The second leg of boxing’s twin 2015 assault on its own obscurity (following the announcement of Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao) drops this Saturday, when the sport appears in a primetime slot on NBC. If the main event this weekend, Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero, isn’t quite boxing “putting its best foot forward,” it’s at least a good foot.
Thurman-Guerrero had been talked about as a Showtime bout for a while, and probably didn’t happen because superadviser Al Haymon was plotting a move away from pay TV. The match-up always made sense. Thurman is a welterweight star in the making, even if he took a step backward on that with a lackluster performance in his last bout. Guerrero is, like Thurman, a top 10ish contender in the division who’s more proven and has the name recognition one gets after stepping into the ring against Mayweather. If Thurman’s as good as people think he is, Guerrero’s good enough to make him prove it; if he isn’t, Guerrero’s good enough to disprove that he was ready.
That it’s an appealing style clash makes it all the better. Thurman is known for his power, but he always could box and move pretty well, and has expanded his game to the point that he doesn’t have to rely on power alone. Guerrero is fairly skilled himself, not that you’d know it from his tendency to get dragged into bloody wars, or even initiate them. The rugged Guerrero wants to be up close. The long-armed Thurman wants to fight from a distance. The battle for control of space will be fun to watch.
This is a nice fight, no doubt, but one that, if the sport is healthy, would be fairly routine. One suspects it was chosen in part for the NBC Premier Boxing Champions debut as much for its wrapping as its content. There’s a lot of wrapping that’s gone into this series: You don’t bring in Al Michaels and Marv Albert and freaking Hans Zimmer if you aren’t thinking about the packaging, and there’s talk of using flashy technology to make the sport more relatable to “millennials.” Thurman is 26 years old, and he has the gift of gab.
But the point of this here preview is to look at the content of the fight more than the marketing of the series, so let’s.
Thurman was becoming something of a fan favorite, so his excess maneuvering and backfoot stance against Leonard Bundu in his last fight was ill-considered for his reputation: He was getting booed, even. It didn’t even make a lot of sense tactically because Bundu only has 11 knockouts in 31 wins, so it’s not like Thurman needed to be cautious. Afterward, Thurman said he had some ring rust, by way of explanation.
Because it was frustrating to watch, it would’ve been easy to miss that, as in nearly every fight before, Thurman showed improvement. Check him out against Diego Chaves a couple years ago, when he was perpetually off balance and open to counters, and look at how infrequently he was out of position or vulnerable against Bundu. That’s not to say he was never open to counters in that fight — his uppercuts from range are still begging for ’em. But he’s not as wild as he used to be.
With his length, good speed and power, and ever-expanded boxing skills, he could be “the goods.” He’s better on offense than defense, although his jab is often absent. He likes surging forward with bursts of combination punches with both hands, to the head and to the body. And we know from the Chaves fight that he can rise to the occasion when he encounters some difficulty. That could come in handy, because Guerrero is significantly better than anyone he’s faced so far.
Guerrero is himself coming off a fairly lengthy layoff, having last fought in June. He also only fought once in 2013, the aforementioned loss to Mayweather. That last fight was a rough-and-tumble outing against Yoshihiro Kamegai. Kamegai probably could’ve been outboxed, but Guerrero can’t seem to help but getting into aggressive exchanges. He’s always had the tendency, and it’s oddly become more pronounced since he moved up to welterweight full time; the former featherweight has a chip on his shoulder in the ring, and perhaps he’s tried to prove that he’s not too small for this division.
Like Thurman, he’s got a versatile offense; the lefty can box from range with his jab/left hand combo, and he can move pretty well, but he likes being down in the trenches better. There he gets hit plenty, because most everybody does when they’re up close, but he gets hit less than his opponent, because he has a good feel for defensive and offensive angles there.
Guerrero seems to be wagering that Thurman won’t know what to do once he gets in his space. That might be his best bet. It’s just hard to imagine Guerrero getting into Thurman’s space without paying a price. Guerrero has never been KO’d, yet he has also never faced a puncher like Thurman. Knocking out Guerrero would be a huge statement for Thurman, so he’d be wise to pursue just that.
Guerrero is plenty tough and knows how to survive even when he’s in trouble, is all. Expect a good back-and-forth firefight early on, in a bout that sees Thurman winning by decision after Guerrero figures out he’s outgunned and eases off the throttle.