This Saturday, March 7th, a number of interesting bouts will take place. Two time gold medalist flyweight Zou Shiming will challenge for his first world title against the Thai IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng. The notorious Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr. will also lock horns for relevance in the light welterweight division. However, the most exciting matchup will be uber-prospect Keith Thurman's (24-0(1), 21KO's) defense of his interim WBA welterweight title against the hard-nosed Robert Guerrero (32-2-1(2), 18KO's).
Keith Thurman has built up incredible hype through a great amateur career with a terrifying finishing rate of 76 KO's in 101 wins, and since his professional debut, the Florida native has viciously knocked out almost 90% of his opponents. Despite not having faced anyone close to the divisional top 10, there is already excited talk of him becoming an eventual challenger to the welterweight kingpins like Mayweather or Pacquiao. Thurman is coming off of a measured win against the skilled, but relatively unknown Leonard Bundu, after a long layoff due to shoulder surgery. Many criticized his conservative pace in the last match, but Thurman looks to establish himself as a legitimate contender with a dominant win over the gritty Robert Guerrero.
Seeing where Robert Guerrero is today, it is hard to believe that the Ghost began his career as a featherweight. A multi-division champion, including the IBF Featherweight and Super Featherweight titles, the Interim WBA and WBO lightweight titles, and the Interim WBC Welterweight title, Guerrero is a true veteran. After a hard-won decision over two-time welterweight champion Andre Berto, Guerrero was given a chance to taint Floyd Mayweather's perfect record in May of 2013. Despite starting aggressively in the first 3 rounds, Guerrero was outclassed and cleanly outboxed for the remainder of the match and did not fight for over a year afterwards. He returned last June in a 12 round war against Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai. Guerrero stood toe to toe with a very game Kamegai and threw leather in the pocket in a barnburner that was a 2014 Fight of the Year Candidate.
Guerrero represents the first major test for Thurman's flourishing professional career. This bout will tell us a lot about if Keith Thurman can truly hang with the best in the murderer's row that is the crowded welterweight division.
Keith Thurman. He's so hot right now.
Media keeps portraying Keith Thurman as a ridiculous power-puncher due to his string of knockout victories. However, he's actually an intelligent boxer-puncher; Thurman does not throw with the highest volume, but he has good mobility and is very selective with his power shots.
This is a good example of the selectivity of Thurman's (blue gloves) offense and his educated left hand. Thurman possesses a very mobile offense, and in this sequence, he continuously turns his opponent, Diego Chaves, to prevent him from getting comfortable. This turning repeatedly lines up Thurman's hard jab straight through Chaves' guard, snapping the Argentine's head back repeatedly. Thurman also nicely mixes numerous feints with his left in between his jabs to keep his opponent constantly guessing while he's on the move. Chaves eventually dives in low with a jab and comes upstairs with a hard left hook, to which Thurman steps back and ducks under. Thurman then slips out of a straight right, counters with a wide left hook, and uses the momentum of his swing to duck beneath the follow-up hook.
Keith Thurman constantly looks to set up his devastating left hook with combinations, but he is more than willing to throw it as a lead, or a counter as his opponent.
Here, Thurman (red gloves) lands a nice check hook as his opponent dives in. He then disengages, slips to the inside of his opponent's jab, and throws two long Prince Naseem-esq uppercuts through the guard. Slick stuff
Thurman does have a tendency to get sloppy when he fights at close range. When he gets in on an opponent, Thurman often gets carried away and throws a left hook-right hook combination to the body, but more often than not, his head is completely exposed and he gets tagged.
Here, against the tough Leonard Bundu, Thurman lunges in head-first with a left-right hook combination to the body, only to eat a stiff 3-2 from Bundu. Thurman's savvy movement prevents him from absorbing more damage, and from there, Thurman regains his composure. On the outside, Thurman is able to set up solid hooks to Bundu's body with his jab and straight right without taking return damage.
Defensively, Thurman is very well rounded, utilizing glove catching, good lateral movement, and head slips to both avoid damage and counterpunch.
In this sequence, Thurman shows off the full array of his defensive arsenal. As Thurman first moves in on Diego Chaves with a series of light jabs, Chaves tries to counter over the top with a left hook. Because Thurman hasn't committed to these throwaway jabs, he easily slips under the hook and whips a left hook of his own into Chaves' body. As Chaves advances behind his own jab, Thurman catches them on his own gloves and circles, before jabbing and slipping deep to his left as he anticipates Chaves' counterjabs. From there, Thurman continues to turn Chaves, and catching more punches on his gloves before committing to a deep level change to avoid the lead hook.
