It’s one thing to be the underdog, it’s another for people to fear for your health. But that’s where Luis Collazo will soon find himself — staring across the ring from a bad, bad man. Saturday night, on the debut of “Premier Boxing Champions” on ESPN, he’ll be fighting Keith “One Time” Thurman, a young, undefeated fighter known for his wrecking-ball power. The nickname “One Time,” as you can probably surmise, comes from the fact that he usually only has to hit somebody just once, and it’s Snoozeville for the poor fella on the receiving end. To make matters worse for the oft-dropped Collazo, the bout will take place in Tampa, Fla., which is basically Thurman’s backyard. To say the odds are stacked against Collazo would be an injustice to understatements. Of course, many fans might be wondering how the hell Collazo even scored the fight to begin with…
It’s been nearly a decade since Collazo took on reigning junior welterweight king Ricky Hatton. The undefeated, wildly popular Brit decided to dip his feet into the pool of welterweights, and the tough-but-light-hitting Collazo seemed like a decent opponent — one who would give Hatton a test before wilting. And though Hatton dropped Collazo in the first round, Collazo would rise and give “Hitman” all he could handle. In fact, when the razor-thin decision victory was announced for Hatton, many critics had felt that the wrong guy was awarded the fight.
After that night, Collazo made a career out of being a bit of a truth-teller, one who tests the merit of a fighter’s status in the sport. He dropped a wide decision to Shane Mosley when Mosley dropped back down from junior middleweight to welterweight, and then lost another nail-biter, this time in an excellent scrap with Andre Berto. But those fights occurred when he was in his prime, which waved goodbye to him years ago. His most recent endeavor against a top-level opponent was brutal. He got pounded on by Amir Khan last year, a fight in which he wasn’t even remotely competitive. So it struck more than a few critics as odd when he was announced as the next opponent for Thurman, who is widely regarded as a future superstar and possible heir to the pound-for-pound throne when Floyd Mayweather finally calls it a day.
Thurman has just come off the biggest win of his career, a wide decision victory over Robert Guerrero. The expectation was that he’d carry that momentum into something even bigger, perhaps even a shot at Mayweather. But for whatever reason, he’s taking a bit of a backward step, in both name recognition and difficulty. For him, this amounts to a “stay busy” fight, a chance to get some rounds in while hoping something huge is on the horizon.
Collazo will have to box the fight of his life to pull this off. His southpaw style won’t give him an edge; Thurman just easily dispatched the southpaw Guerrero, and the chances of Collazo landing a home run shot are nil. But the Floridian doesn’t exactly appear to be salivating at the thought of this fight, so there’s a chance he may have trained less-than-enthusiastically knowing he’d be in with Collazo instead of say, Khan. Perhaps Collazo will be able to exploit that and bank some rounds. If he keeps it close, and if he can stay on his feet in the early rounds, he may start getting Thurman thinking. And Thurman is not quite as effective in the ring when he’s thinking.
A loss at this stage, especially to somebody like Collazo, would be absolutely devastating to Thurman’s career. It would effectively destroy all of the work he’s put in to get to this point, right on the cusp of stardom. Certainly, it would be a colossal misfire for his advisor/manager/kind-of-sort-of-alleged-promoter Al Haymon, who along with feeding Paulie Malignaggi to Danny Garcia, is the one who placed Collazo on the train tracks for Thurman.
Still, it’s hard to see Thurman losing here, even if he is drastically overlooking the man who will be in front of him on Saturday. He’s obviously got cement fists, but he proved against Guerrero that he’s got the ability to box if he needs to. Despite being a young, knockout puncher, Thurman has patience. If the knockout doesn’t come, he doesn’t press unnecessarily; rather, he picks his shots and does enough to secure rounds instead of winging bombs in the hopes that something will land.
Collazo has been picked as the “opponent” before, and the expectations are pretty low at this point. Perhaps he’ll shock all of us and put together something bordering on miraculous. He’s not only fighting an absolute beast, but he’s doing it in the beast’s lair, most likely with judges who don’t score points for dodging blows while terrified. Most viewers will go into this thing thinking it won’t go past six rounds. At the very least, hopefully Collazo can make it fun while it lasts. Thurman didn’t want this fight.
Maybe Collazo can show him another reason why.
(Collazo, photo by Elsa, Getty Images)