Last night at the MGM Grand of Las Vegas, welterweights Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero headlined Al Haymon’s first foray intro free TV. Heralded as professional boxing’s triumphant return to prime time TV, and broadcast over NBC’s airwaves, hopes were high that The Thurmanator and The Ghost would deliver an exciting bout that would please fight fans and gain new adherents to the sweet science. The encounter also represented a crossroads: should the up-and-coming Thurman best a tough veteran like Guerrero, he would be making a strong claim as an elite 147-pounder. On the other hand, a victory for Guerrero would revitalize his career, which veered off-track after his defeat to Floyd Mayweather.
Keith Thurman entered the bout as a clear favourite, with few insiders giving Guerrero a shot at the upset. Nonetheless, Thurman’s renowned punching power was expected to meld with Guerrero’s offensive stylings to produce an appealing battle. Supported by a junior-welterweight meeting between Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr., the stage was set for Keith and Robert to market themselves to a broad audience and make their names resonate beyond the cable network platform on which they used to ply their trade.
At the sound of the opening bell, it was Keith Thurman who came out with guns blazing, launching dangerous power shots at Guerrero, who evaded them as best he could and then countered from his southpaw stance. Soon enough, Thurman found his distance and began throwing quick, snappy combinations to The Ghost’s head and body, scoring the most telling blows and outworking the former featherweight. The Thurminator–who sported a huge bump on his forehead since early on due to a clash of heads–clearly won most of the early and middle rounds, but Guerrero kept fighting back and remained game throughout.
Round nine marked a turning point, as Thurman pelleted Robert’s visage with accurate punches, even cutting him above the left eye. Towards the end of the round, Keith landed a powerful left hook followed by a right uppercut that staggered Guerrero and dropped him to the canvas. Taking as much time as possible before rising back up, The Ghost would go on to survive Keith’s charge for the rest of the round. At the beginning of the tenth, Keith continued his assault, but Guerrero proved once again his durability in withstanding the onslaught, then pushing Thurman back to the ropes and unloading combinations up- and downstairs, in what was easily the most exciting and competitive round thus far.
Keith regained control of the bout in rounds ten and eleven, sharpshooting from a distance and exercising great mobility all over the ring while Guerrero stalked ineffectively, looking to land something big to change his fortune. Round twelve saw big exchanges, with Guerrero vehemently pursuing the knockout, while a tired Thurman countered as best he could, knowing all he needed to do was wait for the final bell. In the end, the scorecards awarded Keith a wide unanimous decision that didn’t fully portray all the action that took place in the fight, especially in its last third.
The Take Away
With his latest victory, Keith Thurman adds to his case as a top attraction in the packed welterweight division, and the hope is he will keep this momentum going in what remains of the year. Last night, The Thurmanator once again showcased his athleticism and punching power, flooring a tough, proven competitor in Guerrero, and executing a highly-mobile style that makes him stand out from other powerful punchers. Guerrero tested him in the late rounds, pressuring him and connecting with solid blows when exhaustion was beginning to set in, but Thurman passed the test with flying colours, standing his ground against Robert’s late surge.
The lack of a knockout will be decried only by the harshest of critics, and in a way it’s more valuable to know that Keith can go the distance against a top welterweight than to see him score an early knockout. Thurman also proved his mettle by dominating the fight despite the grotesque bump on his forehead, and by withstanding Guerrero’s best shots. In short, the sky is the limit for the 26-year-old Thurman, who may not be quite ready to face the likes of Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao just yet, but could be within one or two more big wins from doing so, perhaps against opponents like Marcos Maidana, Amir Khan, or Kell Brook.
Robert Guerrero will likely get another shot at a recognized name despite the loss, thanks to his solid performance and his graciousness in defeat. Al Haymon, who’s been buying more airtime from TV networks than he knows what to do with, will surely feature The Ghost in one of them in the near future, even if only in a supporting bout. For instance, if Adrien Broner–who couldn’t make the 140-pound limit for his fight last night–moves back up to welterweight in the near future, perhaps Guerrero would be a suitable opponent to welcome him back into the division. Other options include the winner of the upcoming Andre Berto vs Josesito Lopez bout, or even Shawn Porter, should he emerge victorious in his upcoming contest against Roberto Garcia.
Regarding the debut of the Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC, we have to admit the production value was top of the line, and the broadcast ran without a hitch. NBC did a good job in presenting the product and introducing the fighters to the public through montages and quick interviews before the fights. The only thing that could’ve been better was the quality of the fights themselves, since Thurman vs Guerrero was dangerously close to becoming a dull, one-sided fight until the knockdown shook up Guerrero. But much worse than that, the opening bout between Broner and Molina bordered on the unwatchable, with an inexplicably trigger-shy Molina and a Broner that refused to take any risks and cruised to victory in a boring, drama-free encounter. Alas, we can hardly blame the network or Al Haymon if the fighters don’t take more chances in front of the biggest TV audience they’ll ever command. If we’re lucky, future participants will take full advantage of the NBC platform to offer truly eye-catching performances that enhance their reputations, and that of the sport of boxing along with them.