Keith Thurman was once considered an elite fighter in the welterweight division, but as soon as he successfully defended his world championship in March 2017 he was never the same.
Surgery to his right elbow then an injury to his left hand eventually forced Thurman to relinquish the World Boxing Council 147-pound title.
The layoff lasted until January this year, when Thurman put the World Boxing Association belt — the only world title still in his possession — on the line against Josesito Lopez and successfully retained it.
This means Thurman has fought only once in the past 25 months or so before he takes on Manny Pacquiao on July 20.
The question is how much that inactivity will affect the Clearwater, Florida, fighter.
In an interview in September 2018, Thurman acknowledged the layoff affected him psychologically.
“This has been very devastating for me. I’ve had moments of depression during this interval. It’s been a heartache at times,” Thurman said in an article posted on PremierBoxingChampions.com.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in the sport, yet, we’re at a standstill. It can be very frustrating but I have a lot of love and support and a great team.”
A few months later, when his January 27 bout against Lopez was already penciled, Thurman was more upbeat.
“I feel great physically. We’re working really hard and just getting back into everything we did before the injury. It feels tremendous,” he said in an article posted on BoxingScene.com.
“I need to come back and stay active and healthy. I’m going to remind everyone this year why I’m one of the baddest men on the planet. At the end of the day, I’m here to make a statement that ‘One Time’ is back.”
Thurman defeated Lopez via majority decision. He was dominant although he struggled at times, but he did enough to come away his 29th straight victory and keep his professional record perfect.
“My hand took some contact tonight. Lopez had a tough head, but we held out strong,” Thurman said in an article posted on ESPN.com.
“I wish I had gone to the body more because I saw him breathing heavy. Either way, I will be back later this year. Believe that.”
In less than 2 weeks’ time, Thurman takes on Pacquiao, hoping to secure his place among the best boxers in his division.
And the topic that appears to hound Thurman is that 22-month dormancy and whether it will play a factor on July 20.
Peter Kahn, who covers boxing for Forbes.com, said in January that Thurman wouldn’t be able to survive Pacquiao.
“Don’t get me wrong, Thurman might be the best welterweight in the division, but with two years off and Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. emerging in the division Thurman might have been knocked down a couple of pegs,” Kahn said.
“When it comes to facing Pacquiao though, it’s not the best matchup for Thurman at this time. You can’t keep your hands down or take a break against Pacquiao. You have to be on for all 12 rounds.”
But Kahn changed his mind in an article he wrote last month, saying his reaction was colored by Pacquiao’s sensational victory over Adrien Broner.
“After being able to sit back and reassess everything,” Kahn wrote, “I had to remind myself as to who Thurman is and how Broner’s lack of activity in the Pacquiao fight made Pacquiao look more dominant that he really was.”
Kahn added: “I am looking at Thurman being able to manage Pacquiao’s speed and movement. Thurman’s youth, height, reach and overall size advantage will prove too difficult for Pacquiao to overcome.
“As Pacquiao ultimately resorts to taking risks, lunging in and leading with his head to get close to Thurman, Thurman will pick him off coming in. Thurman will also use his natural size to wear down Pacquaio.
“As long as Thurman lets his hands go, I see him winning a decision and reemerging as the one of the top two fighters in the division.”
Jeff Aranow, who writes for BoxingNews24.com, said it was odd that the WBA let Thurman keep the title even though he wasn’t fighting for that long.
“If you’ve got a fighter sitting outside of the ring for years and years, it freezes the careers of the contenders, who have to wait for the champion to return to the ring before they can get a shot at his belt,” Aranow said.
“The WBA gave Thurman a big break by not stripping him of his title after the first year of inactivity . . . Two years is unheard of.”
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s hall-of-fame and long-time trainer, said in the same article that Thurman could have another reason for the inactivity.
“He just seems to be fighting as little as possible to keep his title,” Roach said. “Manny will sizzle and Thurman will fizzle when they battle it out in the ring at the MGM Grand on July 20.”
In a separate BoxingScene.com article, Roach said Pacquiao will bank on Pacquiao’s signature speed.
“Manny has Keith Thurman’s number. Thurman is slower than Heinz ketchup. Manny is going to beat him 57 ways on July 20,” Roach added.
Thurman is the longest reigning welterweight champion in boxing, according to World Boxing News.
He won the WBA interim welterweight championship when he beat Diego Gabriel Chaves in 2013. Two years later, he was elevated to the WBA “regular” championship and later the WBA “super” welterweight championship.
Thurman has made 8 successful title defenses and unified the WBA and WBC titles when decisioned Danny Garcia in 2016.
His victims during his title reign include Luis Collazo, Robert Guerrero and former Pacquiao sparring partner Shawn Porter.
Initially, he took a year off after he had bone chips surgically removed from his right elbow. Then he injured his left hand during training, according to the New York Post, forcing him out of boxing for nearly another year.
Despite losing in January, Lopez was able to threaten Thurman by rocking the American with a big left hook and forcing the latter on the back of his heels in the seventh round.
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