd, Thurman is aware of the high expectations placed on him by fans and press alike.
“Well, at the end of the day, I still hold one of the highest knockout ratios in the welterweight division,” said Thurman, who will be stepping into the ring almost 14 months after his last stoppage win, although he did manage to send his last two foes to the canvas at least once before winning on points. “The punching power is there from the beginning to the end. We want the knockouts, for the fans and for the publicity that lives up to the name ‘One Time.’ But at the end of the day, we still just want to be a champion and we’ll do whatever it takes to stay champion.”
In the pre-fight analysis, it appears Collazo is not the right guy to keep Thurman’s distance streak alive but the Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican boxer-puncher has only been stopped once in his career – and has no intention to allow Thurman to be the second man to stop him.
“Keith Thurman is doing a heck of a job,” said Collazo. “He’s undefeated; I don’t take anything away from him. In this sport, anything can happen. I’m just coming in here prepared for this fight July 11 and you can count on me bringing my best to the ring. Whoever sticks to the game plan the best is who should come out victorious.”
Thurman, on the other hand, worries less about Collazo’s ability to defeat him and more about the possibility of not shining in his homecoming bout.
“Well, he’s going to do his best to not allow me to look excellent,” said Thurman. “He’s going to do his best to score an upset in my hometown and he has an opportunity to become the world champion. So I’m pretty sure that he can do all that he can do but, one thing is, out of all the champions, I still believe that my punching power is still above anybody that he fought, so that’s going to be something new.
“I just focus on this fight. For the most part, there is a little extra comfort level knowing that you’re fighting in your own backyard,” said Thurman. We’ve been here many times and we’ve done this many times, just sticking to the formula and staying true. We don’t really change nothing just because it’s at home.”
Nonetheless, Thurman’s need to impress beyond his ability to keep his “0” intact is clear to the fighter, as he grows into a powerhouse in his own right in an elite division. But not even the biological clock that threatens to bring the Mayweather Sweepstakes to an end has the power to keep Thurman worried about his future. He is clearly more concerned about creating a brand of his own rather than latching on to the fame of the most lucrative fighter in history as Mayweather heads toward retirement.
“Boxing is nothing but politics. If there weren’t any politics, it would just be street fighting. It’s an industry; it’s a business and it takes time,” said Thurman, regarding his chances of scoring a dream bout against Mayweather – or anyone of that stature, for that matter. “I’ve been on the scene for three years now and, just earlier this year, I got [to face] my first [opponent] in the top 10. And, to a degree, it’s a struggle but it’s a grind and I look forward to the grind. I enjoy the grind. My whole life, all I wanted to do was be a professional boxer and here we are, world champion.”
And as such, now more than ever, the one task in his job description can be reduced to one word: win.
“At the end of the day, my job is to win. Everything else is icing on the cake. We want to be great. We want this match to be talked about for months to come later on in the year. It’s another fight; it’s another opportunity for me to showcase my skills and my talents to the world and I don’t believe that I’ve disappointed anybody yet. July 11 shouldn’t be any different.”
Diego Morilla, a bilingual boxing writer since 1995, is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He served as boxing writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com, and is now a regular contributor to RingTV.com and HBO.com, as well as the resident boxing writer for XNSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MorillaBoxing