I’ve been decompressing since my trip to Peru a few weeks ago, and since then there’ve been a lot of interesting fights, just not a lot of significant results. For example, the recent showdown between Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman proved to be nothing less than what we’d hoped (for the most part). The two former sparring partners went at each other with full ferocity for 12 rounds.
Porter was especially aggressive, using risky lunges to overcome Thurman’s distinct reach advantage. The technique worked successfully, reducing Thurman’s output without putting Porter in real danger. In fact, Porter landed as many or more flush shots than his opponent, but none were as effective as Thurman’s hardest shots. While I think Thurman deserved the win, the cards were a little skewed by my recollection, and his performance was certainly discouraging to anyone who expects to see Thurman become the standout welterweight in the sport. Fighting as he did against Porter, we can imagine similar problems against other fighters like Danny Garcia, Errol Spence Jr. or even Lamont Peterson. I don’t include Khan in the list because while Khan could cause Thurman problems, he’s not likely to get the fight, and if he did, he’d be difficult for entirely different reasons. The fight failed to show any improvement for Thurman, and even seemed to obscure his already confirmed talents, but the resulting stagnation also affected Porter. While Porter’s performance was impressive based on our expectations, a loss against a lazy Thurman won’t keep anyone at the top of the division for long. Despite the entertainment value, the fight doesn’t affect either fighter’s career much.
Thurman is still very young, though, and at least gives the impression of being hungry not only to win but to learn more after each fight. If he’s sincere in his philosophical opposition to fighters like Amir Khan, he could keep improving and keep winning, and maybe even make it to the top one day. If I were in his corner after the fight against Porter, I’d be telling him to work on two things: distance and timing. Thurman uses his reach effectively when his opponent doesn’t try to take it away from him using timing and aggression, but when he’s forced to adapt, Thurman struggles. Gaining confidence in his punches at full extension would make Thurman’s whole arsenal more formidable, and it would improve his ability on the outside tenfold. Rhythm is an asset that can change the momentum of a fight immediately. Some of the best fighters of our era, like Klitschko, Mayweather, Alvarez and Golovkin routinely give away the first 2-4 rounds in order to get a sense for how their opponents move and react. Then, when they hit their “rhythm,” they’re unstoppable. Thurman’s timing is impeccable and it’s usually noticeably superior to any opponent’s timing, and his speed is always on par. What Thurman has showed less of in recent fights, and failed to show at all in his bout against Porter, is rhythm. He needs to be able to fall back on muscle memory and a comfortable routine sometimes so he’s not always trying to improvise. Oh, yeah. And, you’re not Mayweather: keep your hands up.
Tonight Chris Arreola will serve as replacement for Deontay Wilder’s previous opponent, Alexander Povetkin. Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance before the fight against Wilder in May, so Wilder started looking for replacements. Chris Arreola, who has admitted how undeserving he his of the title shot, will once again give his all against a physically superior fighter. In the past when he’s been met with top opposition, Arreola has shined, showing his world-class heart and chin. At other times, against lesser, sometimes much lesser opponents, Arreola has looked like what you would expect from his someone in his physical form: lazy, slow, dangerous only for a few seconds at a time. My theory is that such a rare opportunity will inspire Arreola to perform the more way he did in the years when he kept coming up as mandatory title challenger year after year. Unfortunately for him, nobody really expects Arreola to do well enough to win or even make it through 12 rounds. For Wilder, this is one more box checked in his route to the top of the division, and at least he’s fighting someone with real experience and talent. Some day soon, we can hope, we’ll get to see him silence the intolerable Tyson Fury and bring American heavyweights back to prominence.
Rather than focus our attention on superfights and hypotheticals, though, we should really be appreciating the small things in our sport of kings. There may be no fantasy fight on the horizon, but the Olympic games begin in less than three weeks and for the first time we’ll see professional boxers fighting for their countries (with no headgear) against the new generation of pugilists. America’s beacon of hope from the last summer games, Errol Spence Jr., is still going strong, building his talent and making a name for himself in the hottest division in the sport. The talent pool is calming down and the detritus is settling to the bottom.