Not surprisingly, Keith Thurman thinks highly of himself. He also has a vainglorious view as to why he’s landing coveted HBO slots. “The reason I’m on HBO is because I have knockout potential,” he explained to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “I’m here to give everybody a great, tremendous fight. I’m always trying to dismantle my opponent. That deserves respect,”
An impressive knockout over Jan Zaveck, whom he meets Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, would be the most noteworthy feat of Thurman’s career. Zaveck, 32-2, with 18 KOs, only lasted only five rounds against Andre Berto a year-and-a-half ago before his right eye ballooned too much for the ring doctor’s liking, but he proved mostly unmoved by flush shots and was undeterred by Berto’s superior athleticism. Those attributes alone are enough to provide a different look for Thurman, 19-0, with 18 KOs, whose resume is littered with chopping blocks and fall guys.
Beyond his sharp tongue and heavy hands, questions orbit around Thurman, fighting out of Clearwater, Florida. How does he react to a flush punch delivered by an opponent with pop? How would he hold up during the late stages of a grueling bout? Does he have the versatility to adjust his strategy after a pair of tough stanzas? Carlos Quintana was presumed to clarify at least one of those last November but offered little resistance before getting steamrolled and promptly announcing his retirement.
Thurman deserves credit for crushing the 36-year-old veteran, but while Zaveck is the same age as Quintana, he’ll enter the ring Saturday with the whiskers and brutish attitude Quintana lacked. Zaveck, born in Slovenia and currently living in Germany, uses stereotypical European ear muffs for defense, pasting his gloves to his forehead and deflecting incoming salvos with his arms. While that mode of defense will always leave a fighter vulnerable to getting outworked, Zaveck has a more urgent sense of get-back than countrymen Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham: he responds to clean shots with combinations of his own.
Zaveck lacks a consistent jab, which could be problematic against the 5’11 Thurman. Thurman, who’ll enjoy a significant height and reach advantage, puts his jab to good use in doses, but appears to be easily lulled into long stretches of haymakers and wayward advances, instances where “One Time” falls in love with the notion that he only has to land one time. Moreover, Thurman has an excessive bounce as he moves laterally, further calling into question whether he’ll be able to preserve stamina during a long fight.
Zaveck will look to push forward and land overhand rights, and how often he’s able to make Thurman bounce around the ring early may foreshadow his success late. If Thurman wastes a lot of energy in the first half of the fight, the late rounds may be a tough go, and every one of those swirling questions will demand an answer. Thurman, for his part, possesses an inconsistent but effective body attack, and would be well served to target his onslaught beneath Zaveck’s high guard to sap the will for any late surges.
Of course, the fight might not get to the latter rounds. Despite his hype being mostly propped by cotton candy opposition, Thurman’s power looks to be real, as does his desire to please a paying audience. Notching another early knockout would be the largest step yet towards proving himself worthy of HBO’s embryonic adoration beyond simply being an Al Haymon project. Zaveck may not be a world-beater, but he was scrappy against Berto before a flukish ending, and his style will mix well with Thurman’s youthful exuberance. And within an entertaining scrap is the potential to learn if there’s anything underneath the facade of ‘knockout potential’.