Keith Thurman Looks Strong in Ring Return, Defeats Mario Barrios

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The former unified welterweight world champion returns in fine form, winning a unanimous decision over former super lightweight world champ Mario Barrios Saturday night in FOX Sports PBC pay-per-view main event.

He’s heard it over, and over, and over again. It’s a number that haunted Keith “One Time” Thurman and it wouldn’t go away. Everywhere he went for 931 days, everyone he saw for 931 days, the inquiries never ceased: When are you fighting again, when are you fighting again?

Thurman’s 30-month absence, which was the longest of his career, came to an end Saturday night at the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay.Bay in Las Vegas, with a unanimous 12-round victory over former WBA super lightweight world champion Mario “El Azteca” Barrios who was making his welterweight debut in a FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View event.

The 33-year-old Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) had not fought since losing to the legendary Manny Pacquiao in July 2019. He had not won since he beat Josesito Lopez in January 2019.

“It felt good, I felt a little ring rust in there, but it was amazing, he was a great opponent, (Barrios) learned from his last outing, I learned from my last outing, I’m just happy to be back in the ring,” Thurman said. “I look forward to having a better year later this year. ‘One Time’ is back.

“I would grade this one like a C-plus, B-minus, for myself, but I knew I was sharp from the sparring. He was very poised and I showed some movement. I saw some fundamental mistakes. He was crossing his feet over. I was like, okay, I could treat him like some of my sparring partners and I could just school him a little bit.”

Barrios (26-2, 17 KOs) did well in the first round, pecking Thurman with the jab, and dropping a few shots to his body. Thurman came attacking Barrios at the outset, and Barrios dealt with it. In the second, Thurman tried landing the left hook, and it seemed destined that if he landed that punch, Barrios would be in trouble.

Thurman really opened up in the third, connecting with a left hook to Barrios’ forehead, which wobbled him. The former unified world welterweight champion was in control and had Barrios backing up.

Thurman admitted, however, he hurt his left hand in the third.

“It was a left uppercut, and I bruised one of the knuckles,” Thurman said. “It made me not want to throw that punch anymore. I was getting him with the right, I cut him with the right. I rocked him a few times. I just have to get back in the gym and keep on grinding and push that high intensity, high endurance. That’s what I’m missing right now.”

With just under 2:00 left in the fourth, Thurman stunned Barrios, and again in the last minute with a left hook to the temple. Thurman gave Barrios a bloody nose. By the fifth, blood was pouring out of Barrios’ nose and dotting the side of his face.

After five, Thurman had doubled Barrios’ punch output 88-44. Thurman ended the sixth by snapping Barrios’ head back with a heavy straight left.

In the eighth, Thurman opened a cut on Barrios’ left eyelid with a right, turning Barrios’ face into a crimson mask. Barrios fought back. He pounded his black trunks as he came at Thurman, ripping him with an overhand right. Still, Barrios had trouble hitting One Time.

With 1:20 left in the 10th, a Barrios’ right hit Thurman on the face, backing him up. That seemed to wake up Thurman, who fought back. By the 12th, it looked apparent Barrios would need a knockout to beat Thurman. But Thurman’s movement and footwork made that highly unlikely.

In the last 30 seconds, Thurman kept thrusting himself at Barrios and had him teetering again, with blood dripping down the left side of his face.

“We knew going into this fight he was going to be on his bike a lot,” Barrios said. “It was an adjustment I should have made better. Overall, I felt stronger (at 147) and I didn’t get the win, but I gave the fans a good fight.”

Leo Santa Cruz makes a triumphant return by dominating Keenan Carbajal

Coming off a career-long 15-month layoff, former four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz was brilliant in his first fight back since his loss to Gervonta “Tank” Davis in October 2020, winning a 10-round unanimous decision over Keenan Carbajal in super featherweight action. 

Santa Cruz, 33, showed his class in the first round and it was palpable, he was clearly the superior fighter, compounded by his world-championship level experience. Santa Cruz (38-2-1, 19 KOs) cracked Carbajal, 30, to the body and the head, and couldn’t help but smile every chance he got.

In the second, Santa Cruz, who landed a personal-record 138 body punches, suffered a minor cut on his right eyelid from an accidental head butt. The injury didn’t deter from his performance. With 1:18 left in the fourth, referee Robert Hoyle stopped the fight again after Carbajal (23-3-1, 15 KOs) hit Santa Cruz with another head butt in the same area as he did in the second.

With :44 left in the sixth, Hoyle stopped the fight a third time for the ringside doctor to take a look at his right eyelid. Hoyle asked Santa Cruz if he wanted to continue, and he nodded and went back to work on Carbajal, dominating the action until the final bell. 

Jesus Ramos is impressive in stopping Vladimir Hernandez

In a battle of 154-pound southpaws, rising power-punching sensation Jesus Ramos scored possibly the biggest victory of his career with a sixth-round stoppage of Vladimir Hernandez.

The 20-year-old Ramos (18-0, 15 KOs) overcame some early challenges by Hernandez, who was fresh off his upset victory over former unified super welterweight world champion Julian Williams last October.

After three, Hernandez  (13-5, 6 KOs) held a 56-44 punch advantage. Ramos wore a scarlet hue on his face, weathering the 32-year-old Hernandez’s advances. By the fifth, the younger fighter had evened the punch count at 66-66 each.

With 2:08 left in the fifth, Hernandez tagged Ramos with a left jab right on the mouth. Ramos came back with a right counter.

In the sixth, Ramos blasted Hernandez with a left hook to the jaw, which changed the course of the fight. Hernandez was hurt by it, and Ramos closed and slammed Hernandez with a barrage of shots before referee Mike Ortega stepped in and ended it at 2:21 of the sixth.

Luis Nery gets back in the win column

Super bantamweight Luis Nery scored a first-round knockdown en route to a 10-round split-decision victory in handing Carlos Castro his first pro defeat.

Nery, coming off his first defeat with a seventh-round loss to Brandon Figueroa in May 2021, dropped Castro with a straight left to the chin in the opening round. That seemed to set the pattern for the fight. Standing between rounds, the southpaw Nery (32-1, 24 KOs) sat in the pocket, exhibited great footwork and used quick combinations.

Castro trainer Manny Robles kept exerting his fighter to let his hands go and find his range, which produced Castro’s best round in the fifth. In the eighth, Nery exploded on Castro (27-1, 12 KOs) against the ropes with a 10-punch combination. When Castro tried a counterattack, the former two-division world champion wasn’t there to be hit. It was enough to earn him the victory in what turned out to be a tactical battle.

On the FOX portion of the undercard, welterweight Luke Santamaria (13-2-1,  7 KOs) pulled off an upset with a 10-round decision over Abel Ramos (27-5-2, 21 KOs). Super lightweight Omar Juarez (13-1, 5 KOs) won a 10-round split-decision over Ryan Karl (19-4, 12 KOs), super lightweight Keith Hunter (14-1, 9 KOs) stopped Jesus Silveyra (10-7-2, 4 KOs) in the first of an eight-rounder, and super lightweights Enriko Gogokhia (13-0-1, 8 KOs) and Kent Cruz (16-0-2, 10 KOs) fought to an eight-round draw.

Middleweight Fernando Vargas Jr. (5-0, 5 KOs) stopped Kody Kobowski (2-1, 2 KOs) in the third round and welterweight Joba Rincon (6-0, 2 KOs) won a four-round decision over Ramon Marquez (4-1, 4 KOs).

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