No pressure or anything when everyone declares your bout Fight of the Year material, but based on their respective talent levels and fighting styles, Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter’s championship match Saturday might actually live up to the hype. The two fighters will duke it out for Thurman’s WBA Welterweight Championship and the inside track at taking over the division Floyd Mayweather dominated for years and it's caught the attention of at least one boxing legend.
“The winner of Thurman-Porter will immediately move into the welterweight penthouse,” Sugar Ray Leonard said earlier this week.
Adding intrigue to the bout is the fact the two are actually friends. But that doesn’t matter to Thurman, the 27-year-old undefeated native of Florida whose devastating power has earned him 22 knockouts and his status as arguably the best welterweight.
A former child model, Thurman paid a visit to the Complex office in advance of Saturday’s fight at Barclays Center to talk about the division he sits atop, his scary car crash back in March that postponed the original fight, and the excitement of fighting on CBS’s first primetime boxing telecast since Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks squared off in 1978.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
We’ll get the Floyd Mayweather questions out of the way first, so to start things off do you consider yourself the heir to Mayweather’s throne at 147 pounds?
After hearing it 100 times, it’s hard not to. I’ve always wanted be as great as I could possibly be at the sport of boxing. It just so happens that I’m rising at the top when a legend is leaving. It is always as if—and me and my team have talked about this before—while Floyd was considered the king of the division, I was considered the prince, considered the future. I was been begging for fights, challenging him, putting myself in the best situation, but the fight never happened. My job is to showcase the skills and the talent that I have as a fighter, the hard work and dedication that I have been putting into the sport since I was seven years old, which is now 20 years of dedication and I just can only hope that we do takeover and that the world starts to see Keith “One Time” Thurman as the No. 1 welterweight the world has to offer.
Is it not fair that he still casts a shadow over the division?
It’s really hard to say. It’s political. When you have a $100 million fighter leaving a sport, which fighters were happy to make a few million, it’s obviously detrimental. He’s done so much. He almost made boxing what it is. He helped keep boxing intact because people were always wondering what’s next with Floyd Maywather. But now that that spotlight is gone, you have an opportunity to share the spotlight because he practically had it all. Now you get to put the spotlight on all of the young talent in the welterweight division and there’s tons and here I am, Keith “One Time” Thurman, already at the top of the division. I look forward to holding it down. I’m not trying to outdo Floyd.
There can only be one Floyd, so…
There can only be one Floyd. I want to put on the best performance that I can put on. I want to show fans what I do best, which is hurt people in the ring and create knockouts. And at the end of the day, that’s what fans want to see.
Last Floyd question, are we officially done with him? Is he staying retired?
In my opinion, hearing Floyd talk about the fight game, he seems as if he’s content with his retirement. But a lot of people are skeptical because he is a man who loves the spotlight. It’s going to be very hard for him to sit on the outside and spend a whole year and realize they’re not talking about me as much anymore, I’m not getting recognition. If he comes back it’s going to be his pride and his ego that brings him back. The man has accomplished enough that he can walk away with his head held high.
The car accident back in March. Are you completely healed?
Yes. We’re fully recovered from the accident. It was not something fun for me to go through. We spent six weeks in recovery.
How bad were the injuries?
I had whiplash and the damage that was dealt was microtears alongside the tendons that run along your spine. The airbag came out from the side. It was a side airbag that hit me in the head and there was one on the waist too that curved with the seat. The side airbag hit me with an intensity that most wish they could. I was actually surprised that I was able to stay conscious during the collision and I remember staring at the steering wheel thinking, “Man, that’s a big hit you took.”
So the best shot you’ve taken in your career came courtesy of your car?
It sure did.
How has it affected your training?
We started off with road work, jump rope, cycling, shadow boxing, heavy bag, and we feel great. The neck feels great, the back feels great, movement feels great. We are still seeing our chiropractor three times a week and we’re just happy to be back in the gym and moving around. It’s always depressing when an athlete can not perform his sport. We’re just really looking forward to getting this fight in the bag for myself and the fans.
I’m coming to knock him out. That’s what I do as a fighter and fighting a friend is not going to change that.
Some people talk about his fight having the potential to be a Fight of the Year candidate. Why?
Well, you’re looking at two of the youngest and strongest welterweight candidates the world has to offer. Shawn Porter, if you look at his record (26-1-1, 16 KO), it might be a little misleading for he does not have as high of a knockout ratio as I do. But I grew up with Shawn Porter in the amateurs. He was competing at 165 pounds when I was competing at 152 pounds. He was doing that because he was also playing football in high school so his father didn’t make him cut the weight. They focused in on boxing once they realized he was going to turn pro in boxing and not in football. He was already used to fighting bigger guys and in the amateurs he used to do quite a bit of damage. So I know Shawn Porter’s true punch potential. He does have a heavy punch. But due to the stress on the body that one must endure during a 12 round fight, it seems like he holds back from loading up. But he’s a dangerous puncher.
