There is a clear goal that Keith Thurman always intended to accomplish upon returning to the ring earlier this year. (photo by Ryan Hafey)

Serving as cannon fodder for the next generation is not on that agenda.

“These young guys need to know, Keith Thurman is not a gatekeeper,” the former unified welterweight champ told “If they try to find out, they’ll learn that the gate is welded shut.”

Thurman (30-1, 22KOs; 1ND) ended a career-long 31-month layoff with a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Mario Barrios on February 5 in Las Vegas. The fight was his first since suffering his lone career defeat, a split decision to the legendary Manny Pacquiao in July 2019 to end four-plus year run as a major titlist.

Even his stay as among the best welterweights in the world was interrupted by a 22-month ring absence to recover from separate injuries, though still good enough to hover near the top before falling just short against Pacquaio. A win over Barrios left Thurman in the right frame of mind, even if he had to slightly alter his comeback plans from a three-fight 2022 campaign to possibly three fights within a twelve-month period.

The obvious short-term goal is to reclaim a welterweight title, though such a path is likely closed off for any contender. Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22KOs) owns the WBC/WBA/IBF titles, while Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford (38-0, 29KOs) holds the WBO strap. The pair of unbeaten titlists and pound-for-pound entrants are on a collision course likely to take place in November—absent a complete breakdown in current plans—which leaves everyone else in the division to fend for themselves at least through early 2023.

That puts Thurman—who turns 34 in November—on the hunt for a relevant name to remind the world that he’s still a threat. The one role that he can accept, is a failsafe in the event that Spence or Crawford find themselves in need of an opponent if not versus each other.

However, Thurman is momentarily forced to accept the one role he thought he could avoid upon returning to the ring—waiting on his next assignment.

“I’m already stuck like Chuck,” noted Thurman. “We’re already into the summer and it’s not like they’re lining up to fight me anyway. So, we have to look at a date that’s a little further out right now. If six weeks ago we had a legitimate rumor of an earlier date, I’d have been able to grind.

“I was willing to take a lesser fight just to get back in the ring. But as long as I fight two times this year, that will have to be good enough. Get back in October, then hopefully pick up some momentum and have a 12-month span where we’re fighting three times. It will be easier when I get back my title.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox