It didn’t seem like much at first. A little soreness, a little stiffness—nothing that was any worse than after a hard day of sparring.
Then it got worse, and it got worse fast.
Keith Thurman was in camp and on track for his highly anticipated March 12 bout against Shawn Porter. It was all as smooth sailing as can be expected for a fighter on the grind. Then in mid-February, about a month out from his 147-pound world title defense, Thurman was headed to the gym with one of the younger guys he trains with. It had been raining in western Florida, and Thurman was driving his new Mustang.
The combination of rain and oil on the roads and a rear-wheel-drive car played out in an unfortunate way when Thurman went over a puddle: The car hydroplaned, and after a collision, the side airbag deployed.
Thurman was shaken, but he got out of the car, was able to walk around just fine and declined any kind of medical attention at the scene.
“The airbag probably did most of the damage,” he reflected. “It hit me upside of my head—hit me harder than most fighters wish they could. It was like having my hands down being at a bar and enticing Marcos Maidana to hit me three times with overhand rights.”
Thurman took a day to rest and then went back to work. When it came time to spar again, though, that’s when the effects of the accident became apparent. Thurman’s neck locked up on him, which is a scary enough proposition for anyone, let alone a fighter with one of the biggest bouts of his career rapidly approaching.
A chiropractor told him he had whiplash. Thurman’s physician ordered X-rays and an MRI, which showed microtears in the tendons of his neck. Two different doctors confirmed what Thurman’s chiropractor suspected: The fight against Porter was going to have to be postponed.
“That was a horrible day for me,” Thurman said. “[My chiropractor] understands boxers really well. Sometimes fighters can fight with certain things that they can deal with in training camp, but two things you don't want to deal with going into a fight are a shoulder injury and a neck injury. I was hoping I’d be able to move around decently, that I’d be able to brush this off. That first day was very emotional.
“In retrospect, [postponing the fight] was a necessary thing. Injuries do happen in sports. Within the next couple of days I was laughing with my coach on the phone. I said, 'I can't help it, I wake up every morning and I still put on gym clothes.'”
Two different physicians told Thurman he’d need six to eight weeks to recover. He jumped right into physical therapy, but he’s still more than a week away from beginning strength and conditioning exercises. The range of motion in his neck is just now returning.
He'll first resume light workouts, followed by roadwork and jumping rope. If all goes well with that, Thurman will add shadowboxing, the heavy bag and, finally, sparring.
Thurman was eager to jump right back into shadowboxing, but his doctor shot down that idea quickly, afraid that Thurman could reinjure himself. The good news, though, is that after Thurman recovers and the Porter fight is rescheduled, doctors told him there’s no reason he can’t fight twice this year.
“Things are flowing smoothly,” he said. “I keep getting better results week by week. It is incremental, and it is layering. Luckily we do see those signs and we are not stagnant. It’s good. I’m relaxed.
"I’m looking forward to making this fight happen but definitely taking the recommended six to eight weeks that is necessary for my recovery and the healing process.”
So far, there have only been preliminary discussions about a new date for Thurman-Porter. It all comes down to how quickly Thurman bounces back from the injuries. He figures a 10-week camp would give him enough time to train properly, but be gradual enough to accommodate the recovery process.
If there’s one thing the accident didn’t derail, though, it’s Thurman’s competitive fire. Porter’s father and trainer, Kenny, was vocal immediately after learning about the accident, saying he wanted to see proof that it had actually occurred. Kenny Porter’s insinuation—that Thurman was looking for a way out of the fight—didn’t set well with the 147-pound champ.
“I’ve heard Kenny’s remarks,” he said. “I got a car that’s in the shop right now, bro. Nobody in the world has been afraid to fight your son. People have been beaten by your son, but nobody has been afraid to fight Shawn Porter.
“This is not fun. This is not what I wanted. At the end of the day, this is what has happened. It's a pushback, but it’s not a setback. We’ll be back in action soon. I’m really just focused on staying blessed, showing up to therapy and trying to recover as soon as possible.”