Thurman faces Diaz to 'stay busy'

While waiting for a big name, the 147-pound interim titlist takes on veteran foe.

Originally Published: April 24, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

The welterweight division is one of the most talent-rich in boxing, as it includes pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather as well as Manny Pacquiao.

Most of the top names have either just had significant bouts or they have marquee matchups on the schedule. And then there is Keith Thurman, whose nickname "One Time" refers to his ability to knock an opponent out with one punch.

It's also made Thurman, one of the rising stars of boxing, tough to match in a significant fight. Either the titleholders and contenders were already scheduled in other fights or they simply turned down offers to fight Thurman.

"For a few years, Paul Williams was known as the most-avoided fighter in boxing," Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said. "And now when you mention Keith Thurman's name, a lot of these guys act like they didn't hear you or that I speak Chinese."

Schaefer did not want to name names, although it's already been established that Robert Guerrero and Zab Judah, just two examples, declined fights with Thurman.

"I don't want to throw anyone under the bus, but nobody is beating down my office door to fight this guy," Schaefer said. "I understand why."

But Thurman is not about to sit around waiting for a big fight, and Golden Boy doesn't expect him to, which is why the Clearwater, Fla., native will fight what most would consider a stay-busy fight when he defends his interim welterweight title against former two-time lightweight titleholder Julio Diaz on Saturday night (Showtime, 9:30 ET/PT, with preliminary bout on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 ET/PT) at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

"We know Julio Diaz has the heart of a champion. He's a two-time champion," Thurman said. "But he's a measuring stick. It's not the best fight out there for me, but it's not the worst. There's reasons why it was made. [Golden Boy and Showtime] want to see how I do compared to how Shawn Porter and Amir Khan did against him. And Diaz wants to prove he can beat a young gun."

In the co-feature, junior welterweight contender Lucas "The Machine" Matthysse (34-3, 32 KOs), of Argentina, returns from his decision loss to 140-pound champion Danny Garcia in September to take on John Molina (27-3, 22 KOs), of Covina, Calif., in a scheduled 10-round fight.

Lightweight titleholder Omar Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs), of Weslaco, Texas, returns from a nine-month layoff and hand injuries to make his first defense against amateur nemesis Jerry Belmontes (19-3, 5 KOs), of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the opening bout.

Diaz has become something of a welterweight division gatekeeper in recent years. He's experienced, tough and has just enough left to cause some issues if an opponent takes him lightly.

Although he is 0-2-1 in his past three fights, he fought to a draw in December 2012 with Porter (who later claimed a world title and has become one of the division's hottest fighters) and while he lost a decision last April to former junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, he dropped Khan and made him looked bad in the 12-round loss on Khan's turf in England. In his most recent fight, in September, he lost a decision to Porter in a rematch.

"This is what we call a measuring stick opponent because of his two performances with Shawn Porter and against Amir Khan, and some believe the fight with Khan should have been a draw or gone to Diaz," Thurman said. "He has had three fights in a row against top 10 [welterweights]. I know Julio Diaz wants to prove that he has what it takes to beat another top 10 welterweight, me."

Said Diaz, "They say I have no chin, but since moving to 147 [in 2012], I haven't been dropped. I haven't even been moved. I definitely feel I beat Porter the first time, but they called it a draw. In the second fight he outpointed me but in both fights I know I hurt him, and I dropped him. People forget that, and look at Porter now. His status has really grown.

Still, many view Saturday's fight as a mismatch because Diaz has been knocked out five times, but Thurman said it's not his fault that top opponents would not face him.

Shawn Porter v Julio Diaz
Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsJulio Diaz, left, is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Shawn Porter last September.

"The fact that [Golden Boy and Showtime] put me in the main event is how they made up for not getting me one of those elite fights," said Thurman, whose only other main event appearance was an untelevised fight in his hometown several years ago. "It's the second quarter of 2014 and there are a lot of great fights that got made and I happen to be floating around in the air. Some guys don't want to fight me. It's like when you go to the casino and you play 21 and the dealer shuffles the cards and then removes the top card from the deck and nobody gets to see it. I'm that card right now.

"But after Saturday and the Mayweather-[Marcos] Maidana fight next Saturday, there's going to be a reshuffle of the deck and I will be in the mix for one of those elite fights. I know Golden Boy, Showtime and [adviser] Al Haymon have a lot of faith in me. Golden Boy was doing their best to put me in a good fight, but guys were going to the left and to the right and Richard said, 'It's hard to find Keith Thurman a foe.' "

Diaz said he was willing to take the fight because he knows how much a victory against Thurman would bolster his career.

"Going against Thurman is a very dangerous opportunity for me, but one I have to take," Diaz said. "I have to take a big risk in any fight that comes my way to get the big reward. Keith Thurman is for real. He's getting all the attention. But that's the way it always is before my fights. Let's see what they're saying after our fight on Saturday."

Thurman (22-0, 20 KOs) said he is willing to be patient waiting for a big fight. He knows he only established himself over his previous four fights, a fourth-round knockout of former titlist Carlos Quintana, a shutout decision against former titlist Jan Zaveck, a 10th-round knockout of Diego Chaves to win the interim belt in a thrilling fight last summer and a ninth-round knockout in his first defense against Jesus Soto Karass in an another exciting fight in December.

"It's frustrating to a degree," Thurman said. "But I have a level head. I tell myself, 'You're young in the sport, just 25. A lot of these top guys are in their 30s.' The second thing I tell myself when it comes to missing big money-making opportunities is that Burger King doesn't worry about what McDonald's makes. Burger King is just trying to make more money than last year. That's what I'm trying to do. As long as I get to live my dream, to perform on these major networks, I will stay happy and humble and look forward to every opportunity I get in the sport. I will stay patient."

One thing Thurman would like to do is get a knockout against Diaz (40-9-1, 29 KOs), 34, of Coachella, Calif. "I'm coming into my own. I feel good in there and I want to be one of the best fighters in the world, so you have to be willing to learn and adapt and grow," Thurman said. "I don't believe that you have seen the best of Keith Thurman but I believe I am a fighter in the making. I'm a terrific fighter now, but just wait to tomorrow. I'm always trying to find a way to stop every man who steps in the ring with me, but I box smart in the process. Julio Diaz will be no different.

"The one thing Porter and Khan did not do was make Julio Diaz hit the floor. They were unable to stop him and even unable to knock him down. I'm looking forward to creating a knockdown if not a knockout come Saturday night."

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