The most difficult challenge one encounters when trying to write about a PBC card is resisting the temptation to discuss all the associated politics and machinations. This Saturday’s welterweight bout between Keith Thurman and Luis Collazo makes that task almost impossible, frankly because the main event seems so irrelevant and predictable on paper that there’s not much to say about it. If an interesting boxing match is only so if it carries the promise of conflict and the threat of an unexpected resolution, then Thurman vs Collazo falls spectacularly short of that standard.
That is largely because of what Thurman’s ring exploits, limited as they are, have demonstrated about his prowess. An undefeated welterweight with 21 knockouts in 25 victories, “One Time” Thurman offers fans on both sides of the aisle at the temple of The Sweet Science something to wonder at. His nimble feet and sharp mind make him a more than competent boxer, but his explosive fists are what usually close the show. Emphatic victories over Diego Chaves, Jesus Soto Karass and Robert Guerrero proved his talent and his versatility and bolstered his case as an elite welterweight, if not one of the most gifted boxers in the game today.
What’s frustrating is that such a case will remain inconclusive for the time being, since disposing of Luis Collazo—a 34-year-old southpaw one fight removed from a virtual shutout against Amir Khan—will tell us nothing we don’t already know about Thurman. No disrespect to Collazo, but facts are facts. His biggest career performance is either a second-round KO of a post-Mayweather-meltdown Victor Ortiz, or a dubious points loss to Andre Berto. Even putting that aside, it’s hard to tell how exactly Collazo could threaten Keith, as he’s never shown consistent knockout power, or the kind of relentless aggression that could test his opponent’s mettle.
So you can be excused for concluding Thurman vs Collazo is not a very good matchup, something which the twitterverse almost instantly agreed on the moment the fight was announced. Incidentally, that’s a feeling that “One Time” himself shares, as he disappointedly acknowledged that Collazo’s name was the only one offered him by Al Haymon if he wanted to see action during the summer. Seeing the risk of a prolonged period of inactivity should he veto the match, Thurman instead jumped at the chance to headline a card in his home state to be broadcast on free TV.
And who can blame him? While it’s true lots of people are in the process of suing Al Haymon and his PBC business, his fighters are definitely not part of that mob. This is because no matter what laws and regulations Mr. Haymon may be flouting, the one thing he’s never accused of doing is underpaying his charges. If anything, one could easily argue Haymon-affiliated fighters are overpaid, especially when taking into consideration the risk factor involved in his matchmaking, where the A-side and the B-side are always very easy to distinguish.
And such is the case this Saturday, with Thurman playing the role of the young, rising star, fighting in front of a home crowd and headlining his second PBC event. As the star of the show, all Thurman has left to do is take care of business against Collazo. And it would be tempting to interject here that bigger and better things await Thurman once he clears this weekend’s less-than-daunting hurdle. But given Haymon’s history of matchmaking, it’s hard to say whether that’s actually the case for Thurman, whose recent comments hint at frustration at the fact he’s unable to secure truly meaningful fights.
Thurman’s case, specifically, speaks to a key issue in Haymon’s plan to dominate boxing, one which could significantly hamper his efforts to gain new converts to the sport. If an elite boxer like Thurman is not competing in order to go on to dominate his division, then what is he doing? What’s it all about? If new fans are expected to tune in regularly to boxing shows, they’re going to have to be lured by a very basic premise: competition. And if those new fans know little about boxing but are intrigued by PBC, the first questions that pop into their minds will be: Who is the champion? and Who can beat the champion?
But the PBC universe, as mandated by its business plan, exists on a plane of its own, separate from non-Haymon-affiliated boxers and promoters, and thus negates the existence of champions outside its own boundaries. Fans who pay regular attention to boxing know this to be bullshit of the highest order, but Haymon is not trying to court those who are already watching; he’s trying to appeal to those who haven’t paid attention to boxing in decades, if ever. And those poor souls don’t know any better either, which can work great for Haymon and his backers, but only for so long. Because the truth is that unless PBC starts putting some context around its fighters’ careers and finding a narrative that unifies its broadcasts, all the marketing dollars and production muscle in the world won’t turn crappy matchmaking into anything resembling a money-making machine.
Fans of the sport, old and new, better hope Haymon’s plan involves more than just developing a bunch of A-sides with nowhere to go. Otherwise, our Saturdays threaten to offer little more than irrelevant mismatches, glitzy graphics, and a healthy dose of nostalgia for the good old days before Mr. Haymon came around. — Rafael Garcia