If there is one weakness about Thurman's defensive system it is his tendency to favor the deep ducks or deep left slips after his jab. If Thurman starts a jabbing combination, he'll typically end it with a long jab with a wide stance due to his opponent backing up, to which he naturally ducks low behind his shoulder. Thurman also duck low after he throws a lead right hand, à la Floyd Mayweather, but unlike Floyd, he does not move his feet while ducking under.
In this sequence, Thurman throws a high-low double jab, and as he reaches with the second jab to the body, he naturally ducks low to the left. As Chaves circles to his left, Thurman wings an overhand right that connects, but he ducks straight into an uppercut as Chaves began to time Thurman's defensive movement after he throws.
There comes a point in a decorated amateur prospects' career when they face a durable, tenacious veteran capable of dragging the prospect down into an ugly mud fight. Adrien Broner, who's fighting on the undercard, faced this test in the heavy-handed Marcos Maidana and failed. Keith Thurman's test comes in the form of Robert Guerrero, a southpaw with a granite chin who excels at shutting down his opponents in his nasty clinch-fighting game.
Once upon a time, Robert Guerrero an intelligent featherweight/lightweight boxer-puncher that could fight at both range and up close.
Guerrero (red gloves) had an excellent long jab, a nasty straight left, and was crafty with both the right hook and left uppercut. He possessed quick in and out movement with a wide stance that complimented his rangier style, and mixed in lead feints to camouflage his stinging 1-2's. His speed was first-rate, and his power allowed him to ward off clinch attempts and maintain distance. He then took over a year off to help with his wife's cancer, and when he returned, he came back two weight classes heavier and a vastly different fighter.
Especially apparent in his bout with Andre Berto, to deal with the bigger, more durable opponents at welterweight, Guerrero developed an ugly clinch game to stick to his opponents and rough them up from close range. Gone were the quick feet and long punches of old. Now, Guerrero tries to pull his opponents into a life-or-death, close range shootout.
A typical representation of a Guerrero fight today.
Guerrero's footwork is nowhere near as active as it was 5 years ago. Whereas the featherweight Guerrero bounced in and out of range with sharp strikes like a fencer, today's Guerrero bites down on his mouthpiece, plants his feet within arm's length of his opponent, and throws. Against a willing opponent, like the very eager Kamegai, this turns into a mesmerizing display of close-range volume punching. If the opponent unloads of Guerrero, he'll turn punches off of his arms and roll with and under incoming fire to reduce the power of the damage he takes. When he senses an opening, Guerrero unloads an arsenal of flicking jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and shovel hooks in 3-6 punch combinations to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume.
Guerrero's catch-and-counter game up close is very impressive. At the beginning of the sequence, Guerrero weathers Kamegai's offense and catches the Japanese boxer with an uppercut before turtling again. Constantly rolling punches off his tight shell guard, Guerrero finds his space again and throws a lovely uppercut-hook combination to turn the tide in his favor. From there, Guerrero creates just enough distance to rattle off several punches before Kamegai bulls in again and controls Guerrero with his head. This catch-counter game that turned Guerrero's most recent bout into an almost turn-based system, where one boxer would throw combinations until he was countered, forced on the defensive, and would wait for an opening to throw again.
If his opponent is not as willing to bang up close, Guerrero will do everything in his power to drag them into deep water and drown them in the clinch.
Guerrero won the first round of his bout with the elusive Mayweather because he was able to force the slow-starting Mayweather repeatedly into an ugly clinch fight. Guerrero's right hand essentially acts as a grappling hook. As Mayweather slipped the pawing jab, but Guerrero got close enough to grab Mayweather's waist and pulled him into the some nasty uppercuts and hooks. This clinch-centered game is a double-edged sword. Guerrero's reliance on establishing the clinch to smother his opponents causes him to absorb a ton of punishment, especially when he faces an opponent as good at maintaining distance as Mayweather was; Guerrero's face became target practice for Mayweather's right hand in the later rounds.
Another glaring weakness of Guerrero is his lack of power at welterweight. Since moving up two weight classes, all of Guerrero's fights have ended in decision. Though he throws is volume, Guerrero's punches just don't have the same stopping power they had at 126 and 130lbs. This lack of power and Guerrero's reliance on his durability to carry him through these phone-booth shootouts does not look too good long term in the heavier weight class.
What to Look For
In his most recent fight with Leonard Bundu, Thurman showed a more patient and conservative boxing game. He did not immediately go for a finish after dropping Bundu early, whether it was due to lingering shoulder injuries or his own decision. Guerrero represents a tough, but beatable entrance exam for Thurman's introduction to the welterweight elite. His smothering, high volume game presented problems for many opponents, but Thurman, as a natural welterweight, possesses the power, footwork, and composure to deny Guerrero's clinch.