By: Oliver McManus
Keith Thurman will make his much awaited return to the ring this weekend, as part of PBC on Fox, following extensive injuries to his hand and elbow. 22 months on from a split decision victory over Danny Garcia and Thurman will defend his WBA ‘Super’ Welterweight Championship against Josesito Lopez (36-7).
The welterweight scene, of course, has changed vastly since Thurman’s last bout with the emergence of Errol Spence Jr, Manny Pacquiao’s Indian summer coming to fruition and, indeed, Terence Crawford moving up in weight class. All three pose very real threats to Thurman’s WBA supremacy but One Time will be looking to brush off the cobwebs and establish himself at the top of the division.
At the Barclays Center, this Saturday, it will be a solid indication of how Thurman has responded to injury rehabilitation and what, if any, impact it has had on him as a fighter. A former unified champion, of course, the 31 year old has been in and around the world level for just over six years. It’s been a while – not just in terms of time – since we’ve seen a vintage Thurman performance, however, but he still shunted himself towards pound-for-pound contention.
Openly targeting a fight with Manny Pacquiao, that fight looks likely to happen given the Filipino’s secondary title status but the prospect of the contest remains enticing. Against Josesito, on paper, Thurman should have a relatively easy body of work – you could expect no less after such a lengthy lay-off.
Josesito Lopez isn’t just a name on paper, however, with The Riverside Rocky having been in the ring with Saul Alvarez, Marcos Maidana and Andre Berto – stopped on all three occasions, mind. With three fights since April 2015, the same number as Thurman, the Californian welterweight hasn’t exactly been the most active over recent years. Seen, throughout time, as a decent yardstick for bigger names looking to get a good performance under their belt, Lopez comes out of the blocks fast continuously before fading around the halfway mark.
Seven years on since his latest victory of note – a surprise win over Victor Ortiz – it has to be said that Lopez is likely to pose little in way of threat to Thurman’s 28-fight unbeaten record. Thurman is expected to come through the contest and look good in doing so but any slip-up from the Clearwater-boxer could be exposed on a large scale by his opponent – don’t put your money on an upset victory, though.
The big bruisers on the undercard come by way of San Jose, California and Lomza, Poland as Gerald Washington and Adam Kownacki look to settle a score with their contest scheduled for 10 rounds. Polish born, Brooklyn resident, Kownacki will enter the ring as a betting favourite and boasting a record of 18 and 0 whilst Washington, a marginal underdog, looks to put himself in the frame for another world title shot.
Having challenged for Deontay Wilder’s WBC Championship in February 2017, Washington’s return saw him retire from a contest with Jarrell Miller before, in his only contest of last year, the 36 year old laboured to a victory over John Wesley Nofire. I use the word ‘laboured’ because whilst the win was routine and, to be frank, easy, Washington didn’t pack the explosive punch power of past performances.
Kownacki, on the other hand, has finished fights with Joshua Tufte, Artur Szpilka and Iago Kiladze in comprehensive fashion – all since 2017 – whilst his last contest against Charles Martin saw the two fighters push each-other in a 50/50 contest. Famed for his tendency to keep his hands down low and march forward, Kownacki takes a fair few punches on his way to victory but, thus far, victory has always been his.
Definitively a step up in class for Kownacki – ranked 5th the IBF and 8th with the WBC – he’ll need to be far more defensively orientated if he is to come through unscathed. Washington, despite his age, has the instinct not to allow such a lapse in technicality go untested. One thing you can guarantee from this fight is an utter slugfest.
Make no mistake though, all eyes are on the returning welterweight with Keith Thurman, the man that’s been left behind, seeking to cast aside any doubts about his recovery.