For the first time in his career, Keith Thurman went a full-twelve rounds against former IBF welterweight champion Jan Zaveck on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, winning every round on all three scorecards to sweep a unanimous decision. Nicknamed "One Time", the promising prospect had a second fight later that evening when he entered into verbal warfare with WBA beltholder Paulie Malignaggi during the post-fight press conference. Did either of these performances convince skeptics that Thurman is now a legitimate contender ready for bigger challenges in his career?
His dominating performance over the durable Zaveck (32-3, 18 KO's) certainly suggests that the 24-year old Thurman (20-0, 18 KO's) is capable of taking another step forward in world class competition. Under the watchful eye of Florida-based trainer Dan Birmingham who is best known for his work with former world light middleweight Champion Winky Wright, Thurman has visibly improved upon his overall boxing skills and technique over his past three fights. Against Zaveck, the Clearwater, Florida native utilized a purposeful jab (landing 67 of 481 according to CompuBox), displayed effective lateral movement throughout the fight and stayed on his toes right to the final bell. He only threw 336 power punches but was not wasteful with these shots, landing 150 of them for a 45% connect rate.
The quality of Thurman's opposition has steadily improved over his last three fights as well, with Zaveck being proceeded by veteran Carlos Quintana and Orlando Lora before that. It was generally expected that the Slovenian Zaveck, who has never been knocked down in his career and has only been stopped once when his right eye swelled shut against Andre Berto in September 2011, would not be an easy out for the rising prospect who had never been past eight rounds and registered 15 of 18 knockouts within the first nine minutes of those fights.
The 36-year old Zaveck provided Thurman with the exact type of fight he needed at this stage of his career – one where he would have to rely on tools other than power to get a victory in what was his first scheduled 12-round contest. Although Zaveck did not crowd Thurman and was not as offensive-minded as anticipated, he absorbed every shot landed by his stronger and younger opponent without backing up. Thurman did not get discouraged or lose his composure by carelessly firing away, instead he showed great maturity by adjusting to the situation.
"I was looking for the one shot, but I didn't get it, so I just kept pressing him and boxing him. For being 36 years old, I was impressed. He reminded me of sparring with Winky Wright," Thurman said of Zaveck after the fight. "I didn't get the one punch knockout, so I went with plan B, and that was to out-box, out-move and to out-smart him."
“He’s a wise fighter,” complimented Thurman. “He kept his chin tucked down and it was really hard to land a critical blow.”
With the clean sweep victory of 120-108 on all three cards in this WBO title eliminator, Thurman wins the organization's Inter-Continental welterweight strap. He is now in position for a potential shot at WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, assuming Bradley defeats Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16th.
Yet, it is another welterweight champion on whom the victorious Thurman focused the other night.
During the post-fight press conference, Thurman called out WBA titlist Paulie Malignaggi who responded that he "does not fight for co-main event money". Thurman acknowledged that it was only be a matter of time before he would rise to main event status and that the Brooklyn-based champion "better not duck him" when he does.
The loquacious Malignaggi went on a tear, insulting the quality of Thurman's opponents as not coming to win and referring to Zaveck as a "bum" and "punching bag". As this line of attack struck too close to home for Golden Boy Promotions' CEO Richard Schaefer, the company that promotes both Thurman and Malignaggi, Paulie was told to "relax and take a deep breath."
Thurman concluded by saying:
"I'm coming for you. Just hold onto that belt and one day you will see me across the ring. That's all I'm saying."
While it would be no surprise to see Thurman fighting for a world title within the next two years, it is unlikely that Malignaggi will be the champion whom he will be challenging at that time. The 32-year old Malignaggi is expected to fight Adrien Broner who would be moving up two weight classes to face him on June 22 at the Barclays Center (a topic for another time).
Even if a title fight is not imminent, there are several options for Thurman as he heads up the ranks that would make far better (in-the-ring) action than a Malignaggi bout. Greater tests of skill and will would include battles with more aggressive fighters such as Jesus Soto Karass, Selcuk Aydin, Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz or the winner of Marcos Maidana-Josesito Lopez.
Thurman has been known for his fair share of trash talk, with very few, if any, taking him too seriously. As he is turning the corner from prospect to contender, we might want to start listening.
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