By Juan C. Ayllon
CLEARWATER, FL, December 26, 2012 – Going into his step-up bout against Carlos Quintana, insiders said that this was a 50-50 proposition at best. It was November 24, 2012 The venue was the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, California, and their bout was being televised by HBO. Possessing a record of 29 wins, three losses and 23 knockouts, Quintana handed Joel Julio and Paul Williams, who were 27-0 and 33-0, respectively, their first losses and won the WBO Welterweight title in the latter bout. Williams regained his championship with a first round blowout four months later in June 2008, and subsequently WBC Welterweight champ Andre Berto halted Quintana in April 2010. Now 36, Quintana – who’d also been stopped by Miguel Cotto in 2006 – was being kicked to the curb. Thus, it came as some surprise when he stopped the hard-punching 27 year-old contender Deandre Latimore in May.
Thurman had a stellar amateur career (posting 101 wins, 76 KO’s, six National Championships and a loss to Demetrius Andrade at the 2008 US Olympic Trials that netted him the Silver Medal), yet he remained largely untested as a professional with at 18-0 with 17 knockouts. Trained by Ronald “Winky” Wright’s former trainer, Dan Birmingham, he’s looking promising. In a televised bout in July, he stopped Orlando Lora (29-2-2, 19 KO’s), a battler who’d been halted only once by rugged contender “King” David Estrada in 2010 and went the distance when he lost to current WBA Welterweight champion Paul Malignaggi in November 2011. Nevertheless, in Carlos Quintana, Thurman faces a much steeper challenge.
It’s fight time. Their bout starts off with Quintana playing matador to Thurman’s bull. Then, like a tire backing over traffic spikes, it happens.
Keith Thurman’s left glove slams into the ribs of Carlos Quintana, who turns and collapses in a corner. Grimacing, he barely escapes a 10 count and the first round. Seeking to fight back in the later rounds when the storm abates, the wily veteran takes abuse, runs and counters in spots.
It’s no use. Thurman unleashes a fusillade in the fourth, punctuated with a thudding right to the side of the head that prompts referee Jack Weiss to rescue a concussed Quintana at 2:19 into the fourth round. The talking heads fawn over Thurman, who just celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday and has just won the NABO Junior Middleweight title.
A month later, Thurman is back in his native Clearwater, Florida seated in the Pizza Hut section of a Target super store. Outside, a torrential rainstorm rages. It’s the day after Christmas and far from the metal halide lights of HBO, he’s being interviewed amongst bargain shoppers who have no idea who he is. As I was driving an hour and a half to meet him, the plan was to rendezvous here and then pick a restaurant to conduct the piece, but that changed when the storm burst with sudden ferocity.
It doesn’t seem to bother Thurman, whose father, Keith Thurman, Sr., wrestled in high school and college, labored in construction and, later, at a candy factory after driving down to Florida from Ohio with his mother, Debra Thorsen. She was pregnant with Keith Jr. at the time.
Thurman is enjoying a break from training with his father’s side of the family over the holidays after fighting four times in 2012. It’s a prodigious gathering that includes his father, a cousin, a four year-old second cousin, an aunt and her husband and his grandmother from Ohio.
Settling in with lunch in hand, the goateed Thurman sheds his wet, black leather hooded jacket and reveals sculpted shoulders and arms bulging through his shirt. It’s not too hard to imagine that his father (who got him interested in fighting by introducing him to martial arts) was a competitive wrestler. Olive skinned, muscular and compact at 5′ 8 ½ and maybe 160 lbs. in a high collared white pinstripe shirt under a beige vest, black jeans and athletic shoes, he looks striking.
My wife (who photographed a training session of his in August and viewed photos from this interview later) says, “Wow. He really looks different with his clothes on!” Her conservative roots showing, she adds, “He’d look really good if he cut off the pony tail.”
Thurman noshes on a “Personal Pan Pizza” Rice Crispies bar and washes it down with bottled water as we get started on the interview.
