In the ring, Luis Collazo is like Day-Glo leg warmers, bedazzled jean shorts and spray-on hair: He just has a way of making you look bad.
He’s crafty, smart, tough as the leather his gloves are made of and possesses an awkward fighting style that can make it hard for his opponents to find their rhythm, like trying to cut a rug to Slayer.
This is the challenge confronting Keith Thurman (25-0, 21 KOs): to not only beat Luis Collazo (36-6, 19 KOs), who he’s favored against when they meet in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday in the debut of PBC on ESPN (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), but to do so in entertaining fashion against a live underdog looking to lift his leg on the oddsmakers.
“I think he has a lot to gain in this fight and I have a lot to lose because a lot of people are going to be favoring me,” Thurman says of Collazo, who’s covered in more ink than the Sunday New York Times. “There are some people who may even believe that I’m overrated. Sometimes when you’re on that stage, the world is just waiting for you to slip up.”
Collazo has the potential to be that banana peel: He’s never been down in a fight, he gave both Ricky Hatton and Andre Berto hell in debatable defeats that many thought Collazo should have won, and he made Victor Ortiz look like an overserved frat boy stumbling home from the bar as he staggered across the ring en route to a knockout loss.
What’s more, the 34-year-old Collazo might not land another fight of this magnitude should he come up short Saturday, which isn’t lost on Thurman.
“I think he’s going to come with a little more intensity,” he says. “I know he’s going to try to shock the crowd and upset me in my hometown.”
This will be Thurman’s first high-profile, main-event fight in Tampa since he’s ascended to the upper echelon of the 147-pound ranks thanks to his combination of power, poise and personality.
Fighting in front of thousands cheering you on certainly has its benefits, but with them comes the potential pressure of wanting to thrill a fan-heavy crowd.
Fellow Tampa favorite and Thurman friend and mentor Winky Wright, a former 154-pound champion, knows what it’s like to headline a big card in the city, having fought Ike Quartey there in 2006.
He says that Thurman has to be mindful of trying to put on too much of a show.
“He can’t let the crowd antagonize him by trying to get him to get a knockout,” Wright states. “If the knockout is going to come, it’s going to come. He can’t go out there and go wild and get caught.”
Wright doesn’t sound all that worried about that happening, though.
“He’s a smart kid,” he says of Thurman, “and he’s a bad boy.”
Thurman’s trainer, Dan Birmingham, echoes this sentiment, believing that the setting won’t matter come Saturday night.
“Keith is himself no matter where he fights,” Birmingham says. “I don’t think there’s any extra pressure to have a knockout. If he beats [Collazo] up for 12 rounds, then my hat’s off to our opponent. But I don’t think Collazo will make 12 rounds. He’s going to go down. He’s going to taste the canvas this fight.”
Thurman has said that he won’t press for the KO, but clearly he seeks to build on the momentum generated by his last fight, a bloody, thrilling takedown of Robert Guerrero in March.
It was an exciting, free-swinging scrap, a mix of fireworks and finesse, which has come to define Thurman.
He’s a fighter on the verge of stardom, with many in the sport envisioning a future for Thurman every bit as big as one of his punches.
He has the tools: heavy hands and a light heart, the ability to box or brawl with equal effectiveness, quotable charisma and some serious, bird-pleasin’ flute chops.
A sure sign of his box-office potential is the extent to which Thurman’s now being called out by other fighters.
In boxing, you know you’ve arrived when you’re constantly being dismissed.
“There’s some guys out there who think that Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman is not a threat in the [147-pound] division,” he says of all the chatter aimed in his direction. “Amir Khan said that he’d be ready to fight. I heard Timothy Bradley make a comment that I’m noting to worry about. Errol Spence has 17 fights and he already wants to fight me.
"But it all comes with the territory," he adds knowingly. "I’m a fighter to beat.”
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