Keith Thurman has been a full-fledged world champion for two years now, but now he’s looking to cement his position as the top 147-pound boxer on the planet.
With a title unification bout with fellow titleholder Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) set for Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), Keith Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) will get the opportunity to make his case.
We recently caught up with the 28-year-old Clearwater, Florida, native to talk more about the battle of unbeaten champions, his inactivity over the second half of 2016, fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his desire for better government.
Let’s start with last year, which was interesting for you to say the least. You had that car accident that postponed your showdown with Shawn Porter. And then the victory over Porter ended up being your only fight of 2017. Was that by design?
As a fighter, you can push yourself as much as you want, and I committed to fighting one time, because I knew I wasn’t going to get the fight I wanted [after] the Porter fight.
Also, the fact that last year represented 20 years in boxing meant a lot to me, so I gave myself time to travel the world a little bit, which was a long time coming. I visited multiple islands. I was in Japan and Jamaica with some of my family members.
Some people might read those comments and infer that your decision to take the rest of the year off to celebrate two decades in boxing must mean your love for and dedication to the sport is waning. That’s not true, though, right?
I’m truly dedicated to the sport, but I also have a lot of insight. I could have fought in late November or December, but patience is a virtue. Sometimes sitting back and waiting is the best move.
The fight with Danny Garcia was pretty much announced last year anyway, so we knew what the horizon held for us at the start of 2017, so it wasn’t stressful at all. I just took care of and enjoyed myself, worked hard and played hard.
But I’m too young to be on vacation yet. We’re nowhere near being retired. I’m 28 years old, and truly dedicated to this sport, as I have been my entire life. I’m looking forward to demonstrating the talents and skills against Danny Garcia that I’ve learned and accumulated over the last 20, going on 21, years.
This fight against Garcia represents your first title unification opportunity. How much does that mean to you?
This is a big fight. I’ve got one belt, and now I’m looking at getting another belt. Danny and his team talk about how they’ve already accomplished that [unification] goal at 140, which is a true statement. But 147 is another division.
In my opinion, he has yet to fight a solid welterweight, and I’m the most solid that we’ve got.
Rewind to the Porter fight, which many had on their short list for Fight of the Year of 2016. What are your memories from that bout?
A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to suffer a real injury, have a short time to recover from it and then go right back into training camp. But I went 12 rounds with one of the toughest guys in the division, and I fought and won a very strategic fight.
I knew Shawn was going to be able to outpunch me for the most part, because he’s very aggressive and he’s always been able to outwork his opponents. But I wanted to be very defensive and to negate a lot of that onslaught, and we were able to do that with hands up, footwork and simple dodging.
I’ve always known that I’m a true warrior who can compete in a tough fight over the course of each and every round. Shawn Porter was the same way, and we were able to demonstrate that for 12 rounds. Now I’m ready for another one.
Did you surprise yourself in any way against Porter?
Not necessarily. You’ve got to know what car you’re driving when you get into it, so an athlete should know himself best.
The fight against Shawn Porter followed the 12 rounds with Robert Guerrero and the 12 rounds with Leonard Bundu and the 12 rounds with Jan Zaveck. There’s just a lot of growth that took place during those 12-round championship fights.
When it comes to my toughness, you’ve seen me fight through a hematoma against Guerrero, the body shot I endured before stopping Luis Collazo and the Porter fight.
Ben Getty [Thurman’s late trainer] always said there’s no such thing as a perfect fighter, and I don’t claim to be. But at the end the day, I’m a tough [guy] to deal with.
Speaking of Getty, he wasn’t just your trainer; he also was a father figure to you. Do you ever pause and wonder how proud he would be of where you are in your life and career right now?
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, going back to how Ben Getty foresaw this in me from the age of 14 on, and all of the time and the care and the wisdom he put into me. I’m very grateful to him and his family, and a whole lot of people.
Throughout all of this time, Keith “One Time” Thurman has remained ready and remained hungry. I’m still a beast and still a bull who is ready for another rodeo. … This is what I live for. I’m at the top, and I’m working day and night to stay there.
“ Danny and his team talk about how they’ve already [unified world titles] at 140, ...but 147 is another division. In my opinion, he has yet to fight a solid welterweight, and I’m the most solid that we’ve got. ” Keith Thurman, on fighting fellow 147-pound champion Danny Garcia
If you could pick the brain of any fighter in the world, living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask?
There are a handful of guys: Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
I got to speak to Evander Holyfield. That’s probably the most legendary heavyweight I’ve spoken to in a boxing gym. I was still an amateur at the time.
I grew up as a Mike Tyson fan, so I would love to pick his brain a little bit, because his mannerism brought the dog in me, and that’s why my motto is “KOs for Life.” Also, watching Tyson taught me how to transfer my body weight.
I’ve spoken to Sugar Ray Leonard at times, but I would love to be able to pick his brain a little bit more. And believe it or not, it would be nice to have a civil conversation with Floyd Mayweather. The problem is, I’ve never really rode the jock of [Mayweather’s team], you know what I’m saying? But there would be a lot that I would want to talk to him about.
Another one would be Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor. When people ask me who my favorite fighter is, I say Aaron Pryor. I don’t think a lot of people really understand who he was. To me, he was the man.
I love being that dude that people don’t really want to mess with, and Aaron Pryor—for his time and generation—was that dude.
OK, let’s focus just on Mayweather. What would you specifically want to learn from him?
Well, I’ve always wanted to fight him, but if the dude don’t want to fight me, then I might as well talk to him. It’s not like he’s not one of the best fighters who has ever done it.
Really, I would ask him how he remained so athletic into his later years. I would like to hear his pitch on growing old in the sport and still being able to remain at the top. Because it’s one thing to stay at the top in your prime, but it’s another to stay at the top when other dudes are in their prime.
