LAS VEGAS – Keith Thurman is young and talented but fortunately for him, also rational and introspective.
The interim WBA welterweight champion, whose powerful left hook has helped make him one of the sport's most popular rising stars, was on the verge of big things after his victory over Julio Diaz in April.
That third-round stoppage left Thurman at 23-0 with 21 knockouts and rapidly moving up the ladder for some hefty paydays.
But Thurman is one of those rare guys who thinks long term in what is very much a now business. His left shoulder was giving him problems, and even though it didn't hurt when he punched and didn't require surgery, Thurman made the astute decision to do something about it before it became a problem.
So after the win over Diaz, Thurman went into physical therapy to help with the inflammation of the tendons in his shoulders. He missed a paycheck he could have used and, more importantly, lost a bit of the momentum he'd been building.
But because he projects ahead, Thurman knew he had to take care of the shoulder before it got to a point where he wouldn't have had a choice in the matter.
"It was starting to give me a bit more than I was able to take," Thurman said of the pain from the inflammation. "I was doing my workout and it didn't destroy my range of motion. But I'd go home afterward and I'd be sitting on my couch relaxing and I'd get this throbbing sensation, this little burning sensation. It was kind of like a toothache, maybe.
"One day, it went up from a four or a five to a six or a seven. I said, 'You know, we might have to hit the brakes and take a look at this and look at the long haul.' The longevity of my career means more than a quick paycheck."
So instead of fighting again in the summer or the fall and riding the crest of the wave, he threw himself into rehabilitation. The shoulder inflammation, he said, was the aftereffect of firing left hooks repeatedly into a 350-pound heavy bag.
A boxer without a properly functioning shoulder is a guy looking to get knocked out. So Thurman ignored the competitive urges that were telling him to fight through it, instead choosing the therapy that would fix the problem.
Subsequently, the bright, well-spoken young man – who is one of the sport's most exciting fighters to watch – should soon be in line for some big fights. He's still in the development phase, despite the world title, and wisely took the longer view toward the situation.
He makes his return against Leonard Bundu on Saturday at the MGM Grand in a Showtime-televised match. Had he fought in July and September, he would have likely won two fights and gotten paid, but it would have put even more stress on his shoulder.
"Of course it was frustrating to not be able to capitalize on the momentum I'd gotten, but I just turned 26 years old," Thurman said. "I told myself I still had six more years to go and why risk further injury. I felt it was better to take care of the tendinitis now instead of having to take care of a torn tendon or ligament down the road because I wasn't willing to hit the brakes when I should have."
While the decision to sit will put him in the best position to succeed in 2015 and '16, it was made more difficult because he's at least in the group that could be picked as an opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr. Thurman is advised by Al Haymon, who is Mayweather's chief adviser, and, like Mayweather, fights on Showtime.
As a result, there was no promotional, network or managerial obstacle to him facing Mayweather. However, when he made his decision to sit out, he knew it would not only push him further to the back of the line, but it could potentially eliminate the chance he'd ever fight Mayweather.
Mayweather has two more fights on his Showtime deal and has insisted repeatedly he'll retire after he completes them.
But Thurman, who would love to face Mayweather, realized that not only would an injury kill a potential Mayweather fight anyway, but that there will always be someone coming up to replace the big stars.
"I want to do this for six more years, maybe 10 more, and there are other fights other than Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao," he said. "I would love to fight those guys, but there are other fighters and there is going to be someone who rises up and becomes a big star. It happens all the time in boxing. One star goes and another star is made, and that's how we always have the big fights.
"I had to do the right thing for me. People say I'm one of the most exciting welterweights in the world, and I appreciate that, but I couldn't risk this turning from something minor that physical therapy could handle into something major that might need surgery. So I took care of it and I'll deal with the consequences now that I'm back. Things will be fine."