BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It took WBA welterweight champ Keith “One Time” Thurman of Clearwater all 12 rounds to unify two belts by outpointing WBC champ Danny Garcia of Philadelphia on March 4 at the sold-out Barclays Center.
The split decision (116-112 and 115-113 for Thurman, 115-113 for Garcia) made Thurman the first undefeated welter to beat another undefeated welter for a title since Felix Trinidad scored a majority decision over Oscar De La Hoya in 1999.
There was ample trash talking between the two 28 year olds in the months leading up to the fight and Thurman (28-0, 22 KO) had said before the bout that there’d be no “feel out” round in this match up.
True to his word, he came out after the opening bell every bit the aggressor, staying busy as he pestered Garcia (33-1, 19 KO) with loping rights and constant lateral movement. Thurman, who trains at the St. Pete Boxing Club, unloaded a strong uppercut and later in the round connected with an overhand right that stunned Garcia. Thurman came out in the second to back up Garcia by landing some more power punches, but Garcia snuck in a few counters in the process, as Thurman’s ardor to connect a big blow left him open and susceptible.
Though the action calmed down by the third, Thurman continued to frustrate Garcia with his lateral movement and managed to sneak in a strong right, yet Garcia did stay patient to find his openings, as in the fourth round when he went over the top to fire off a shot at Thurman’s head.
The next round found Thurman using his jab more, as he tried to set up his sweeping right hands, while in the sixth round Garcia finally started spotting some opportunities and taking some chances, as he landed more punches in the round for the first time in the entire fight (39 to Thurman’s 38).
Thurman responded in the seventh by chasing his opponent all around the ring, reasserting his role as the aggressor but during one trade off Garcia, who has a reputation for launching low blows and had connected with some beltline shots throughout the bout, snuck in a low blow that made referee Michael Griffin issue a warning.
Garcia managed to stop many of Thurman’s punches in the eighth as the fight became a defensive struggle. Even the largely pro-Garcia crowd began to boo, wanting more of the action that marked the earlier rounds. Thurman closed the round with a thunderous uppercut and the next round found Garcia looking to land on big blow, perhaps sensing that he was behind on points. Thurman waited his turn and responded by letting fly with a series of power punches from all angles, with uppercuts and rights finding their targets, and Garcia responded in kind as both 147-pounders swung for the fences before the round came to a close.
It evolved into more of a methodical fight by the 10th for Thurman but Garcia finally went on the offensive with a sense of purpose and urgency, taking more shots and doubling up on his jab, attempting to bust through Thurman’s defense.
By the 11th it was Thurman’s fight to win or lose —Thurman thought so anyway — as the WBA champ hopped on his bike to play “catch me if you can” with Garcia by backpedaling swiftly all around the ring. Garcia had trouble enough trying to corner or corral the speedy Thurman, let alone finding the chance to tag him with any effective punches. Shades of the 1999 Trinidad-De La Hoya “Fight of the Millennium” came to mind when De La Hoya, convinced he was too far ahead on points to lose the fight, stayed away from Trinidad in the final rounds, only to be handed a loss when the judges voted in favor of Trinidad after all.
During the final round, Thurman had some swelling underneath this left eye, but that didn’t stop him from seeing the finish line clearly. After stinging Garcia with a straight right, he went back to his tried-and-true lateral movement and refused to truly engage Garcia, just sticking and moving. The Philly fighter did attempt repeatedly to cut off the ring and corner Thurman, but could not catch up with him. The fight ended with a thunderous crescendo, with both fighters throwing everything they had at one another before the bell signaled the end.
Overall, it was a tactical fight in which Thurman and Garcia showed plenty of heart. Hardly a one-sided affair, Garcia actually landed a higher percentage of his punches (30 percent) as opposed to Thurman (26 percent), according to CompuBox statistics.
“The judges are judges, man,” Thurman told reporter Jim Gray immediately after the fight. “I thought I outboxed him, I thought it was a clear victory, you know, but Danny, he came to fight!”
The 16,533 fans on hand marked a boxing attendance record for Barclays Center as they witnessed just the 10th unification fight in the division’s history.
It was a good night for Florida fighters overall as 21-year-old Erickson Lubin of Orlando stopped Jorge Cota of Los Mochis, Mexico at 1:25 in the fourth round of their fight in the undercard action. He has the chance to become the youngest world champ in boxing today as he is now the No. 2 challenger to WBC welterweight champ Jermell Charlo, who is due a mandatory bout against the No. 1 contender Charles Hatley.