The Welterweight Picture, and Where Keith Thurman Fits Into It
By: Jonah Dylan
Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao have been promoting their July 20 welterweight world title fight this week, so, understandably, they’ve been trying to say stuff that’ll get picked up in the mainstream media. When Thurman (29-0, 22 Kos) was asked if he’d fight again this year, he had an interesting response.
“No sir, no sir,” he said. “We get this job done, shoot, we’ve gotta relax.”
It’s a concerning comment from a guy who’s been infamously inactive over the last two years. After he won a split decision over Danny Garcia in March 2017 to unify two titles, he didn’t fight again for 22 months before he returned with a shaky majority decision win over Josesito Lopez in January. Seeing him turnaround relatively quick for the Pacquiao fight was a good sign, but not if he doesn’t stay active after it.
This isn’t to write Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) off, either. Obviously the guy is one of the greatest fighters of all time and still looks like a good fighter, even if he’s clearly not the fighter he once was. It’s very possible he could beat Thurman, especially considering the trouble Lopez – not considered a top-flight contender – gave him back in January.
In some sense, this fight is a no-win scenario for Thurman. If he wins, well, he just beat a 40-year-old guy whose career is on its last legs. If he loses, he just lost to a guy who no one thinks is in the same league as Terence Crawford or Errol Spence, and realistically Thurman would have a lot more work to do to rehabilitate his image as the best welterweight in the world.
It’s easy to forget, but it wasn’t that long ago that everyone had Thurman as their top guy in the division. Then Spence (25-0, 21 KOs) burst onto the scene when he knocked out Kell Brook to win a piece of the welterweight title and suddenly became arguably the most avoided fighter in the division. A couple months later, Crawford vacated his undisputed super lightweight crown to enter the mix and later won a world title in his first fight at 147 pounds.
Without fighting, Thurman went from being the No. 1 guy in the division to someone who isn’t even a real part of the conversation. Pacquiao probably picked him due in no small part to how beatable he looked against Lopez, and the fact that he doesn’t look nearly as dangerous as Spence in terms of his power (“One Time” nickname aside).
The fight everyone wants to see is Spence against Crawford, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Spence against Shawn Porter – a guy Thurman already beat – makes sense, and it’ll give Spence more leverage when he’s ready to actually negotiate with Crawford. The fight is also reportedly already in the works for late summer or early fall.
After that, Spence could opt to fight the Thurman-Pacquiao winner to get another belt (and continue #StrapSzn, as he says). Or he could fight Garcia, or Yordenis Ugas, or Sergey Lipenets, all solid welterweights under the PBC banner. Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) has no one to fight, and as time goes on, he needs Spence more and more.
But this is where Thurman could come back into the picture. Let’s say he beats Pacquiao, and Spence takes out Porter and unifies titles. The next obvious fight would be Thurman against Spence, but if Thurman really doesn’t want the Spence fight, he could actually circumvent the whole process and try to get the Crawford fight for himself. Think about it: Top Rank is going to be desperate for Crawford opponents, and Thurman (especially an undefeated Thurman with a belt) would be a good one. They want one of the PBC welterweights, and he fits the bill.
Thurman could make a lot of money to go fight Crawford. This time, it’d be a win-win scenario. If he wins, he just went to the other side of the street and took down arguably the best fighter in the world. If he loses, he can say he was the one who was truly willing to fight anyone, not Spence. It would also justify his layoff if he actually fought top-level opposition in the near future. As an added bonus for fans, Crawford and Spence would both have two belts and that fight would be even more appealing.
This is still unlikely, for a number of reasons. For one, there’s no indication that Al Haymon is going to send any of his welterweights to fight Crawford. If he did, it probably wouldn’t be Thurman. But who knows?
Thurman needs to build himself back up, and he needs to do that with consistent activity, not against B-level guys but against the best the 147-pound division has to offer.