What Keith Thurman’s Win Means for the Future of the Welterweight Division
When Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia fought at the Barclays Center on March 4, it was the third time in boxing history that two undefeated welterweights faced each other in a title unification fight. Garcia put his WBC welterweight title on the line and Thurman his WBA title. The fight held huge implications for the division. Thurman showed he was the more mobile and athletic fighter. At 147 pounds, Garcia cannot succeed with the same low punch output he had at 140, since he isn’t a knockout puncher at welterweight. He failed to attack Thurman with his jab, and continued to wait for Thurman’s attack, searching for an opportunity to counter. Garcia began engaging more and leading with his jab during the closing rounds, but it was too late. Thurman won by split decision, retaining his WBA belt and earning Garcia’s WBC belt. The judges scored the fight 116-112 and 115-113 for Thurman, and 115-113 in favor of Garcia.
Angel Garcia, Danny Garcia’s father and trainer, refused to acknowledge Thurman’s victory, and didn’t request a rematch at the post-fight press conference. He said that he wanted his son to retire, but at 28 years old, Garcia is too young to consider retirement. Contrary to what Angel said in the post-fight press conference, he later said he wanted a rematch on his personal instagram page.
Thurman now has great leverage in the welterweight division, holding both the WBA and WBC welterweight world title belts. There are many paths he can take after his big win. Three probable options for him are a rematch against Garcia, fighting the winner of Kell Brook vs. Errol Spence, or facing WBA regular champion Lamont Peterson. The most enticing choice from a fan’s’ perspective is a potential clash against the winner of Brook vs. Spence. Garcia vs. Thurman was marketed as a fight to decide the world’s best welterweight, but there remain lingering doubts over whether Thurman is the best. Thurman and the winner of Brook vs. Spence would be a fight for welterweight supremacy. If the fight materializes, the winner will hold three welterweight world championship belts. Thurman will put his WBA and WBC belts on the line, and either Brook’s or Spence’s IBF belt will be on the table.
Floyd Mayweather clearly left a void for the welterweight division to fill when he retired. The division is arguably boxing’s most elite and competitive, with many viable fighters capable of achieving welterweight supremacy. With Manny Pacquiao approaching retirement very soon, the field is wide open for Thurman, Brook and Spence. Most fans would agree that Thurman, Brook, and Spence are the best welterweights. Not only are these fighters talented, but they are in their primes and have bright futures ahead of them. If Brook beats Spence in May, Thurman cannot let a fight against Brook wait, since Brook is soon to leave the division due to his challenges making the 147 pound limit.
On the other hand, Spence has the potential to be a dominant force at welterweight for the foreseeable future. He has been a sleeper for a long time, and many believe he will eventually be considered the best welterweight if not the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Spence has a respectable amateur pedigree, having reached the quarterfinals at the London Olympics in 2012 and winning the United States Championship in 2011. He is an athletic fighter with great hand speed, footwork, and punching power. He has also beaten fighters that Garcia and Thurman have faced, in more impressive fashion. Thurman, billed as a knockout artist, could not stop Leonard Bundu before the final bell in December of 2013, while Spence knocked out Bundu in the 6th round last summer. In a tune-up fight to his match against Thurman, Garcia knocked out Samuel Vargas in the 7th round, while Spence was able to knock Vargas out by round 4 in 2015. Spence will undoubtedly face his toughest opposition yet this May against Sheffield’s Kell Brook, and a win against Brook will put any doubts aside regarding his ring capabilities.
But the fate of the welterweight division is in Thurman’s hands. He can make this year the most exciting in recent memory by facing the winner of Brook vs Spence, or he can coast the rest of the year after his big win against Garcia. It is rare for a fighter to take on two high-risk fights in one year, but if there is a fighter willing and able to do so, it is Keith Thurman. He fought two top-level welterweights in his last two fights, Garcia and Shawn Porter, and he consistently claims that he is not afraid to risk his undefeated record. Thurman is a genuine boxing fan, and wants the big fights to show his skills. If he remains true to his boasts, he will fight the winner of Brook vs. Spence in what will be the biggest fight of the year.