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Keith Thurman Back in the Welterweight Mix

What’s next for former champion Keith Thurman?

With doubts swirling about his commitment to boxing, former WBA and WBC welterweight champion, Keith Thurman, returned to the ring wars this past Saturday night against one-time WBA junior welterweight champion, Mario Barrios, in Sin City.

Thurman hadn’t boxed in 931 days. That computes to almost three years. Long time in boxing. Ring rust is always a concern. And perhaps the loss of an edge. Both are hard to get back.

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“The Greatest” Muhammad Ali was sidelined 43 months before returning against Jerry Quarry in 1970. No tune-up or middle-of-the-road opponent for Ali. Quarry was the number-one-ranked contender for heavyweight honors. Ali looked great for two rounds. Quarry did better in round three, until an Ali right opened up a deep cut over Quarry’s left eye.

The fight was over, Ali was back, but he’d never reach the heights of the amazingly talented version of his earlier self. He’d lost a step and had to adapt. Which he did phenomenally well.

I was an eyewitness to Andre Ward’s comeback after an 18-month layoff in 2015. He won, but something was amiss.

Ward admitted as much.

“It took some time to get the rust out,” Ward told www.boxingscene.com after the bout. Yep, it’s like the bat of an eye. Subtle, but there.

Thurman Effective in Return

Thurman looked sharp against gutsy Mario Barrios. He wobbled the “Aztec Warrior” with looping headshots. Complaints will come from those who feel Thurman should have stopped Barrios, as did the smaller Gervonta Davis six months ago, but that’s an apples and oranges debate.

Davis, who goes by the nickname of, “Tank,” is all about power. He’s starched 24 of 26 opponents. Thurman is more of a rhythmic fighter. When he finds his groove, he can dominate. He’s jazzy in there, not with power, but precision. His jab was on point Saturday night. He moved well, but the layoff reared itself late in the match. Thurman, though, won going away and expressed what he desires in the future.

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“I want the belts,” said Thurman. “I want the champions. I want to be back on top, so whoever is willing to send Keith Thurman the contract, let’s go. “This was a comeback fight after two and a half years away. I wish I had my best performance, but I did the best I could under the circumstances. I grade this performance a C+ or B- for myself!”

So, What’s Next?

Let’s take a look at the champions.

Yordenis Ugas holds the WBA strap. The Cuban native mopped the floor with future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao six months ago. The loss was enough to convince the 42-year-old to call it a career. Ugas kept his jab in Pacquiao’s face all night long. He clubbed him with range-finding rights. Pacquiao never wavered, but by the middle of the fight, looked all of his 42 years. Ugas has never received the respect he deserves. He arguably defeated Shawn Porter in 2020, but didn’t get the decision. He’s a tough out for any of the top fighters. His next fight is rumored to be with IBF and WBC titleholder, Errol Spence.

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The last three years have been horrific—and eventful—for the 32-year-old Spence. He survived a brutal single-car accident in 2019. Many said he’d never fight again. Spence stayed quiet, recovering slowly at home. Fourteen months after coming within inches of losing his life, Spence was back in the ring against former champion, Danny Garcia. Spence won going away, boxing more than what was expected. Spence was scheduled to face Pacquiao last June until an injury to the retina of his left eye postponed the fight. After surgery to repair the injury, Spence has been cleared by doctors to fight again.

Everyone and his mother have been clamoring for Spence to fight WBO champion Terence Crawford for four years. Words were exchanged, but the fight has never materialized.

Boxing thrives on battles between undefeated fighters. Think Ali versus Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Tommy Hearns. Spence and Thurman have never lost a fight. They’ve hardly been pushed. Still, no fight. Crawford put away Shawn Porter two months ago in Las Vegas. His performance was patient and systematic. He’s the assassin who hides in the shadows waiting for his prey to make a mistake. Then, he attacks.

Thurman is talented enough to compete with all the champions. His biggest victories have been over former champions Garcia and Porter.

Young gun Jaron “Boots” Ennis waits in the wings. Ennis might be the most gifted of all. He’s won 28 fights in succession, 26 by knockout. If Crawford is the assassin in the shadows, Ennis is the cobra, quick and deadly. Thurman has mentioned Ennis a few times. But obviously, he’s wary. He knows he’s out there.

Waiting.

Ennis wants a title. Look for him to pick one up this year.

Keith Thurman has many options. He wants the big fights now, which equates to big money. Makes sense. Thurman is 33. Time changes things. A fight with Crawford would be dynamic. Crawford is no kid either. He’s a year older than Thurman. Thurman could lobby for a fight against the winner of the Ugas versus Spence fight. Debatable whether he gets it. All the fans want is the best to fight the best. Doesn’t always happen.

Make it happen, Keith.

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