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Clearwater’s Keith Thurman carves out his own boxing legacy

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At first glance, it does not look so lethal, so dangerous. It is open, friendly, the type of hand that seems reserved for applause.

It is warm as it embraces you. You would never guess the pain it carries.

Make no mistake, however.

As quickly as you can say “One Time,” the right hand of Keith Thurman can turn out your lights.

The face, too, is smiling and friendly. The voice is quiet and filled with perspective. The eyes dance and twinkle. There is much about the presence of Thurman that hides what he is, one of the most powerful boxers on the planet, a man who has spent his last two years as welterweight champion of the world. Here, hanging out in the St. Pete Boxing Club, talking about breeds of dogs, for goodness’ sakes, Thurman is one of the coolest guys you are likely to meet.

In the ring?

That’s different.

“All b.s. aside, I’m a bad man,” Thurman says softly. “I’ve been bad since I was 13 years old and I started knocking out grown men with 16-ounce gloves and headgear on. That was the start of being an animal.

“That was at 13. I’m pushing 27 now. Some time has gone by, and that animal has gotten to learn a lot of things while staying in the ring. I learned how to be a beast like Mike Tyson. One of the first dreams I wanted was to be like Mike Tyson. Get knockouts like Mike Tyson. Then I learned to tame the beast and learned about the true art of boxing.”

He sits on a bench, looking out on the boxing ring. Around him, heavy bags hang from the ceiling. The walls are covered with boxing posters and motivational sayings. This is where Thurman has grown up from the age of 7. This is where he still feels at home.

He is One-Time, and the world knows his power. He has been the WBA Welterweight champion of the world for two years. He is a home-run hitter, a finisher. The world is mesmerized by those who can punch the way Thurman can punch. In 26 professional fights, all wins, he has knocked out his opponent 22 times, providing a sudden, violent ending to his night.

But boxing is about more than knockouts, Thurman will tell you, which is why he considers it to be the hardest sport in the world.

“It’s the challenge of the warrior,” Thurman said. “It takes a certain type of person to participate in this sport. Most people don’t wake up saying, ‘I can’t wait to get punched in the face today.’”

He laughs.

“Well, we don’t want that, either. But it’s an occupational hazard. It can happen. That’s why a few years ago, I decided this was the hardest sport in the world. You have to move forward. You have to move backward. You have to move side to side. You have to throw punches while you are doing it, and you have to endure the punches of another person coming to hurt you. A 12-round fight is one of the hardest things to achieve.”

He is 26, old enough to have been the WBA Welterweight champion for two years, but young enough to be considered in the sports’ next wave after Floyd Mayweather. Thurman talks longingly about stepping into the ring with Mayweather, but he has begun to doubt if Mayweather will fight long enough to get to him.

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to stick around,” Thurman said. “For years, I’ve pondered working my way up, trying to be one of the young guys to get one of those final shots at a great legend, someone who’s done great things in the sport of boxing. At the end of the day, though, I’m champion. I already have accomplished a lifelong goal.

“And as champion, I plan on having my own legacy. I would love to be in there with the king, one of the greats. You want to fight the best fighter from that generation that is on his way out. But with or without Floyd Mayweather, I am determined to dominate the 147-division and create a name for Keith ‘One-Time’ Thurman.”

You ask Thurman to pick his four-man tournament from the welterweights. He picks Mayweather, and Sugar Ray Leonard, and Ray Robinson and Aaron Pryor.

“That would have been great to see Pryor-Leonard. What would it be like if I got to fight one of those fights? My legacy has just begun. In time, I hope to make my mark on history.”

There are a lot of contenders among welterweights. The one thing that Thurman has that the others lack?

“The will to die in the ring,” Thurman said. “The one thing I fear the most is that the referee would wave his hands at any point in my fight if I am conscious. I fear that a referee somehow in some scenario will overstep his boundaries. I’m more of old school. If two men are fighting, someone should end up getting hurt.”

Shudder if you will. This is the mindset of a man who has grown up in the ring. He was 7 when he started this, about three years after he wanted to be a martial artist. (He loved watching movies of Steven Segal and Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.) He played football for a while – he played in Raymond James and won his team’s defensive MVP as a 13-year-old – but this was the sport that claimed him.

The “One-Time” nickname comes from his father, Keith Sr., who used to do some backyard brawling back in Cincinnati. They called him One-Time because he would hit people with these body shots that would make them go to a knee. So I adopted it. Because it was my father, and because in boxing, One-Time is everything.”

Before he is finished, before the book is closed on Thurman’s legacy, he still has goals he would like to accomplish.

“There are a few other titles,” he said. “It’d be nice to unify. My ultimate dream is to be the undisputed champion of the world. I would love to gain all the titles in the world. If I did such I would state my mark in history at 147. ”

One time. Everyone loves the concept. That when a boxer is ahead, he can end his opponent’s night at any point. When a boxer is behind, he can change things with a single punch.

For Thurman, it also means he gets one shot at this career.

With that right hand of his, that should be enough.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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