Looking over the welterweight landscape, Saturday’s split decision victory over Danny Garcia could very well be the high-water mark win in Keith Thurman’s career—and that’s sad considering how it happened.
Yeah, Thurman won and remained undefeated. He added the WBC belt to his own WBA strap, too. But boxing needed a good and entertaining performance for this CBS showcase. After his compelling brawl with Shawn Porter last June and willingness to face fellow undefeated 20-something champ Garcia, boxing fans were willing to give Thurman a second look as a possible true star in the glamour division of welterweight.
Those fans who tuned in Saturday night were excited about sharing their sport with the world via primetime network exposure because the match-up was that good. And after the first couple of rounds, Thurman-Garcia wasn’t disappointing.
But then Thurman sucked the life out of the event.
After the third round, “One Time” became the “boxer” he always fancied himself to be and a nice brewing war slowly morphed into a big blob of nothingness.
Thurman made Garcia miss from the outside, then missed his own counters to Garcia’s misses. There was, almost literally, no action in this “Leonard-Hearns for the new millennium” once Thurman was encouraged to play prevent defense by trainer Dan Birmingham. Eventually, the crowd at the Barclays Center, which was buzzing with anticipation before the bout and up on its feet during exchanges in the first two rounds, began booing the nothingness they were seeing.
Garcia was clueless as to how to force Thurman into a fight and, maybe, even a smidge happy that Thurman wasn’t wanting to really fight. As the contest wore on, both fighters seemed to have the same strategy in mind—“Let me do as little as possible and hope the judges give me the decision.” The two prideful, undefeated warriors fought with little pride or concern for pushing for an emphatic, career-defining win.
Thurman had the world watching and had boxing fans, for the most part, wanting to make him the next big thing (or at least a big thing). He saw that he could hit and hurt Garcia early, yet he still opted to stink up the place…on CBS…for everyone to see…With this kind of tepid performance, Thurman has all but forfeited any chance at obtaining real star power. Other than the boxing die-hards who watch everything, anyway, who would want to see Thurman fight again based on what they saw Saturday night? The same could be said of Garcia. A fight that was supposed to elevate both winner and loser to next-level stardom actually may have slapped a cap on how high their stars will rise.
The saddest part of the whole thing was that, according to the overnight Nielsen TV ratings, people were watching as the Premier Boxing Champions telecast on CBS outdid the NBA on ABC in the all important 18-49 demographic. How many casual-curious sports fans were won over on Saturday by the hardcore fight fans’ heavily-anticipated showdown that delivered so little actual action? A good guess to that answer is: none.
If boxing operated like a real sport, the “W” would be good enough for Thurman. But boxing, in this day and age, needs to entertain, especially when it gets a rare chance to be exposed to an audience above and beyond the true believers who usually pay for the privilege of watching the sport. Thurman and his people should understand by now that a memorable performance is much more important to the sport and to his bottom line earning potential than a win on his ledger.
Thurman could’ve accomplished both victory and glory Saturday night…but by obsessing on the former, he forfeited the latter. And boxing, by not delivering a big night, wasted yet another opportunity to convert mainstream sports fans into fight fans.