Keith Thurman was just a seven-year-old kid walking around the halls of Belleair Elementary in Clearwater, Florida, when head janitor Ben Getty found him.
Getty, a former power lifter who once set a record as the first man in the military to lift more than 500 pounds, brought Thurman into his after-school YMCA boxing program. In the summer they would shadowbox and jump rope on a basketball court. To spar, the group would form makeshift rings by blocking off a space with picnic tables.
Getty trained Thurman from a precocious 7-year-old playground terror to a dangerous 20-year-old knockout artist. But then, in 2009, Getty died unexpectedly at the age of 63.
“Ben Getty was a very special man,” Thurman said. “He was the one who taught me to go for the KO. He used to say this line that pissed me off a lot. I don’t know if he said it to piss me off, or if he just said it because he never wanted me to forget. But he used to say, ‘You are nothing without your power.’ It took me a long time to understand what that really meant.
“To me at first it was real basic. I took it as you’re telling me I can’t box. Maybe to a degree he did mean that, but throughout the years as I reflect, I think he just never wanted me to forget how important my power is, and how my power has the ability to change the outcome of a fight.”
Merry Christmas to all! And big Thank You to Ben Getty (who got this all started), who is celebrating today upstairs! pic.twitter.com/2gHIgJ7Iuq— Keith Thurman Jr. (@keithfthurmanjr) December 25, 2014
Thurman still dedicates his fights to Getty. Still dreams about him, too. And he talks about him any chance he gets when the cameras are rolling.
For Chris Getty, Ben’s son who now manages Thurman, it’s the best kind of tribute.
“That just shows me how much that my father taught him about life,” Getty said. "‘Respect where you come from,’ and that’s what he always told Keith. For him to carry my father’s name wherever he goes—he always says ‘I’m a Ben Getty fighter. I’m a product of Ben Getty.’”
If it seems like Thurman spends a lot of time thinking about Ben Getty, that’s because Getty spent so much time thinking about Thurman. Not only did Getty teach him how to box, but Thurman credits the man with helping bring out his killer instinct. There was a science to it.
“It was very disciplined,” Chris Getty said. “Everything was to the ‘T.’ My father kept tabs on everything. He kept a little black book like what Keith weighed that day, how many push-ups he did, sit-ups. The reason being he always said numbers do not lie. That’s the truth. You give me the output that I want, and you’re going to be in shape. That was my father’s philosophy.”
Science, it seems, wasn’t the only tool in Ben Getty’s bag of tricks, though. The details may have been in that little black book, but the big picture was on another plane entirely.
“It was like my father creating art,” Chris Getty said. “I’m pretty artistic and I like to draw and dabble a little bit. My father did it a different way. He did it giving back to these kids as far as being disciplined inside the ring and being disciplined outside the ring.
“It wasn’t always pounding these guys in the gym. He wanted to make sure that everything was right with them outside the gym, as well. That was the other side of him. He would give the shirt off of his back if he had to. We talk about my dad every day. It’s like he’s actually still here. His memory just keeps carrying on. That’s why Keith said, ‘Chris, I’m always going to have a Getty in my corner. You’re here, so enjoy the ride.’”