Unified 147-pound world champion Keith Thurman discusses how he let down his guard and fell in love while on a vacation in Japan.
By now, you can picture him in full rage, his fists contorted, his eyes afire. The image of Keith Thurman, unified 147-pound world champion, easily comes to mind.
But can you picture him in a darkened Japanese bar, trying his best to remember the lyrics to a song by Usher?
It is easy, too, to imagine Thurman moving across the ring, denying his opponent anywhere to run. It is easy to picture him stalking an opponent, determined to show him why he is known as “One Time.”
But do you think of him in a different kind of dance, swaying across the floor to music and looking into a woman’s eyes?
For a lifetime, he has been a boxer. He was seven—three quarters of his life ago—when he first entered the ring. He was 18—a decade ago—when he had his first professional fight. For Thurman, life has been a series of exchanges with dangerous men, men who would cut him and hurt him and take away what he has.
This was a different kind of foe, however. This was the fighter laid bare. This was the boxer in love. Yeah, he was hit hard.
“If you give her one ounce of kindness, she gives you back four,” Thurman said.
There is a rare softness to Thurman's voice. He is happy. He is in love. He is in Katmandu, in Nepal, with a wife— Pyrantha Thapa—he had to go half-a-world away to meet.
“I love everything about her,” Thurman says, “I even like the stuff about her I don't like.”
He laughs. It was Halloween a year ago, and Thurman and a friend had flown to Tokyo to relax after his fight against Shawn Porter. The two of them landed, their body clocks out of sync. At 2 a.m., they were ready to go out to the Roppongi District (a collection of bars). There, they happened into a first-floor bar called Vibration. She worked there for her father.
“ The way I see it, if anything, (marriage) might give me more to fight for. I've always wanted to make the most of my boxing career, to be as successful as I can be. ” Unified 147-pound world champion Keith "One Time" Thurman
Just like that, life changed.
She was gorgeous. She was friendly. He was smitten. Her, not so much.
“She told me she didn't like me at first,” Thurman said. “I was drunk. I don't drink a lot, but I did that night. We talked. I kept telling her she was beautiful. It was a natural beauty; she didn't have on any makeup. I was just honest. I had the liquid courage thing working for me. We got to know each other.”
It was Sunday night. She was off Monday. Thurman was back on Tuesday. They had their first date on Thursday.
And so it went. Thurman returned to Japan, and they went to the Maldives. “It's like Gilligan's Island,” he said. It was real.
“I wasn't looking to fall in love or anything,” Thurman continued. “Our first date was an amazing night. We sang Karyoke. We danced. We got to know each other. I just wanted to see if it would grow.”
It did. Thapa's family is from Nepal. Thurman is still there working on paperwork that will bring his new bride to the United States. “She's a good person,” sums up Thurman. “I'm a good person.”
In the meantime, Thurman heals. He had calcium deposits in his elbow—wear and tear from all the years of toiling in the ring—removed in April, and has been shut down for at least six months. He plans to return in 2018 to try to wade through a competitive welterweight division.
“She doesn't like the fighting,” Thurman said. “At her old bar, they showed a lot of old UFC fights. She might be like my stepmother and have to leave the arena.
“The way I see it, if anything, (marriage) might give me more to fight for. There may be a child in my near future. I've always wanted to make the most of my boxing career, to be as successful as I can be.”
He's been impressive so far. Thurman has a 28-0 record and two title belts. He says he isn't thinking about boxing now, but others are. There is another belt – the IBF one that belongs to Errol Spence. Shawn Porter wants a rematch. Danny Garcia, too. The possible contenders seems to grow by the week.
“It's an amazing division,” Thurman said. “A lot of talent, a lot of fighters. I always say the welterweight division is the biggest of the small guys. It's a very athletic division. A lot of people don't understand the life of a fighter. Boxing is one of the hardest sports in the world. You need strength, conditioning, stamina, reflexes. In most sports, no one is punching you. You have to move backward, forward, side-to-side, take an attack, attack back.”
Thurman is still on the young side of 30. Still, he admits he is closer to the end than the beginning. He talks about being a fight analyst. He talks seven more years. He talks about making his “the most brilliant story I can make it.”
“I've lived the dream,” he said.