“We just had a real good Christmas,” he says. “They’re still in town for another day or two, so I’m looking forward to hanging out with them some more. We plan on taking the kids out to some form of a little game center, like ‘Celebration Station’ or something like that today, and probably just having a nice little dinner, things like that.”
Juan Ayllon: When did you first find out you could really punch?
Keith Thurman: I was punching pretty good ever since I was little. I was nine years old and I stopped a kid in the first round in my first fight. There was no knockdown, of course, at that age, but I always was a little stronger than my competition.
But once that I got to the age of 13, I took a break from boxing for about eight months. I got into football. We won the championship. I felt real good about that. I knew right after the season I was going to go right back into boxing. And, day one back in the gym, I was hitting the heavy bag. It felt real good to hit the heavy bag after eight months, and I was just going as hard as I could, I wasn’t worried about how many rounds I was going to put in, and my trainer told me when he was sitting down in the chair watching, ‘Boy, you’re going to start knocking people out!’ He could tell by the sound of the force I was landing on the heavy bag. I just took the comment like, ‘Okay, I’m obviously hitting pretty good,’ and I brushed it off. But sure enough, we got in shape, went for a few sparring sessions and I started dropping people left and right. My first fight back from football season, I got a K.O. victory, so it just hit, man. It just hit at a certain age and a certain time, and it’s been with me ever since.”
JA: Now boxing is in the entertainment business, you’ll agree, and you’ve said repeatedly, that you’ll fight anyone. Recently, Randall Bailey called you out by name as a puncher he’d like to face. Would you like to fight him?
KT: I got no problem facing Randall Bailey. I really don’t think he has anything besides a nice power shot of his own. Skills and technique-wise, I think it would be an easy fight.
JA: What about guys like Angulo, Kirkland and Canelo Alvarez?
KT: Definitely, man, because like I said, I’m interested in the world of boxing, I’m interested in being entertaining and creating good fights. I would like to say that we’ll try our best to continue to campaign at 147 [lbs.] for as long as I can, but if a big enough fight opens up at 154, don’t be surprised if I take it.
JA: Now, you’re scheduled tentatively to fight March 9, 2013 against a yet-to-be-named opponent. Do you know anything about that, or do you have someone you’d like to face then?
KT: Right now, everything is currently up in the air.
JA: Tell us about your reaction to Pacquiao-Marquez IV, your thoughts and take-aways.
KT: I’ve been waiting for someone to catch ‘Pacman’ with that straight right hand! In my opinion, Pacquiao is a great fighter – you know, he’s really exciting – and he’s made a real nice career for himself. But, all in all from a boxing aspect, Manny Pacquiao is a very beatable fighter. You know, look at his record – you know what I’m saying? He’s got many losses and I used to say when people asked me about Pacquiao even before this fight, I told them I wished Floyd Mayweather would have beat him two years ago so they wouldn’t have created this hype that they did on him, you know? Like I said, he’s entertaining, he’s a great fighter still, and like Marquez told everybody, he’s a little bit smarter. It took him four fights, but he finally placed that picture-perfect right hand that we’re supposed to throw at southpaws. Every trainer teaches their kids to throw that right hand counter.
JA: Are you still interested in fighting him?
KT: I’m interested in fighting anybody, you know? Let’s get in the ring; let’s fight. But, I don’t really know what ‘Pacman’ plans on doing with his career. I’d be really surprised if I got an opportunity to mix it up with him before he retires.
JA: A criticism of your style is you get a little wild when you hurt someone and you’re open to counters. Are you doing anything to offset that or tighten up your defense?
KT: Nah, man. I mean, I’m in the ring. I know what I’m doing. I know you’re about to get knocked out and you want me to protect myself? I protect myself by using my reflexes. If I’m getting in the mix with you, I mean, I might be open for a counter, but to be able to place that counter and time that counter – how do you not know that I might see your counter, that I might counter your counter? So, criticism is just criticism. People are gonna say whatever they’re going to say for a flaw in anybody’s style, really. But if I feel that I have the match in my hands, if I’m in control, then sometimes I loosen up my guard, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not paying attention at all times.
