Clearwater's Keith Thurman carries boxing's prime-time spotlight

Clearwater's Thurman tops NBC's return to prime-time boxing.
Published March 6 2015
Updated March 7 2015

Keith Thurman won't be cashing in this weekend by headlining a lucrative pay-per-view bout on cable television, but he hopes to be part of something bigger: a boxing revival.

The sport hopes to make a splash on prime-time network television tonight, and Thurman is one of the fighters tabbed with helping get the Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC off to a rousing start.

Thurman, who is Clearwater raised and St. Petersburg trained by Dan Birmingham, defends his WBA welterweight title against his most formidable opponent to date, Robert Guerrero, in the main event of the inaugural Premier Boxing Champions card.

John Molina (27-5, 22 KOs) meets former WBA champion Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KOs) in the other televised fight.

The series is banking on young stars such as Thurman and Broner, and an old-school feel to build an audience. Backed by promoter and manager Al Haymon (all four fighters are his), the broadcast has Al Michaels as host, Marv Albert calling the bout and Sugar Ray Leonard as analyst, as well as music by acclaimed Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer.

This is the first of 11 planned cards in 2015, including five on Saturday in prime time, and is aimed at bringing back boxing fans who may have abandoned the sport due to its limited and sometimes pricey cable access.

"This is a dream come true," said Thurman, 26, who wasn't born the last time NBC aired a bout in prime time — 1985, when Larry Holmes defended his heavyweight title against Carl "The Truth" Williams.

"I remember when I was 10 years old and I was looking through a history book on boxing, and I said to myself, 'Wouldn't it be amazing for you, your face to be in a book like this one day?' " Thurman said. "And I believe now that NBC is back into boxing on prime time, many fighters in all of the weight classes have an extreme opportunity to start building that household name."

Showtime has roughly 23 million subscribers and HBO 28 million, show business newspaper Variety says. NBC and Haymon are banking on that network's reach into more than 100 million homes — and some history.

In 1939, Lou Nova beat Max Baer at Yankee Stadium in the first fight televised by NBC. Stars such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson became household names because of their highly rated fights on network television.

ABC's Wide World of Sports aired many of Muhammad Ali's fights, including wins over Sonny Liston and in his "Rumble in the Jungle" clash with George Foreman — to spectacular ratings — and the show helped launch Sugar Ray Leonard and other Olympians to stardom.

"The world will start hearing more about these fighters, and eventually our names will get put on the list with Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns, (Mike) Tyson, Evander (Holyfield)," Thurman said. "So, this is it, man. We're about to bring boxing back. I'm truly looking forward to it."

Thurman is one of the sport's rising stars, a perfect 24-0 with 21 knockouts. But in Guerrero (32-2, 18 KOs) he faces a fighter who has been in the ring with Floyd Mayweather (a 2013 loss) and defeated Andre Berto in two of his most recent fights, and who has never been knocked out. Guerrero's rough inside style is expected to pose a challenge for Thurman, who has a chance to win over a new audience.

"This is how we break the ice," he said.