There is a lot to like about Keith Thurman and Jan Zaveck which makes tonight's WBO title elimination bout between these two welterweights a solid co-feature to the HBO televised Tavoris Cloud-Bernard Hopkins championship fight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (9:30 pm ET/PT).
The 24-year old Thurman (19-0, 18 KO's) has been gradually working his way up the ranks from his days as an amateur star where he won six National Championships and captured a silver medal at the 2008 US Olympic Trials. Hailing from Clearwater, Thurman's first eight professional fights took place in his home state of Florida where all of them ended in first round stoppages. This streak came to an end in his next fight when he ventured outside of the comforts of home and was involved in a "No Contest" due to an accidental clash of heads in a fight held in Austin, Texas. This did not discourage him from continuing to fight away from home, quickly rebounding and scoring knockouts in 10 of his 11 following bouts on the road.
As is the case with many promising prospects, Thurman has been fed his share of soft opposition but has recently been coming up the curve quite nicely. He has appeared on the undercard of two HBO televised fights in his last two consecutive outings, facing better quality fighters each time out and showing marked improvement. Thurman was more disciplined in his four-round dismantling of Carlos Quintana in November, applying persistent yet patient pressure before pounding the former welterweight champion into retirement with a barrage of unanswered blows. His punches were not as wide as they had been in his previous fight against Orlando Lora in July and he put together better combinations rather than excessive reliance on his left hook.
Manager Al Haymon and Thurman's handlers should be acknowledged for continuing along the path of further developing their fighter by matching him up now with the tough Zaveck (32-2, 18 KO's) rather than merely trying to safely package him as an undefeated knockout artist.
Refusing to hide in his home country during his reign as IBF welterweight champion, the Slovenian-born Zaveck admirably traveled to the United States for the first time in his career to proudly defend his title against Andre Berto in September 2011. Zaveck gamely went toe-to-toe with the hard-hitting Berto for five rounds before a swollen right eye forced his corner to stop the fight amidst protest from the sorely disappointed fighter. It was a tough way for Zaveck to lose his title in what was the first time he had ever been stopped.
While Zaveck outlanded Berto 41% to 25% in total punches at the time of the stoppage, the significant difference in hand speed and power would have played a role down the stretch of that fight, likely yielding a similar outcome. Thurman does not have the hand speed of Berto so his power and placement of punches will be key as Zaveck, who has never been knocked down, is the type of fighter who needs to be broken down over time. A measured body attack and uppercuts can set this up for Thurman as Zaveck holds his hands high. Counterpunching opportunities will also exist as the Slovenian is open for a left hook when he comes in with a slow right hand.
This fight will likely be contested at a fast pace on the inside which will force Thurman to put in more work than he has typically been accustomed to in the past, having gone eight rounds only once in his career. He persistently pursues his opponent but does not always initiate the action with his punches, lacking a purposeful jab and at times waiting to counter with his own thudding shots. Against Zaveck, he claims the aggression will be intensified.
"I watched him on tape, and I saw that, yes, he's a skillful fighter, but when he's in with anyone with any power he will back up," Thurman said in The Tampa Bay Times. "I plan on taking it straight to him to show everybody I'm confident in the ring."
Thurman's age and size should also benefit him against the smaller Zaveck who turns 37 in four days. A career-long welterweight, the 5'7½" Zaveck will be giving up two inches in height to an opponent whose last fight was contested at light middleweight, even though Thurman weighed in yesterday at 145.8 to Zaveck's 146.6.
"There have been many times that I’ve been stuck in the ring with bigger, stronger guys and in the end I came out victorious. I believe Saturday night is going to be the same way," predicts Zaveck.
Facing yet another younger, heavy handed, former amateur star in only his second US appearance may be too much for the game Zaveck to overcome. Nevertheless, he will be a solid test for Thurman who is taking all of the right steps in his blossoming career.
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