Six months ago, Carlos Quintana was put into an "opponent" role on the Mayweather-Cotto pay-per-view, facing Mayweather Promotions junior middleweight Deandre Latimore. A former welterweight titlist, the Puerto Rican Quintana had lost only to top fighters in his career prior to that night, stopped by Miguel Cotto, Paul Williams (in a rematch, after Quintana beat him the first time), and Andre Berto.
In the preview for Latimore-Quintana, I noted that I felt the fight was far closer to 50-50 than the promoters were intending to book. Quintana hadn't fought in 15 months at that point, and had since 2009 been waffling between a desire to go up in weight to 154 pounds, and the money of staying at welterweight, which he got for fighting Berto just after he'd announced a decision to move up.
Clearly, the weight did right by Quintana, as he didn't just beat Latimore, he trounced him. Latimore had struggled a couple of months prior to survive a fight with Colombia's Milton Nunez, and that set off the alarms for me. Latimore had never been particularly impressive, really, and his career had stalled badly, but the Mayweather camp saw something in him that made them sign him up. It's fair to say that he has failed to deliver on whatever promise they must have thought he had.
Tomorrow night, Quintana is back on HBO, testing the mettle of prospect Keith Thurman, who has conceded a few pounds to get into the ring with the 36-year-old southpaw. Unlike Latimore, Thurman isn't coming in shaky. The lone fight most have seen from him was his HBO debut in July, where he eventually broke down and overpowered Orlando Lora.
That fight drew criticism for even being on HBO, in part because Thurman came in unknown (either guys are pushed too fast because they're on TV, or pushed too fast because they haven't been), and in larger part, probably, because Lora, despite a solid win-loss record, was known to be little more than a gatekeeper.
Thurman was raw in that fight, but his screen presence drew rave reviews. He enchanted reporters and the HBO commentary team with his smooth, "street smart" sort of personality. He's a guy who just comes off well in interviews, which can win over a lot of the media. He's confident, but stops short of arrogant, and he likes to talk, but he doesn't become overbearing.
Thurman (18-0, 17 KO) has mostly been able to blow through his limited opposition because of a big punch, but Lora was decent enough and experienced enough to last a while before Thurman put him away in the sixth round. It was good exposure for Thurman, who is managed by Al Haymon, and allowed the audience, even if reluctant, to get a taste of a fresh, young fighter and his talents.
Still, with a critical eye, Thurman had some issues, though nothing that can't be corrected. As he'd gotten used to being able to blow away worse fighters, he came out trying to blow Lora away immediately, and it just didn't work. Lora was sound enough an all-around fighter -- no star, no contender, but knows what he's doing -- that he could hang in there and take some shots, and took Thurman deeper than he'd ever gone before.
On the plus side, despite arguably being too aggressive early on, Thurman did stay patient, did lay back, and did work to get the stoppage, which came to him gradually rather than all at once.
But while Quintana (29-3, 23 KO) is likely facing a tougher task here than he did against Latimore, Thurman, too, is facing a new challenge. Quintana is a good bit better than Lora, and has the skills and the power to take over fights, particularly against opponents who aren't prepared for that. Latimore's performance against Quintana came off as mentally fragile; after a few rounds, when it wasn't going his way, Latimore simply looked lost and defeated in the ring, like he'd run through all his plans and didn't have anywhere else to turn.
Thurman, who turned 24 today (happy birthday!), has some things going for him here. He's got the youth, obviously, and hasn't taken near the punishment Quintana has over his career -- not that Quintana is some shot, worn-out fighter, mind you, but Thurman has really taken no punishment over his pro career, relatively speaking, while Quintana has had some tough outings.
The one really big worry for Quintana is that we know for a fact that he can be hurt and stopped, and Thurman has the ability to hurt and stop opponents, as his KO% would suggest. Thurman can't outbox Quintana, probably, and we don't know how Thurman handles a good southpaw. We really don't know how Thurman handles a good southpaw who can punch.
If Keith Thurman hasn't made some notable improvements since July, he could be in trouble here. Quintana is a smart, veteran fighter who has only lost to top of the line fighters in his career. We really do not know yet whether Thurman has the ability to be a top of the line fighter.
And if Latimore isn't good evidence, then consider another unbeaten prospect whose career Quintana basically sent into a tailspin: Joel Julio, the much-hyped Colombian puncher. Quintana beat Julio over 12 rounds in June 2006, and though Julio has had a respectable career, he's never come close to reaching the heights he was projected to by many. Quintana was also unbeaten at the time, but Julio was the fighter who was supposed to keep his "0" and move on, not Quintana.
I had the gut feeling in May, and I've got it again here, though I will say this: I was far more confident in May than I am now. Latimore, to me, was a known quantity, a non-special fighter who could and likely always would fall short against good fighters. Quintana is a good fighter.
The unknown is really Keith Thurman. How has he improved since July? How does he handle someone at this level?
Quintana can beat Thurman, and he might do so. If he does, it will most likely be because Keith Thurman just isn't good enough yet for this level. However, if Thurman wins, it could be because he's on his way to true contention at 147 or 154, or it could be because he's got the raw power to get through a fight where he might be outclassed in terms of boxing talent. I could see Quintana dominating this fight, or I could see Thurman handling his business and turning out the lights.
This is a sleeper bout worth tuning in to see. It's the type of step-up fight that is great to see from someone in Thurman's position, as he's taking a risk against a dangerous foe. If he gets through this test, he's a big step closer to his ultimate goals. If he doesn't, he's a big step closer to Joel Julio.