“The sport of boxing, my legacy, is not over. The story is still being written,” Keith Thurman said after a recent training session ahead of his February 5 return to the ring.
“In 2022 we have a new chapter for Keith Thurman,” he promised. “With a belt, without the belt, I’m one of the greatest welterweights in the world today.”
Thurman will have to prove that last statement, and there are plenty of doubts out there.
Now 33, former titleholder “One Time” has not fought since July of 2019, when he dropped a decision to a 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao. Thurman was dropped in the first round and hurt later; while he fought his way back into things after the rough start, he was out-worked if not out-landed, and the difference-making shots came mainly from Pacquiao.
There is no shame in losing to Pacquiao, even an aged version. Manny is a legend among legends, an all-time icon of the sport, and Thurman gave a good effort.
But it’s been a long time now since we’ve seen Thurman (29-1, 22 KO) in the ring at all — again, nearly three years — and even longer since we’ve seen the very best of him. He’d struggled with Josesito Lopez six months before the Pacquiao fight, following a long layoff of nearly two years that time.
He’s had injuries, surgeries, and now these two long spells out of the ring. In the last five years, Keith has fought two times.
It is fair to wonder just what we’ll get from the Florida native against Mario Barrios (26-1, 17 KO), a former secondary titlist at 140 lbs who is coming off of his own loss, a game effort against Gervonta “Tank” Davis last June.
Barrios, at 26, is notably younger and we have to guess fresher. He was stopped by Davis, but on his feet, and he’d given a good effort. He’s a good fighter. But Barrios, too, has struggled even in victory, notably against Batyr Akhmedov in 2019 — it was no robbery, but certainly deserved some conversation after all was said and done.
Barrios has plenty to prove, too, especially at 147 lbs, where he’s never fought. On paper, he has the frame for it, standing 5’10” with a 71-inch reach, and we know he’s got some dog in him; Barrios comes to fight, and isn’t afraid of mixing it up.
In terms of dimensions, Thurman is listed slightly smaller, but he’s also a natural 147, having fought at that weight his entire career. Barrios is tall and lean, going pro in 2013 at 122 lbs. He’s put on effective weight and been a good fighter. But will 147 be too much, even with the height?
Once known for his power, Thurman hasn’t stopped anybody since he put Luis Collazo away in 2015, which may give the impression his power has waned. That by itself as an explanation seems unlikely, but he’s had hand issues that may seem him committing to his power punches less than he did before. He underwent surgery after the Pacquiao fight. Maybe it will see the thunder return. Maybe it will make him lean more on his boxing and less on his thump.
Barrios has not proven to be a notably big puncher against better opponents either, for what it’s worth.
Assuming Thurman still has his legs and isn’t just too badly faded — 33 isn’t old, but 33 with almost three years of inactivity might be — will he just be too good for the game and likable Barrios? Or is Barrios’ youth, activity, and determination enough to put him over the top and get the biggest win of his career?
One fighter is trying to reestablish himself in a money division, the other put his name firmly on the map. There are interesting elements that make this an attractive matchup, and it’s not often you see a major boxing pay-per-view main event with odds like we’re seeing for this one — DraftKings Sportsbook have Thurman at -180 and Barrios at +145. There’s no -500 or -800 or -1400 favorite in this one. Too many questions to be answered on both sides.