ST. PETERSBURG -— Keith Thurman boarded a plane Tuesday morning.
His big moment.
Saturday in Cincinnati, the 23-year-old Clearwater boxer will fight for the first time on HBO.
Though he has already fought at the Staples Center and the MGM Grand twice, his bout against veteran Mexican fighter Orlando Lora will be his introduction to his biggest audience.
"This should be his breakout fight," said trainer Dan Birmingham, who has helped guide Thurman to his first 17 wins, 16 of them by knockout.
The next step is Lora, a 31-year-old with a 29-2 record.
Lora has been in with Paul Malignaggi and David Estrada, his only two losses. But his last five wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 72-84-9.
While it may still prove to be a step up from Thurman's recent string of victims in the 147-pound class —- he has only gone eight rounds once — it's not the big step the Tampa Bay fighter thought he would be taking last month.
Then, he was slated to fight the WBA's 140-pound champion Marcos Maidana in what would have been a monumental leap in class.
Maidana has fought at least 10 rounds with Devon Alexander, Erik Morales, Amir Khan, DeMarcus Corley and knocked out Victor Ortiz in six rounds.
A win over Maidana would have had a significant impact on Thurman's ascent.
But the fight was scrapped. Birmingham said Maidana's camp pulled out to pursue another fight once they watched tape of Thurman.
"Their exact words were 'He's not a tune-up fight,' " the St. Petersburg trainer said.
Thurman was disappointed to lose out on the opportunity to make a bigger splash.
"Of course, I was excited," he said. "It blew my mind to hear that proposal. Once he dropped out I was disappointed. Beating Maidana would have opened several doors."
But Thurman considers almost fighting Maidana a victory.
"With Maidana dropping out, it did something for me. I think a lot of people were wondering who is Keith Thurman and why didn't Maidana want to fight him? I'm 18-0 now with Maidana pulling out. That's a victory for me."
While some critics have question his inclusion on an HBO telecast with only 17 fights and no notable victories, but backed by adviser and power broker Al Haymon, Thurman is looking to prove them wrong Saturday.
"This fight is different," Thurman said. "This one I have to prove a little more, especially to the critics who don't think there's a legitimate reason Keith Thurman is appearing on HBO."
He sees his fight against Lora as a chance for HBO to showcase some new, young talent, and he sees it as a chance to prove he deserves to be a fixture of the network for years to come.
Thurman suggested Saturday's win could put him in line for a shot at WBA champion Paulie Malignaggi.
"It seems like these top dogs don't wanna fight me. I don't know if it's because no one knows who I am, or I'm too much of a risk," Thurman said. "But as long as I keep winning, a champion is going to have to step up at some point and face me."
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com.