We need to talk about Keith

Hi Al,

You probably don’t remember me, but we crossed paths two summers ago in San Antonio during the first Knockout Kings card. I noticed you and was slightly intimidated, I must admit, by your authoritative air, as we passed each other and exchanged nods on our way to our respective ringside seats during one of the preliminary bouts. Man, was that night a hot one! A warm, clear evening, perfect for enjoying some serious fisticuffs while putting back a few cold ones.

Anyway, I’m glad to see you’re doing well and that you agreed to meet up. I promise I won’t take much of your time. If I could I would’ve done this via email, or even twitter, but you’re a hard guy to reach, Al. Actually, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but word on the street is the Unabomber has nothing on you when it comes to avoiding contact with the outside world. But that’s a whole other discussion.

You see, Al, I’ve been meaning to talk to you because, quite frankly, I’m rather concerned about the way you’re managing your ever-growing, ever-grateful stable of high priced talent, and I’m specifically disenchanted with the way a very special prizefighter’s career is being managed by you, or your minions, or someone working in that plush, luxuriously appointed office of yours.

Al Haymon

What’s that, Al? Oh! Yes, yes. I know. You’re absolutely right: I’m nothing but a lowly writer—for an independent boxing website, no less! What the hell do I know about managing a stable of prizefighters, right? I hear you loud and clear, Al. However, I must insist that you sit and listen for just a second while I make my case. Who knows? You may find I have a valid point to make.

Now, where was I? Oh, right: I was about to talk to you about Keith and his predicament. What do you mean, “Keith who?” Why, Keith Thurman, of course! No idea who I’m talking about, huh? Don’t you remember that card in San Antonio and his amazing performance against Diego Chaves? God damn it, Al! Well, now that I think about it, with the way things are going for the poor guy, I’m not surprised you can’t remember his name, even though you’re his manager, or advisor, or guru, or whatever the hell these guys you sign up are legally supposed to call you.

Let me help you out a bit: he has long hair, which he usually braids for his fights, and he keeps a trimmed beard which always looks extra-shiny and ultra-manly under the bright Showtime lights. He’s an undefeated welterweight, and his nickname’s The Thurminator! Isn’t it awesome? What’s that? None of this is ringing any bells? Wow. What a shame. I was kinda hoping you’d tell me you came up with that nickname yourself. It’s so badass!

Anyway, before you start thinking you’re about to endure a long, deranged monologue from yet another jaded, unsatisfiable fight fan, let me make it clear this is not coming just from me, Al. There are lots of people out there on whom Keith has made a hell of an impression. And this is what makes it so difficult for us to understand why this guy can’t get headliner status—or even a decent fight for that matter—while a guy like Andre Berto consistently got every break imaginable and then some, mainly thanks to your invaluable help. Really, Al, how can you have no idea how special this kid is? He’s young, he’s talented, he’s just now hitting his prime, and he’s aching for a real challenge. This guy is as ready to take over the welterweight field as Patton was to take Casablanca!

To better illustrate my point—and because Keith’s case seems as alien to your mind as a VHS tape is to my 12 year-old nephew—let me give you a bit of backstory:

Going back to that warm night in San Antonio, I remember watching Keith’s performance against Diego Chaves from ringside and getting that rare feeling a fight fan gets when he discovers something special. If you can remember that match at all, you’ll recall that for the first couple of rounds Keith and Diego lashed out at each other as if they were trying to re-enact one of the more violent battles from The Gladiator. The feeling of danger that emanated from each of their exchanges was palpable, and their fearless trading made for such a thrilling show that the fans who got to the arena early enough to catch this fight were whooping and hollering like macaques during mating season.

Thurman lands a hook on Chaves

But as entertaining as those opening moments were, what followed was infinitely more interesting. Soon enough Keith realized—like so many before him and so many since—that mindlessly trading leather with a strong-fisted Argentine slugger isn’t the wisest course of action. And this is when I sensed the Thurminator’s operating system kick into a higher intellectual gear, as he then shifted from duking it out with Chaves to boxing him. Handling distance like a master surveyor and scoring again and again with straight, crisp punches, Keith also minimized Diego’s chances of getting back at him. I knew at the time that I was watching something beautiful, as I witnessed yet another demonstration of the dominance of brain over brawn, a dominance that—holding all other things equal—will always prevail.

But just as I thought the contest had been decided and that Thurman would be content to outbox Chaves to the final bell, a second transformation occurred. By this point it was clear Diego’s will to win had been subdued by Keith’s superior ring generalship and effective aggression. And the point was not lost on Keith himself, who after several rounds of pelleting Diego with strong, accurate punches, recognized the moment had arrived to put the finishing touches on his finest performance yet. And that he did, as Keith stepped on the gas again, went for the KO, and earned the stoppage, emphatically demonstrating his fistic talent and ring intellect make for a potent combination, especially when accompanied by the sort of finishing instinct that can produce 21 KOs in 23 fights.

Ever since, the belief that Keith Thurman will at some point become a major player in boxing has implanted itself in the minds of a large number of fight fans, notwithstanding the fact he’s clearly not your number one priority. The way he handled and dispatched Diego made a huge impression not only on me, but on the boxing audience at large. And because I’m a guy who gives credit where credit’s due, you (or your minions, or whoever came up with the idea of matching Keith with Diego in the first place) deserve some sort of award. That bout did wonders not only in terms of exposure for Thurman, but also for his development as a prizefighter.

All of which has made it unbearably painful to see what came next for Keith Thurman, which is a big fat bunch of nothing.

one time soto karass
“One Time” feasts on Soto Karass.

Ever since that performance in San Antonio, Thurman has faced a couple of unworthy opponents while we, or him, or you, wait for… what, exactly? To wit, last December Thurman faced a borderline-retiree in Jesus Soto-Karass, and his only other fight since was an embarrassing mismatch against Julio Diaz. To top it all off, we learn now that Keith’s opponent on December 13 is Leonard Bundu, a 39-year-old Italian gatekeeper who’s fought outside his native country only three times in 33 fights, never on North American soil, and whose biggest wins came against Lee Purdy and Frankie Gavin.

“Who?” is goddamn right, Al. So before you even start writing that memo commanding your PR team to start pumping out the hype, just don’t. Cuz there’s no way in hell Thurman vs. Bundu is an interesting match, or maybe even a fair one. The only thing this fight will accomplish is waste a little bit more of Keith’s prime, as well as my time.

So, seriously: what the hell is going on, Al? Are you having problems at home? Is the wife treating you right? Are you even married? If not, I’ll pay for your e-Harmony subscription. If yes, I’ll find you a good lawyer to expedite your divorce. Because, Al, things have got to change. There’s no way for me to know what it is that keeps you from seeing Keith’s potential, or how it’s going to waste, but I wish to high heaven things were different. This is all the more frustrating because I see you using your heft and cash to support lesser talents—it used to be Berto; now it’s the likes of Adrien Broner and Amir Khan—while you keep Keith warming the bench. Al, in all seriousness, it’s time to wake up: as talented as Keith Thurman is, he needs you to do your job to get where he’s destined to go.

Is Broner worthier of Haymon’s support than Thurman?

Listen to me, Al. All he needs from you is a chance. This guy’s the goods: he’s powerful, skilled, exciting, and he’s aching to take things to the next level. I’m guessing maybe you haven’t put your weight behind Keith because of your misguided business sense, which may be telling you that certain other assets deserve your uninhibited support, but not Keith. Going even further, you may also be understandably apprehensive about the possibility that Thurman may wreck some of your other investments if you actually unleash him on the rest of the welterweight division. And yes, I realize some of those other investments may, at the moment, look more profitable than Keith.

But let me assuage you: if that’s the way you’re thinking, you’re letting your short term fears get in the way of your long term success. Sure, if you let The Thurminator loose in your stable, there’s no telling the kind of damage he’ll inflict on the weakest of your precious protegés. But like Tyler Durden said: if you wanna make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs. Are you listening, Al? Is this getting through? Because trust me, Al: Keith Thurman can make one hell of an omelette. All you have to do, pal of mine, is give him a damn spatula and get the fuck out of the way.

–Rafael García

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