The current Welterweight division would benefit from some ‘old-school’ busyness as it seeks to ascertain who is the true king from a courtyard full of aspiring princes and deposed monarchs.
On Saturday night, Keith Thurman will return from the latest hiatus in his 11-year career to pursue this unified crown and reinforce a claim validated by a resume that contemporaries struggle to match, but one undermined by inactivity.
Following Manny Pacquiao’s victory last week, and with the spectre of Terence Crawford tackling Amir Khan and Errol Spence tangling with Mikey Garcia already on the horizon, Thurman’s return following surgery and rehabilitation, elongated by subsequent injuries, is exciting and timely.
Bookmakers are keen to offer betting opportunities for his return against veteran Josesito Lopez at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It is not an uncommon phenomenon within the modern era for an elite fighter to average less than two bouts per year, and frequently barely a solitary outing.
Thurman has rested on his laurels for longer than the injuries were expected to require, his critics argue he is wary of the challenges within his division or hostage to a failing body.
There is a fear Thurman will never be the fighter he was in 2016 and 2017, a golden period when he beat Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia to cement his position as the number one active Welterweight.
As a pair, Porter and Garcia were both top 10, perhaps top 5 members of the ‘red-hot’ weight class vacated by Floyd Mayweather, who retired in 2015. It has been a point of huge frustration for Thurman, his contemporaries and fight fans that he has been unable to capitalise on that momentum.
His fan friendly style is built on a range of attributes but with the memory of his pedestrian finish to his last bout with Danny Garcia, who he allowed to rally in the later rounds, coupled with a long lay off there is scope to believe Lopez could cause the returning champion problems.
Doubts Over Thurman’s Form
Certainly, the break creates doubt. No fight since Spring 2017 and now aged 30 are variables that usually don’t bode well for the fighter in question and it is for that reason that the modest, albeit determined, Lopez has been selected.
Strong, but without natural power in his punches, the 34-year-old Lopez tends to lose at world-class level. In his bout with Andre Berto, he proved capable of man-handling the former champion, and using wide hooks to the body from a tall stance, though he was willing to cede ground to the advancing Berto.
An impartial view of their 2015 bout had Lopez sweeping the opening five rounds until he was caught by a short left hook and summarily finished in the sixth. It is in these middle rounds he has also lost to Saul Alvarez (TKO5 – 2012) and Marcos Maidana (TKO6 – 2013), to add to tight defeats to Jessie Vargas and Edgar Santana, the latter at 140lbs.
The pattern and form suggests Thurman is too big, as a career Welterweight, and too good at closing distance decisively, something Berto failed to in the early rounds, and hits too hard for Lopez.
Those patterns are the reason Lopez has been selected over more qualified foes; there is reason for caution in rehabilitating Thurman into competitive action.
Will he have been able to restore his stamina to fight at pace with a strong, aggressive opponent? Will his body sustain him through the more rugged clinching one could presume Lopez will seek to force on the returning champion?
This fight, which will be shown live on ITV in the UK and on FOX in the US, represents a ticket to more lucrative opportunities for the veteran and he will be well prepared and leave everything he has in the ring on Saturday night.
Any fight after two years out, despite the frequency with which we witness returning fighters in the modern era, is loaded with more risk than the form book relays.
Thurman v Lopez Best Odds
Doubt will exist in Thurman’s mind until he’s thrown the right hand, it was his right elbow which required surgery, and to some extent, until he’s missed with it and over-extended, which may be where vulnerability remains.
His long right hand is a key part of his arsenal and if he is impaired, it will reduce his effectiveness and improve Lopez’s chances from the industry-best 18/1 odds offered by Bet365.
There is a temptation to invest lightly on the Lopez win simply to cover the possibility of an injury intervention affecting the outcome and at 18/1, there is a rich return should misfortune interfere.
More likely is a Thurman win and in the early-mid rounds, it assumes Thurman of 2016 vintage is in the ring, the one with speed, aggression, hard punches and natural size advantages.
Lopez will work hard to stay competitive, but Thurman’s presumed desire to make a statement could find him overwhelmed and stopped.
As the ‘asset’ in the fight, Thurman will enjoy the sub-conscious backing of those officiating the contest and I can imagine a swift intervention if Thurman gets on top in the 4-6th rounds.
You can get 9/2 with Paddy Power for a Thurman win in that period in their Group Round Betting odds.
This would avoid the risk inherent in a longer fight following such a long absence and protect the lucrative fights widely available for Thurman in the division.
Unfortunately, 1/50 reflects how certain bookmakers are of this conclusion too.