It’s easy to envision Keith Thurman cloaked in a scarlet robe, sitting with his eyes closed in a cave somewhere in the Himalaya mountains receiving wisdom from a Tibetan monk. If there is a fiercely independent Renaissance man in boxing today whose narrative is one he has solely designed, it is the fighter known as “One Time.”
Thurman’s reality this recent July evening wasn’t too different. The unified 147-pound world champion was in Nepal, where he remains on vacation. The wind from the Himalayas did brush against his face. All that was missing was the robe, the Tibetan monk and the cave.
What wasn’t missing was Thurman’s wrought-iron will. Shangri-La didn’t dull his edges.
There was certainty in his voice, even though Thurman could have had his serenity punctured by his six-month layoff, after the successful surgery Dr. Riley Williams performed April 19 to remove painful calcium deposits and bone spurs from his right elbow.
There is a reason why Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is an unbeaten world champion: No one or nothing can break his veneer.
He knows his current reality is to be patient. It’s posed a challenge, considering Thurman was coming off a split-decision victory over previously undefeated Danny Garcia to unify welterweight world titles on national TV. It was a fight that gave the 28-year-old Clearwater, Florida, native a greater audience.
Making it even more impressive is that Thurman beat one of the best 147-pounders in the world even though each right hand he landed sent a throbbing pain coursing through him.
“The surgery had to be done, because I could have given another performance, but that could have been the last performance of my career,” Thurman said. “That’s how bad my elbow was. When you look at the bigger picture [now], you realize that everything is OK. This is what I have to do. There have been times when I’ve been here in Nepal during this vacation and I [tell myself] I had such a great camp for [Garcia] with the conditioning and everything that I was doing.
“I enjoyed being in the gym and afterward I could have been right back in the gym, if possible. I know I have a career in the sport that I love. This is the art that I chose to be in as a child. That makes me happy. I stay positive and stay happy to live the life of Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman. My bigger picture is that I’m the undefeated, unified welterweight champion of the world. Nobody else gets to say that.
“The debate that my stock doesn’t get to rise is nothing I can help. But it’s not going to fall, either. My stock is sustained at a high level that has been progressing for many years. My highest priority is to have a full, healthy career as a boxer. It doesn’t matter if my stock rises or falls. What matters is that I live out my career to the fullest potential. I have to ride this thing out. I have to take this time off before I can bounce back. I would love to fight before the end of the year, but I’m not going to place a date on anything.”
“ My highest priority is to have a full, healthy career as a boxer. ... I would love to fight before the end of the year, but I’m not going to place a date on anything. ” Unified 147-pound world champion Keith Thurman, on returning from elbow surgery
Admittedly, Thurman did suffer a bout of momentary frustration when Dr. Williams told him his recovery would be six months. Leaning forward on a cushioned therapy table, Thurman wasn’t in the mood for the truth, and needed to hear it a second time.
“To be honest, I was kind of frustrated when I first heard six months,” Thurman said. “I wanted the doctor to explain it to me again. They went in and removed some junk and my elbow is going to be a lot better. It was going to take six months? After three months of ice and rest, it would still take six months? I know this is going to be a slow progression.
“Once I get back in the U.S., I’m going to go back and see the doctor right away so we can apply a date to coming back. I can do some cardio and some light work, which can be hard to do in the high altitude of Kathmandu. I gave it a go and I was pretty beat. They told me back home it would take time to adjust to the altitude.”
While his professional career is on hiatus, Thurman made the biggest decision of his personal life during this downtime. On June 30, he married Priyana Thapa, a 24-year-old Nepalese woman who Thurman met last year in Roppongi, Japan, a few months after his successful June 2016 title defense against Shawn Porter.
When Thurman gets away from boxing, he gets away completely.
“I wanted to see Tokyo and everywhere I go, I see and meet boxing people, and it’s a beautiful thing to meet people that admire what you do,” said Thurman, who plans on returning to the United States in August. “I went to a small club lounge and Priyana worked behind the bar. It happened to be my first night in Tokyo. It was a Sunday night, and my buddy and I got real familiar with that bar. She didn’t know who I was.
“I was on vacation. I wasn’t looking for love or anything, and she happened. I asked her out and that date happened to be one of the best days of my life. People search real hard to find someone like her. I got out of my comfort zone and found my love. She’s made this [injury] go away. I didn’t let her know who I was because boxing is just a job, something that I do. Boxing provides the chance to get away. It’s enabled me to see the world—and now it’s led to me meeting the love of my life.
“I’ll be back. But I’ll be back on my terms and when I’m healthy. This is a pause button.”