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The Return of the King

As the once unified welterweight champion returns to the ring, what can he expect waiting for him in the sport’s most talented division? And what can we expect of him?

By John Zemel   - @intuboxing

The last time we saw Keith Thurman, he was on top of the world. He had just unified the welterweight division, picking up his second championship belt with a split decision win over Danny Garcia. In the fight before that, he fought an incredibly close battle against Shawn Porter to retain his WBA welterweight belt. He was the greatest welterweight boxer on the planet, a pound for pound darling who dazzled boxing fans with his knockout power as much as his natural charisma. He was calling out Floyd Mayweather and had seemingly every ingredient needed to be boxing’s next welterweight superstar.

What happened next was not your typical fall from grace. The nearly two years that followed found the man they call “One Time” cancelling event after event due to various injuries. He has now been inactive for 23 months going into this weekend’s return to the ring against Josesito Lopez. He has had surgery on his elbow and rehabilitation for a deep bruise on his hand. He has watched his WBC belt be stripped from him and given to a familiar foe. It’s impossible to know if the Keith Thurman that we knew two years ago still exists.

Even if he does, he is now returning to a very different welterweight division than the one that he left. There are some familiar names with new accolades and new names with sterling resumes attached.  The current WBC champion is the aforementioned Shawn Porter, who won the vacant belt by defeating Danny Garcia last year. The former undisputed, unified 140-lb. champion, Terence Crawford has since moved into the welterweight division and wasted no time making his presence known. His first fight in that division saw him defeating Jeff Horn for the WBO welterweight championship and he has already defended it once against the much bigger, but outclassed, Jose Benavidez Jr. He is ranked in the top 3 on every reputable pound for pound list you could possibly find and he might not even be the best fighter in the division. That distinction could very well belong to IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., whose knockout power and natural size has made him the “boogeyman” of the welterweight division. 

Keith Thurman has watched the division that he once ruled over move on without him, becoming the most talent rich division in the sport with some of the biggest names. Can he reclaim his status as the greatest welterweight on the planet, and if so, would it mean that much more now? Does that version of Keith Thurman even still exist? Our first glimpse at the answers to these questions comes this Saturday, as he puts his WBA welterweight championship belt on the line against Josesito López at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This sport, and its fans, have waited long enough.