The last time Keith Thurman ended a long layoff, he got buzzed by a huge underdog and settled for a majority-decision win in a 12-round fight that was more difficult than expected.
The former WBA/WBC welterweight champion will end an even lengthier hiatus against Mario Barrios on February 5 than he did when he faced Josesito Lopez in January 2019 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) won’t have fought in 2½ years by the time the Clearwater, Florida, native enters the ring to battle Barrios in the main event of a FOX Sports Pay-Per-View show from Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas.
Barrios will make his debut as a full-fledged welterweight when he encounters Thurman, but he has been much more active than his favored opponent. San Antonio’s Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs) has fought three times since Thurman last competed in July 2019, when he lost a 12-round split decision to Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Thurman is 33 and clearly will have to contend with ring rust, but Barrios expects to face a formidable version of this former champion.
“I know, you know, Keith is coming off, you know, a good layoff and he’s coming with a point to prove,” Barrios told “The PBC Podcast” co-hosts Kenneth Bouhairie and Michael Rosenthal for its most recent episode. “You know, so I mean, I’m not looking, you know, at Keith as if, you know, it’s an easy fight, you know, or if he’s been slacking or none of that. You know, I’m picturing, you know, Keith being in there hungry, you know, strong, you know, in the best shape of his life. You know, so I’m expecting a great fight come February 5th.”
The 26-year-old Barrios suffered his first professional defeat in his last fight. Gervonta Davis dropped the courageous Barrios three times during what was a reasonably competitive fight – twice during the eighth round and once in the 11th round – before their scheduled 12-rounder was stopped June 26 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Baltimore’s Davis (26-0, 24 KOs), who made his debut as a 140-pounder that night, won the WBA’s secondary super lightweight title from Barrios. The 5-feet-10 Barrios decided that it was time to make an overdue move to the welterweight division following that loss.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.