- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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After Keith Thurman disposed of Orlando Lora in the sixth round in July 2012, the loquacious Thurman called out Floyd Mayweather Jr., the pound-for-pound king and welterweight world champion, during his in-ring postfight interview.
Crazy talk, right?
After all, Thurman, an untested prospect at the time, had just ripped through a soft-touch opponent in his first premium cable television appearance, and now he wanted Mayweather -- the finest fighter in the world, not to mention the sport's biggest money maker?
It was a laughable suggestion, but it was hard to blame the excited young fighter for reaching for the stars.
Since that blowout of Lora, Thurman has continued to steadily develop, winning three more fights in dominant, fan-friendly fashion. He blitzed former welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana in four rounds, won a shutout decision against former titlist Jan Zaveck and then engaged in a rousing slugfest with Diego Chaves in San Antonio in July, eventually knocking out the previously undefeated Chaves in the 10th round to win an interim world title.
Thurman has looked good in his recent fights and begun to command more attention with each victory, especially because of his aggressive approach, powerful finishes (he isn't nicknamed "One Time" for nothing) and engaging personality outside of the ring.
Although a Mayweather fight still would appear to be a long shot in the short term, it doesn't sound as crazy now as it did 18 months ago. More likely is the prospect of Thurman facing any of the numerous top welterweights also aligned with his representative, Golden Boy Promotions. But Thurman isn't quite there yet.
Before any of those bigger fights can come to fruition -- say, against the winner of Adrien Broner-Marcos Maidana or Paulie Malignaggi -- Thurman has one more mountain to climb in Jesus Soto Karass, who has been on his own good run of late. Soto Karass, much like Thurman, is hoping an impressive win can put him in line for one of those main event-level bouts.
That is the backdrop to the Thurman-Soto Karass showdown Saturday night (Showtime, 8 ET/PT with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 6 ET/PT) at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Broner (27-0, 22 KOs) will make the first defense of his welterweight world title against former junior welterweight titlist Maidana (34-3, 31 KOs) in the main event.
"I can box. I can punch. I'm just ready for this fight," Thurman said. "I'm ready to plant my feet. I'm ready to throw the big punches. My nickname being 'One Time,' I'm always looking for that one shot. I love ending fights early. I love going home early and giving fans the knockout that they came to see.
"So I'm going to bring my best, I'm going to box sharp, I'm going to stay sharp. But I'm also going to be looking for those big punches."
Soto Karass is also coming to bang it out, as usual.
"I am going to bring it. I am coming to take that [interim] title back to Los Mochis, [Mexico]," Soto Karass said. "He has the same heart, but the difference is that I have bigger balls. I respect him, but once we get into the ring, I don't have that respect any more. My corner and myself will make adjustments once we get into the fight. I am going to war in the gym. I have bruises from the gym because I am preparing myself very well."
The winner almost assuredly will get a much bigger, more lucrative fight in his next outing. The big-punching Thurman (21-0, 19 KOs), 25, of Clearwater, Fla., is well aware of what Saturday's test means to his immediate future.
"This fight right here is what we call the icing on the cake," said Thurman, who sat out all of 2011 because of injuries. "This will get the job done, because after this year no one can say that Keith Thurman has not been tested, that they haven't put him in with anybody. As much as you want to say that, there's nobody besides champions. So I've been doing my thing, I've been passing every test, and I've got one more test to pass this year come [Saturday], and after that, hopefully the door will be wide open for that world title shot."
Thurman wasn't much of a boxing fan growing up, but when he discovered the sport -- and realized he was good at it -- he began to study past greats. He was impressed by many of the old-timers who would fight anybody. He said he is willing to do the same.
"It's the way that they fought; it's the way that they handled themselves, and the fact that they would accept anybody," Thurman said of the past greats. "All you had to do was walk up to them in the street and say, 'Yo, I'ma knock you out.' And they're saying, 'Where's the contract? Let's put one together right now.' So that was the main reason that kind of had me call out Floyd Mayweather on my first appearance on the big network [HBO]. Here I am, I'm a young dude coming up in the ranks, and I'm letting the whole world of boxing know who my actual target is.
"Doubt me as much as you want, but you are going to watch me through my career climb that ladder and get to the destination that I first saw, the one that I told you about, and that's Floyd 'Money' Mayweather. And Jesus Soto Karass is one of those stepping stones that I got to get by if I want to make those dreams come true."
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer heard Thurman call out Mayweather, and although he knew it wasn't a fight on anybody's radar, he admired Thurman's boldness.
"I don't blame him, and he's the kind of fighter who really means it," Schaefer said. "I mean, he's not afraid of anybody. He'll fight anyone, and anywhere, and any time. And usually for the ones he fights, it's one time because that's the only time they get a chance, and he'll knock them out. That's how exciting this guy is."
But Soto Karass (28-8-3, 18 KOs), 31, of Mexico, has his own ambitions. Although long considered a journeyman, Soto Karass is vastly experienced, and his career is on the upswing after two big wins in a row. He had an eye-opening decision victory against contender Selcuk Aydin in January followed by an upset 12th-round knockout of former titleholder Andre Berto in July in the main event of the card on which Thurman stopped Chaves.
"Mentally, I know that I need to train hard and be ready," Soto Karass said. "I need to be successful and win in order to provide for my family. There is no pressure. I know what I have to do. I have to attack and go to war in order to win this fight."
And for the winner, the prospect of a Mayweather fight down the road isn't out of the question.
"Everybody wants to fight him -- not just because of the money," Schaefer said of Mayweather. "But when you have an opportunity to go and test your skills against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, that's what the guys like Thurman want. That's what a Soto Karass wants as well. That is what gets them going.
"And who knows? I mean, if Soto Karass keeps on winning the way he's been winning, or if Keith Thurman keeps on ripping through the welterweight division, then yes, of course, at one point there will only be one man standing, and that one man standing will be Floyd Mayweather, and then you're going to get a fight like that done."
Keith Thurman and Jesus Soto Karass are on-the-upswing welterweights who are drawing nearer to the big fights they crave. On Saturday in San Antonio, they square off to determine who takes that next step.