The beauty of Saturday night’s clash between WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman and former IBF champ Shawn Porter at Barclays Center is that it was the picture of boxing like it used to be. Two world-class fighters risked everything on CBS network TV with the hope of positioning themselves for more huge fights in a 147-pound division loaded with talent.
It was a refreshing change of pace from the manipulations of fighters, managers and promoters who only are interested in protecting records and avoiding challenges for as long as possible to the detriment of the sport. A matchup between fighters with such aggressive styles as Thurman and Porter also figured to raise the entertainment value compared to the defensive clinics staged by retired welterweight king and recognized pound-for-pound champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“I’m just happy with this new chapter,” Thurman said before the bout. “It’s out with the old [Mayweather] and in with the new. You’ve got the next generation of boxing, and the welterweight division, I think, is going to be just as exciting if not more exciting.”
Thurman observed that Mayweather’s style and avoidance of Pacquiao in his prime made it non-competitive. Pacquiao thrilled fans with his action style.
“The real excitement behind Manny Pacquiao was that he was a puncher,” Thurman said. “He was exactly what Floyd was not. Well, Keith Thurman is a puncher. [WBC champion] Danny Garcia is a puncher, [IBF champion] Kell Brook has a decent punch. We have a lot of young talent, and everybody is in their prime.
“I don’t know if it’s going back to the golden times of boxing, but it feels like we’re on the right path.”
Besides the champions he named and his opponent Porter, Thurman noted that young contender Errol Spence Jr. belongs in the mix to unify the welterweight titles as well as veterans such as Amir Khan and Adrien Broner along with WBC and WBO super lightweight champion Terence Crawford, who figures to move up from the 140-pound class in the future.
The circumstances for a revival comparable to the 1980s rivalries of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran at welterweight and, ultimately, middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler are in place. “The potential is great right now,” Thurman said. “I truly believe that.”
The key remains the willingness of all the top fighters, their managers, promoters and network backers to make best fights rather than seeking the path of least resistance. They must dare to take risks.
“It’s extremely important,” Thurman said. “What people need to do is stop trying to be a Mayweather. I think protecting your record is over. It’s time that the best fight the best. As true fight fans, that’s what you guys want to see.”
That was Thurman’s idealism. Porter, too, was hoping to regain a belt and work toward unification, but he expressed more skepticism about overcoming obstacles to the biggest fights.
“Even this fight took some time to make,” Porter said. “It’s not up to the fighters. We can say what we want, but we’ll get what we get sometimes.”
Both Thurman and Porter expressed hope that Mayweather might come out of retirement to put his 49-0 record on the line against the winner of their WBA title bout. It’s not out of the realm of possibility because all three are managed by Al Haymon. But a more likely scenario might see Mayweather patiently await the outcome of unification at 147 so he could have the opportunity to win one bout and say he beat the “next generation,” too.
Short of a Mayweather bout, Thurman expressed hope that WBC champ Garcia, another Haymon fighter, would be willing to enter a unification fight within a year. Thurman also said he’s “open-minded” to facing fighters represented by other promoters, such as IBF champ Brook, Crawford and veteran Timothy Bradley Jr.
Porter regarded the Thurman bout as the most important of his career, especially because it had the potential to give boxing fans someone new to talk about. “I think we will both make a statement there’s more than Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao,” Porter said. “There’s ‘Showtime’ Shawn Porter and Keith ‘One-Time’ Thurman. And we’re able to say, ‘You guys continue to watch because there’s some guys a lot like us. They’re not us, but they’re coming.’”