Keith Thurman’s punching power is born out in this most basic of statistics: Only four of the 26 opponents he’s faced have made it to the finish line.
Then again, of those four instances, two occurred in Thurman’s last three fights. Now he’s about to square off against a guy with whom he came up through the amateur ranks. A guy who has never been knocked out in 28 professional fights. A former world champion who is the most talented opponent Thurman has ever faced.
So heading into Saturday’s much-anticipated 147-pound title defense against “Showtime” Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), you would think Keith “One Time” Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) would be happy with a victory however it comes.
“I have an 81 percent knockout ratio and a 95 percent ratio on knockdowns. Shawn has a 5 percent chance of taking no critical damage,” says Thurman, who weighed in Friday at 146 pounds, while Porter came in at 147. “My hands are itching for a knockout every time I step into the ring. I’m ‘One Time’ all the time.”
Thurman, 27, and Porter, 28, were born 13 months apart and have been friends since their early days as amateurs. But these friends have been on a collision course to being foes for several years as they steadily progressed through the 147-pound division.
Thurman became the first to reach the top in July 2013, when he won an interim world title with a 10th-round knockout of Diego Gabriel Chaves in San Antonio. He’s since defended his title five times, most recently defeating a pair of former world champs in Robert Guerrero (unanimous decision, March 2015) and Luis Collazo (seventh-round stoppage, last July).
Meanwhile, five months after Thurman’s title-winning victory, Porter scored one of his own, toppling Devon Alexander by unanimous decision in December 2013. He held onto that crown with a fourth-round TKO of ex-titleholder Paulie Malignaggi in April 2014, but relinquished it in his next fight against Kell Brook, dropping a majority decision for his first and only defeat.
Porter has since rebounded with a pair of impressive victories, knocking out Erick Bone in the fifth round in March 2015 and upsetting four-division champ Adrien Broner by unanimous decision last June.
However, Thurman believes his old pal displayed some chinks in his armor against both Brook and Broner, the latter of whom dropped Porter with a left hook in the 12th round of a fight Porter otherwise dominated.
“Porter got hit with one-twos by Brook and a lot of left hooks from Broner,” Thurman says. “We’ll be looking for those shots and uppercuts as he tries to come in and smother my punches.”
“ They say you’ve got to bring ass to get ass, so bring that knockout directly to Shawn, and we’ll see who gets knocked out. ” Kenny Porter, father and trainer of Shawn Porter
The smothering of punches is a reference to Porter’s usual game plan, which is to work his way inside, something he did with great effectiveness in his title-winning victory against Alexander, a physical clash in which both fighters bled from cuts around their eyes.
“That’s the only way Shawn knows to fight,” says Dan Birmingham, Thurman’s longtime trainer. “I don’t think he’ll drop back, box, use his legs and stick-and-move. He’s a come-forward, bull-in-a-china-shop fighter trying to get close and hit the head and body.
“I’m sure he’ll try to use the jab, but we’ll outbox him and get him out of there.”
Porter’s father and trainer, Kenny Porter, begs to differ. He says his son has proven on several occasions that, while he likes to get physical, he can successfully box and counterpunch from the outside.
“Malignaggi, Broner and Alexander were considered boxers, but they got out-jabbed,” Kenny Porter says. “We’re going to punish Keith Thurman on fight night, but that doesn’t mean just smothering his punches.
“You have to be in range to get a knockout, but [in doing so], you can get knocked out also. They say you’ve got to bring ass to get ass, so bring that knockout directly to Shawn, and we’ll see who gets knocked out.”
Just as Porter showed a brief bit of vulnerability against Broner in his most recent fight, so too did Thurman in his last bout against Collazo. In the fifth round, Thurman threw an overhand right hand and Collazo countered with a perfectly timed, rib-rippling body shot that nearly sent the champ to the canvas.
As part of his months-long preparation for this showdown, Shawn Porter took note of Collazo’s liver shot, as well as other opponents who have effectively taken aim at Thurman’s midsection.
“We’ve seen the body punches that have landed on Keith Thurman, particularly the one that Luis Collazo landed. … Going to the body is essential,” Porter says. “When a guy punches with me, I want to hurt him. If Keith’s willing to trade, then I expect to get the best of those exchanges.”
Thurman and Porter share a mutual opponent in Julio Diaz, a two-time 135-pound champion who fought Porter twice, earning a split draw in December 2012 and losing a unanimous decision in September 2013 in a pair of 10-rounders. Following the latter bout, Diaz was sent into retirement by Thurman, getting floored once during a third-round stoppage loss in April 2014.
So who does the only pro who has been in the ring with Porter and Thurman favor in what many believe will be a tough, competitive, toss-up of a fight?
“Shawn Porter is a moving target. He’s more complex and bends really low, and he’s always in your chest,” Diaz says. “I think he can disarm Keith Thurman, who needs a stationary target, and stay away from danger.
“Keith Thurman hurt me with a good body shot and injured my ribs. [But] I’m a slower, older fighter, and Porter’s not as easy a target as me. He’s sharp and in his prime. Thurman’s an aggressive bully, but once he gets pushed back, if Porter stays in his chest, Thurman will break.”
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