JA: Take us through a typical day as you’re gearing up for a fight.
KT: A typical day: Wake up. Go for my morning run. No shorter than about three miles. Then, make sure I get a good breakfast. Sometimes, I try to eat a little bit of oatmeal before my runs. I don’t want to eat too much before my runs. After the run: Recovery drinks, then a decent lunch. Then, we hit up the gym somewhere around two, three o’clock. And, we just put in that gym work, you know, just basic gym work. It just depends on the day. Sometimes, it’s strength, sometimes it’s conditioning. Sometime, it’s technique. And, we just do it as a daily routine. And sometimes, depending on what point we are in camp, sometimes, I’ll hit up the YMCA on that night. So, going into training, we do two-a-days, and every once in a while, we do three-a-days.
JA: You mentioned strength. Do you do weights?
KT: A lot of plyometric training, you know. We don’t do really weight training; I’m not trying to bulk up. I just want to be strong and explosive. Plyometrics just applies that, you know? A lot of jump training to build up the legs, and a few other things -
JA: Like, jumping push-ups?
KT: I even do the P-90X Workout. I hop on their plyometric platform and do a few of their things.
JA: To what do you attribute your punching power?
KT: I attribute it to God. Man, I mean, it’s truly just a gift and a blessing. Obviously, my mother and my father, the good genes, the genetics, you know. A lot of people can see that I’ve got big shoulders, I’ve got a real nice-sized back – just strong built, just strong built. But it has also with how I place my punches and how I turn with my punches and pretty much I shift all my bodyweight with my punches. The arm only weighs so much. We have the turn. Arm punching – some fighters only throw a punch with their arm; they never throw a punch with their full body mass or force. And because of that, they are lacking power. And, I make sure that when I’m in the ring, that I use my full body and force at all times and, thus, you get to see the power that you see in the ring.
JA: Who excites you when you’re watching boxing as a fan?
KT: I’d have to say that Canelo is exciting. Canelo is exciting. I like watching Andre Ward. He’s just a technician, man. He can almost do anything. He can adapt to about any style. You know, and he’s beating world class fighters with ease. I really, really, really like watching Andre Ward. Like I said, beside him on the excitement level, Canelo, and even though ‘Money Man’ doesn’t fight too much as well, Floyd [Mayweather].
JA: What do you think of Gennady Golovkin and his upcoming fight versus Rosado on January 19th?
KT: No comment. I don’t know that name off the top of my head. I might have seen him before; that name sounds familiar. But, I live boxing – I don’t watch it too much.
JA: Is there anyone special in your life?
KT: Yes, there is. I do have a girlfriend. She’s around my age, about 23 years old. We ended up going to the same middle school. She lives in my neighborhood in Clearwater, so she’s pretty much a local girl for me. She’s just really nice – influential, positive. I tried really hard not to get caught up in the females, but whenever you come across something nice that’s worth holding onto, you might as well. So, I saw something special in her, just a really nice girl and we’re taking it slow and see what the future holds. Her name is Emily.
JA: You’re in your recovery/rest time right now. What are you doing?
KT: I’m sitting back. I’m just mentally relaxing, just focusing on how we want to execute the game in 2013.
JA: When do you see yourself picking up again?
KT: I should be getting back into motion real soon – January 2, that’s right around the corner. We’re just going to start with cardio, you know, take it easy. And eight weeks out of the fight is normally when the camp starts getting into motion and getting really focused on what we’ve got to do.
JA: Any last thoughts for the readers?
KT: Just keep your eyes out for Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman. We’re working hard. I’m trying to create excitement in boxing for everybody. Tune in. It’s not guaranteed yet, but look out for a March or maybe April date.
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Our interview over, we talk about education, the dire state of the economy, and the U.S. Government’s huge debts ( “My coach once told me that he’ll be fine because he’ll die soon, but my children and grandchildren will be paying for it,” he says) on the way out.
Almost symbolically, the storm had passed and sunlight began peeking through the clouds overhead. If the weather is any indication, bright days indeed lie ahead for Keith “One Time” Thurman.