You two definitely have different styles. You’re more of the hard puncher, he’s the guy who drags out the fights, maybe a little more tactical, so do you have an idea of how this fight plays out?
I see one of two outcomes when it comes to…I don’t worry about myself, I always try to think how does my opponent want to attack the challenge of this match, Shawn Porter can do one of two things: He can treat me like he’s been treating the other fighters, which is try to run right through them. Or, if he thinks that’s too dangerous because I have punching power that they did not have, then he’s going to take a conservative approach. The problem is if he’s conservative, I box better on the outside. A lot of people expect Shawn to rush me and make it a tough inside fight. I’m interested in seeing what he wants to do as soon as the bell rings. I mentally imagine and prepare but I do not allow my imagination to be finite and I stay open-minded so that whatever presents itself we’ll be able to adjust the night of the fight.
And you guys sparred a while ago.
Three years ago Shawn Porter was brought into a camp of mine when I was scheduled to fight Marcos Maidana. We worked together, side-by-side, trained every single day for three weeks straight. We’ve also worked together before we ever turned pro as amateurs in Colorado Springs.
Does this fight have a very different quality because of how well you know him?
I’m fighting a colleague. A friend. But him, like myself, we are gladiators. And as gladiators, I’m going to have respect for him. Outside of the ring I’m going to have love for him. But June 25th, inside that ring I’m not going to care one thing about him. I’m going to attack him the way he’s going to attack me. I’m going to treat him just like I treated 26 other people before him. That’s why I told him at the press conference that he better be prepared to go to sleep. I’m coming to knock him out. That’s what I do as a fighter and fighting a friend is not going to change that.
More juice for this fight since there’s a national television audience?
I love it. This fight being on CBS, the biggest fight of my career. I really couldn’t ask for anything greater. Boxing is shifting from premier channels to regular network and that’s going to allow us to be seen by more people. And no athlete in any sport has a career without a fan base. So I’m truly excited to be able to reach out to new fans come June 25th.
Errol Spence called you out after his fight with Chris Algieri. Say you beat Porter, is a matchup with Spence the next logical step?
It’s not the next logical step because he doesn’t have a world title. My goal this year is to obtain another world title. I hold one. I want to hold more than one. I applaud Spence for his victory over Chris Algieri, although if you put Chris Algieri with several top 10 welterweight fighters he’ll be stopped in that fashion. I think Manny Pacquiao is capable of stopping Chris Algieri and Manny Pacquiao no longer has that hunger that we once saw in his earlier years. Errol Spence is a great fighter, great challenger, and he’s going to be a great opponent one day, but not tomorrow.
Does it bother you when he talks about your level of competition?
What bothers me is that people like you come back and ask me the question. That’s more bothersome than him making the statement. He’s allowed to make any single statement he wants out of his mouth. Freedom of speech. But a lot of people don’t understand the history and when they hear comments like that they simply think, “Oh well this just has to be true.” What has happened in my career the past three years that makes it so that the only fighter in the top 10 was Robert Guerrero? I was rated in the top 10 and it took three years before someone in the top 10 gave me a fight. That just reflects into some of the political things that occur in boxing and how a fighter can be avoided. Errol Spence, in my opinion, is in my shoes three years ago when I was on top of the world, I had my first fight on HBO, I showcased my skills and my talent, and all of the sudden I want to challenge everybody and nobody wants to accept the challenge. I always call boxing a funny sport because of that. There might be only one fighter that’s in the top 10 but the list of ex-world champions that I’ve gone through is far superior than Errol Spence’s.
What does a knockout feel like? When you connect purely and he hits the mat, what does it feel like?
The most interesting thing about creating a knockout is sometimes you feel absolutely nothing. As soon as impact connects to their chin everything goes limp and their muscles aren’t fighting back so you’re punch is able to go all the way through. And then my favorite, though, the one you know that you’ve got, is the one to the body. You can hit someone in the head and (snaps fingers) it’s lights out. You can never hit someone to the body and cause them to go unconscious. To be hit in the body is an unconscious experience that one has to endure. Signals of pain shoot instantly from you liver to your brain telling you how uncomfortable it is to be in that situation. Then it’s up to you to find out if you can stand up or not. It’s happened to Oscar De La Hoya and other champions.
You didn’t bring the belt with you?
No one told us to bring it.
You don’t normally take it with you?
I take it here and there upon request. Otherwise we bring it to each and every fight because it’s mandatory. Besides that it stays inside it’s nice little box at home.
And you have no desire to bring it around unless someone specifically requests it?
The title of the title is more important than the physical belt itself. For me. I’ve worked my whole career to acquire the title and now all I want to do is acquire more than one.
What’s it going to take for you to get a Head & Shoulders endorsement?
I don’t know, man. I’ve got all this hair. Maybe I’ll have to walk out to the ring with all this hair and then bunch it up when I get to the ring.