The Fundamentals With ... Dan Birmingham

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The respected trainer of former unified welterweight world champ Keith Thurman analyzes his fighter ahead of Thurman's explosive 147-pound showdown versus Mario Barrios Saturday, February 5 on PBC FOX Sports Pay-Per-View.

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Keith Thurman vs Mario Barrios PREVIEW: February 5, 2022 | PBC on FOX Sports PPV

Former unified world welterweight champion Keith "One Time" Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) will face former 140-pound title holder Mario “El Azteca” Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs) in a crossroads battle between hard-hitting world champions Saturday, February 5, headlining a PBC FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. 

Thurman began boxing at age seven under the tutelage of Ben Getty. When Getty passed away in 2009, Thurman appointed renowned trainer Dan Birmingham as his new head coach. Birmingham was no stranger to Team Thurman; he had been assisting Getty with training Thurman since the fighter was 15 years old. 

Birmingham, in his 57 years in the sport, has also coached the likes of Ronald “Winky” Wright and Jeff Lacy.

Birmingham took a few minutes away from Thurman’s busy training camp to break down the fundamentals of the sweet science.

It All Starts with the Jab

On fight night, Thurman often utilizes the jab at different speeds and in various ways, depending on what his opponent is showing him. 

“The idea is to try to confuse your opponent,” Birmingham said. “So maybe at times you’re using a speed jab, an off-speed jab, and then you can feint and not jab. Or feint and jab. Or double feint and walk away. It’s about using your options and changing it up.

“The jab is really enhanced during sparring. Every sparring partner is different. You’re gonna use a different jab against a tall guy, a different jab with a shorter guy, a different jab with a guy who has really quick hands.”  

Thurman is appropriately recognized as a big puncher. But in addition to his powerful right hand, he also carries a lot of pop in his left hook. When he faced Danny Garcia in 2017, Thurman hurt Garcia upstairs with a hook in the first round, and Thurman’s hook dropped the always tough Josesito Lopez in round two of their bout in 2019. 

“I give that credit to Ben Getty, who developed (the hook) with Keith when he was very young,” Birmingham explained. “His power and his left hook. I’ve worked with Keith more on positioning, timing, and rhythm.

“I call Keith’s hook ‘Old Reliable.’ It’s really innate—he uses it without thinking.” 

Footwork and Positioning

Birmingham discussed the work he and his fighter put in to hone Thurman’s ability to move well on his feet in either direction as well as Thurman’s use of angles and positioning. 

“In the gym, he’s really working on everything in his arsenal,” Birmingham said. “We work on every punch and we’re trying to perfect his movement, his power, and his timing. It really comes over time.

“When we’re working on the mitts, it’s like we’re sparring. I’m throwing punches at him, he’s blocking, he’s countering, and he’s getting in position to work the body.

“Most of the time it’s actually Keith’s power that overwhelms the opponent more than his boxing. He is a good boxer but his power, when he goes to the opponent’s body….of course if he catches ‘em on the chin, the fight’s over,” Birmingham added with a laugh.

...if he catches ‘em on the chin, the fight’s over. Trainer - Dan Birmingham

Protect Yourself At All Times

While Thurman can turn on the aggression in the ring, he typically doesn’t get hit clean often. It’s no accident.

“We work on set up, execution, and escape. Because really, that’s all boxing is. You set your guy up, you execute, and then you escape. Execution is using a jab, right hand, uppercut, whatever will work. 

“Hit and don’t get hit. That’s the idea.”

Control Distance

In addition to the defensive skills Thurman uses while his opponent is throwing punches, he’s also adept at keeping other fighters at a distance that’s good for him. 

“The jab is key (for controlling distance),” said Birmingham. “When I first started training him, I told Keith, ‘We’re gonna work on your jab. We’re gonna work on your boxing. We’re gonna work on your movement.’ Because really, when he was young, he just wanted to knock everybody out.”

Champion Mindset

Thurman was a six-time national amateur champion as well before unifying welterweight world titles as a pro. To rise above the inherent adversity that comes with seeking greatness takes mental toughness.

“I think he was born with that mental toughness,” Birmingham said. “I don’t think that’s something you can give a fighter or anybody else. I believe you’re born with that, and of course it depends on how you grew up—if you had a tough childhood.”

On top of Thurman’s experience and mental fortitude inside the ring, Birmingham pointed out his fighter’s good habits outside the ring that help him be his best self.

“He’s very bright, very receptive. He trains very hard, he takes the sport very serious, he watches his diet. He does all the little things that you have to do.”

Thurman keeps his composure in the ring even when faced with challenges, like when he was dropped in the first round of his last fight against the legendary Manny Pacquiao. 

Birmingham explained, “When he comes back to the corner I just try to calm him down. ‘Stay calm. Relax. Breathe.’ And then I try to give him some instructions for the next round. 

“He’s a thinker. So he’s always thinking about the next round and what he has to do. How he sets his opponent up. At this stage he’s very easy to coach because he’s got so much experience. He has a wealth of knowledge. 

“He’s such an intelligent guy. I mean here’s a guy who quit high school. He didn’t want to go to school, and Ben (Getty) said, ‘Well, you might as well quit—you’re gonna be a world champion anyway. You’re gonna have all the money you need.’ And he was right. Ben had a lot of insight with Keith.”

For a closer look at Thurman vs Barrios, check out our fight night page.

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