The fight between welterweight prospect Keith Thurman and former titleholder Jan Zaveck is the epitome of a crossroads fight. They meet in the co-feature of the Tavoris Cloud-Bernard Hopkins light heavyweight title fight Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The undefeated Thurman (19-0, 18 KOs) is the 24-year-old hot up-and-comer who has gotten a lot of hype while building his record against softies. The Clearwater, Fla., product, who grew up in the gym sparring with the likes of Winky Wright and Jeff Lacy, is taking a decent step up in competition as he looks to put a solid name on his résumé in Zaveck.
"I've been patiently waiting for my time," said Thurman, who has a crowd-pleasing style and an appealing personality. "That time is [Saturday], and I'm going to go through Zaveck and then get my title shot. This is my year, no question about it -- and I'm going to let the world know it."
The 36-year-old Zaveck (32-2, 18 KOs), the only fighter from Slovenia to have won a world title, is two fights removed from losing his belt by fifth-round stoppage (because of a badly swollen eye) to Andre Berto in September 2011. Zaveck, who was out of action for awhile after the fight because of an elbow injury, won his only fight since and is aiming to get back on top.
"I miss having a championship belt around my waist, and this is the next step to getting it back," said Zaveck, who won a belt in 2009 and made three successful defenses before running into Berto.
"Thurman is a talented young fighter, but my experience will be my ticket to victory. Nobody can stop me on my way back to the world title."
Thurman turned pro in 2007 and had gotten very little exposure -- until he signed with powerful adviser Al Haymon. Then, suddenly, he became a darling of HBO, which allowed him two nationally televised showcase fights last year, a gross mismatch with Orlando Lora (TKO6) followed by a mismatch with faded former welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana at junior middleweight (TKO4).
"I'm confident that I can steal rounds by getting inside and throwing punches," Thurman said of the Zaveck fight. "He wants to be champion again, but I want to be a champion too. He is bringing experience, but I am bringing my talent and ability."
The fight will be Thurman's first scheduled 12-round bout (he has had only two previous scheduled 10-rounders). Of course, he usually ends his fights by knockout, but Thurman said he is prepared to go 12 if need be.
"Zaveck has gone 12 rounds many times in his career," Thurman said. "This is [the only time] I have been required to go 12 rounds, but I know I am prepared. I am going to outclass him. Zaveck is a tough guy. He has never been knocked down, and I love putting people to sleep. Knowing that he has never been knocked down is a true test for me."
Zaveck said he isn't worried about Thurman's youth or power.
"There have been many times that I've been stuck in the ring with bigger, stronger guys and in the end I came out victorious," he said. "I believe Saturday night is going to be the same way. I put in the work to hand Keith Thurman his first loss. Experience means everything, and I know I am prepared."