Floyd put on some tremendous performances into his late 30s, and I applaud him for that. It was a pleasure and an honor to be ringside for the last six of his fights.
Safe to say you regret not being able to fight him?
At one point, I was his mandatory. But they pulled me out of the picture, and that was very frustrating for me because not only is a Mayweather fight the biggest of any fighter’s career, but it’s an opportunity to fight a legend and to create my own legacy overnight if I’m victorious.
I fought hard to get into that position, so I’ve always had a little bit of a sour soreness because I’ve always wanted to punch the man. But outside of that, I do have a lot of respect for Floyd Mayweather.
Aside from Mayweather, what fighter in history would you most like to have fought, and how would that fight go down?
There are three: Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.
Being a boxer-puncher, I could be dangerous to Duran, but when you underestimate him, he was the “Hands of Stone,” and he was a bad dude during his time. He came at you, similar to Shawn Porter, but more in the Mexican style. That would be one helluva matchup and a fight for the fans.
I think I would be able to hurt him—I believe I can hurt everybody—so maybe a sixth- to eighth-round stoppage. If it went beyond that, it would be a 12-round decision.
Oscar De La Hoya also would be a tremendous fight. I remember [one fight earlier in my career], and Oscar was in the ring after I had just got done winning. I looked at him and said, “If you were still fighting, I would challenge you.” He just smiled.
But Oscar was a fan. He loved watching my fights, and that made me proud to have Oscar De La Hoya as a fan of Keith “One Time” Thurman.
And then Tito Trinidad in his prime would have been one helluva showdown. Tito, similar to Garcia, is a really solid, basic puncher, but Tito was a really good welterweight with good height and reach.
Tito did have a little problem with boxers. Most people think De La Hoya won their fight, and Winky Wright was able to pick him apart a little bit. Bernard Hopkins stopped him, but Hopkins was the bigger man. Still, Tito was a threat and could hurt you.
But against any of those guys, I’m going to favor myself.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in the 147-pound division right now?
There are certain questions I don’t like, and I don’t like this question. Floyd Mayweather was the best fighter in the division. He’s retired, so who’s the best fighter in the division?
The problem is we have time on our hands and too many young fighters. Everybody’s fighting for that greatness, so this question is not one to ask now.
The cream is going to rise to the top, and that’s why Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia are fighting each other. [Undefeated contender] Errol Spence is right behind us trying to talk a lot of junk and trying to work his way up to the top.
He’s a talented young individual, but there are high-caliber fighters he’s yet to face. I’m not saying he can’t beat them, I’m just saying that there are challenges he has yet to come across, so we’ll see.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
Probably the left uppercut, and the most satisfactory results were in two fights.
One was against Julio Diaz (a third-round stoppage in April 2014). In the second round before the knockdown, I went to throw a jab to the stomach but it was really a feint. I wanted it to look as if I was approaching him with a jab to the stomach.
[With Diaz] having fought Porter twice, once to a draw, and a close fight with Amir Khan when he knocked Khan down, I knew he had really good eyes. He sees the muscle movement and the patterns, so I made it tricky and changed up: I opened up with a lead left uppercut, his chin went up and he fell off balance. He was shocked.
Another time that I used it well was against Jesus Soto Karass (ninth-round stoppage in December 2013). I caught him with a left hook-right hook that stunned him, and then I pivoted and hit him with another right hand. He was still on his feet, so I hopped back, and before the referee could do anything, I jumped in with a one-two and dug with the left uppercut.
That’s how the fight ended, with the left uppercut right on the chin. It was the finishing punch, so that was my most satisfying.
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you’d want to compete in?
If I had the opportunity to be a true 154-pounder, I would love to fight Canelo Alvarez. I would also be able to set up the rematch from the amateurs with my boy Demetrius Andrade and not have the same reach disadvantage that I had once upon a time.
But outside of that, it would be a lot of fun being a boxer-puncher in the heavyweight division. At heavyweight, I would fight them all. I would fight my boy Deontay Wilder, and I know that [guy] can punch, so maybe it’s good that God didn’t make me a heavyweight. He’s a 6-foot-7 house of bricks who is all muscle.
To me, the heavyweight division is supposed to be about guys like Deontay, not the guys who have to [cut] 25 pounds. Lean up, bro. That gut ain’t gonna help you move or be able to throw a punch or take a punch on the chin.
I admire the true, athletic heavyweights like [British world champion] Anthony Joshua, which is what boxing needs and what boxing once had in its heyday.
What is the one thing food-wise that’s tough to give up when training for a fight?
Probably ice cream. I really just have to give up [all] ice cream, because there ain’t no healthy ice cream in the universe. That doesn’t exist.
Now that I’m older, I’ve pulled away from the sweets. In my early 20s, I used to be big into cheesecake and carrot cake and chocolate chip cookies and baked pies and everything. I’ve had to let that go, as well as the cheese dip and the chips and dip and all of that.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Have honest politicians. Government’s supposed to be for the people, not going against the people, according to the way that it was set up by our forefathers. Eventually, people in office with the lobbyists, they help the big corporations and make certain deals that help people who don’t really need help.
By having honest politicians, I believe that the American citizens would really know where their tax dollars are going like they deserve to know.
I’ve been paying taxes for 10 years now, and every year I end up paying more because your boy’s doing pretty good for himself. But it’s not cool when you’re handing over six- and seven-figure checks to the government. That’s not fun, and it makes you question what benefits I get from my government. Where is this money actually going, and what is it being used for?
If you could have dinner with three people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Nikola Tesla, Buddha and Martin Luther King Jr. I would ask them about everything from science to religion to politics to economics.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com.