There’s a time when a fighter, soon to stand nearly naked before the multitudes at a potentially defining moment of his career, just gets sick of talking. Some get sick of it sooner than others. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, GOAT of all bald-heads and co-author, along with Thomas Hearns, of perhaps the most galvanizing three minutes of ultra-violence in the sport’s history, sometimes didn’t talk for a month before a fight. Reporters drove up to the door of Hagler’s sweatbox training facilities in the hardscrabble uplands of Massachusetts and he’d send them away, lip still zipped. War was war. In war, real war, there was no time for talk.
“A samurai doesn’t have to talk,” testified Keith “One Time” Thurman, the sleek, undefeated welterweight champion from Clearwater, Fla. who tonight will take on the equally undefeated welterweight champion from Philly, Danny “Swift” García, in Brooklyn. The real good news is that the match-up, which is as promising as it gets in the current landscape, will be available on free television, just like in the good old days.
On Thursday, with the fight barely 48 hours away, the 28-year old Thurman was about talked out.
“I don’t like to look at one of these bloggers and say, ‘Well, that is a pretty retarded question,’ but sometimes you have no choice,” said the usually preternaturally polite boxer-puncher. Not that even the most moronic of queries can truly shut Thurman up. As the reigning philosophical voice of the squared circle, he has to talk.
“I feel a need to express myself, where I am in time and space,” said Thurman, who was wearing a designer fire-engine red running gear.
Boxing has never lacked for existential commentary. There was Joe Louis, who when told by his trainer Jack Blackburn, “Joe, he don’t like it in the body,” replied, “Who do?” There were graduates of Cus D’amato’s monastery in Catskill, NY, primarily the pigeon-raising Mike Tyson, known to pick up Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil when he was in jail. But Thurman, whose generally unmarked visage has been likened to that of a priestly Egyptian warrior and who never goes into the ring without first taking a high colonic to remove potential poisons from his 147-pound frame, is easily the most articulate athlete of the post-Wu-Tang school.
On this particular day, weary of people asking about his weight, Thurman, a student of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, preferred to discuss “alternative scenarios of the origin of man.” It was ironic, Thurman said, “we are the leading species on this planet, yet we have no idea where we come from.” This didn’t mean evolution wasn’t true, he said, just that he “did not believe it.” Instead, Thurman, a formidable autodidact, advanced the idea that humanity was likely “a high-tech science project” carried out by “the Anunnaki,” ancient extraterrestrials who sought to breed a race of workers and slaves on earth.
“That’s us, a bred race of slaves,” Thurman said, affixing his angular signature to a stack of promotional boxing gloves. As evidence for his Anunnaki theory, Thurman cited the Biblical telling of the story of the Tower of Babel. “That is my favorite line,” Thurman said, quoting from memory. “‘Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ Now let me ask you, why would they have to ‘go down’ unless they weren’t already up there?” Therein lay his task, Thurman said, because someone bred to be a slave “must always seek their freedom.”
Another thorny thing to talk about before the fight was what Thurman called “the daddy-boy fighter issue.” The benefits and/or risks of a father working a son’s corner (and generally running his affairs) have been long debated in the fight game. The topic came up in the run-up to Thurman’s last bout, a thrilling 12-round decision win over the fierce, low charge of the linebacker-like Shawn Porter. Back then, Thurman was bugged that the younger Porter allowed his father Kenny to do all the talking.
“Kenny Porter told Shawn Porter, ‘You are going to beat Keith Thurman. You are too much for Keith Thurman,’ and Shawn Porter believed it because he believed everything Kenny Porter ever told him from the day he was born. Except he was wrong. That undermines everything.” Now, however, Thurman is about to step in the ring with Danny García, the ultimate contemporary “daddy-boy fighter.”
This owes to Danny’s dad, Angel García, a comically overbearing street presence who currently ranks as a top five character in the sport, pound-for-pound. Angel recently made some headlines with a racially-charged attack on Thurman. As his champion son sat by with a bemused look, the elder García grabbed hold of the mic to assail Thurman as “a bitch ass nigga” who thought he was better than everyone but in fact would be “knocked the fuck out” by his son Danny “because this ain’t lovey-dovey love shit in here, nigga.”
(García later denied that anything he said might be racist. “I’m from the hood,” he said. “A motherfucker from the hood ain’t racist.”)
Observers in the fight crowd are divided on whether the bombastic father/churchmouse son relationship between the Garcías is some show-business gambit or the product of deep-seated emotional dysfunction. Either way, Thurman claims to be cool with it, talking about how after the dust-up he hung out a bit with Danny.
“He’s a nice enough kid,” Thurman said of the 28-year-old García. “But all the daddy-boy fighters are the same. Whatever they heard from their fathers is how they feel about themselves. He’s not his own man. He has not developed mentally because he has been nurtured for so long. I take that as an advantage for me.”
Asked if he was affected in anyway by his own more remote experience with his father, or the fact that Ben Getty, his early trainer, whom he describes as a “father figure” had long since passed away, Thurman frowned and said, “I ain’t getting into that Freudian shit.”
A few moments later, questioned if the match-up had any Oedipal overtones, Angel García exhibited a quizzical look and said “Eddie who?” Then he went off on some other rage, which made his son, who’d seen all this before, smile. That’s when the Thurman fan worries, because, if the Garcías lose, they still have each other. If Thurman loses, “then what is he?” Angel García demanded to know. “What the fuck is he?”
Thurman is not perturbed. He’s worked hard to achieve the serenity around him and isn’t going to let a bozo like Angel García pierce it. The fight will not be like the one with Porter, Thurman said. It was all about “tempo … Shawn Porter is a high tempo fighter so you got that high-action bout. Danny’s tempo is much slower so the fight will be slower but maybe more tense. I can see it unfolding like two guys looking to unload bombs.” García’s seeming weakness of being flat-footed might actually work to his advantage, Thurman said, with clinical dispassion. “A flat-footed fighter, he’s rooted. He’s balanced. When you’re balanced you can do damage.” Not, in his estimation, that it will do García any good. He is a programmed fighter, Thurman said, taught how to react; sooner or later he’ll see something new, something his father never told him about.
“I’ll bring that new thing,” Thurman said. “I’ll bring it because I can think on my feet. That is what it is like when you’re a free man.”
Mark Jacobson, longtime magazine writer, has been a boxing fan for 60 years. His experiences as a New York city cab driver was the basis for the TV show Taxi.