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The best fights are those in which two fighters with a compelling mix of styles meet, both with questions to be answered. That's the kind of fight set for Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, FOX PPV) when Keith Thurman and Mario Barrios meet in a big welterweight clash.

Thurman (29-1, 22 KO) had established himself as one of the top names in a talent-loaded 147-pound division, grabbing the WBA championship before adding the WBC belt to his collection when he beat Danny Garcia in a March 2017 unification bout. The win over Garcia came one fight after a massive win over Shawn Porter, setting Thurman up as a true elite welterweight.

That was nearly five years ago.

Since the Garcia fight, Thurman has only found himself in the ring twice. First came a shoulder surgery in May 2017. Then a planned January 2018 date never came together and a May 2018 date fell apart when Thurman suffered a "deep bruise" on his hand. Thurman finally returned to the ring in January 2019, fighting something of a tune-up against Josesito Lopez as talk of a showdown with IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. was in Thurman's future.

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While the Spence fight didn't come together, Thurman did land the biggest fight of his career. Thurman faced off with the legendary Manny Pacquiao in a July 2019 showdown that saw the Filipino legend edge out the split decision victory.

Reckoning with his first career loss and more lingering physical issues, Thurman has not been in a professional fight since the loss to Pacquiao and has to answer the questions surrounding multiple long layoffs, ring rust and whether he still has it in him to be an elite fighter in one of the deepest divisions in the sport.

"A lot of things that have happened, they are not ideal. They are not something you put on your to-do list," Thurman told CBS Sports. "Let me not be in the ring for two-and-a-half years. Let me have elbow surgery. Let me have bone fusion surgery. These are things that manifested in my life and struggles that I faced. But hurdles are put there to jump over and overcome. I feel great at age 33. I might have missed two years of my prime but luckily we are still in our prime."

Barrios (26-1, 17 KO) is adding depth to the division, moving up from junior welterweight. Like Thurman, Barrios is coming off the first loss of his professional career, a June 2021 war with Gervonta Davis in which Barrios was stopped late in Round 11. The loss cost Barrios his secondary WBA title at 140 pounds.

Barrios is seven years younger than Thurman and three inches taller, but he has a thin frame, making him less of a natural welterweight than his opponent despite the advantage in height and reach.

"We're trying to picture what Keith Thurman is going to be in the ring come Feb. 5, and he wants to prove a point," Barrios told the PBC Podcast. "He wants to get back on track to where he was in the division. But this is my first fight at welterweight, and I'm trying to make my own impact and my own stamp in the division.

"He might be [overlooking me] and if he is, that's a mistake that he's making. I can't speak on what he's thinking about or what he's worried about right now. I just know that I'm thinking about Keith Thurman, and if he's worried about anyone else other than Mario Barrios, he's making a big mistake.

So, where the question for Thurman is whether time and rust have knocked him from the welterweight elite, the question for Barrios is whether he's a welterweight at all.

Barrios showed every bit of his heart in the fight with Davis. He gave Davis fits in the early rounds, effectively using his reach against the much shorter Davis and piling up some early rounds. Davis eventually solved the puzzle and his big power turned the fight, repeatedly dropping Barrios, though Barrios never stopped getting up and fighting back until the referee called a halt to the bout.

The guts shown by Barrios in the Davis fight and the willingness to go blow-for-blow with one of the sport's premier power punchers may have meant a loss to Davis was more valuable than a win in almost any other fight Barrios could have taken in that moment. And that's likely what landed him here as the B-side of a pay-per-view card against a returning former champion.

"Look man, I live this. Nobody's words can deter me from being who I am. I live this," Thurman said. "I literally started boxing at the age of 7 and that's 26 years in the game. You can talk about surgeries and inactivity but when you have the heart of a warrior like me, it always beats, 'Fight game, fight game, fight game.'  

"At the end of the day, we all know, most people don't know f--- about boxing and I know a lot of people don't know things about Keith Thurman. So, if you don't know a lot of things, that means a lot of things coming out of your mouth is speculation. So how am I going to be intimidated from someone who doesn't have validity in their statements because they are opinions?"

Thurman vs. Barrios card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

FavoriteUnderdogWeight class

Keith Thurman -190

Mario Barrios +160


Leo Santa Cruz -2200

Keenan Carbajal +1100


Abel Ramos -575

Lucas Santamaria +425


Luis Nery -150

Carlos Castro +125

Super bantamweight


There are so many different angles at play in this fight that it's hard to truly zero in on a clear favorite. Were this peak Thurman of five years ago, it'd be easy to say he blasts out Barrios in a fun fight that doesn't reach the halfway point. But this isn't peak Thurman and the last time he came off a long layoff, he showed every bit of rust against Josesito Lopez, a fighter picked for much the same reasons Barrios is being picked here. Barrios is younger and with a big reach advantage, but isn't necessarily the "bigger man" regardless of the measurables and he's coming off a fight where he was repeatedly knocked down by a fighter coming up from lightweight and Thurman has significant power for a welterweight. That is, Thurman has significant power for a welterweight is his history of elbow injuries hasn't somewhat cut into his ability to truly thump as hard as he once did. The one thing that is sticking out is that Barrios is going to bring the fight for every second he is in the ring. He's got good hand speed, will throw punches in bunches and will throw combinations, all with a gas tank that supports his ability to keep doing so until the fight is over. That seems like a really bad recipe for a fighter with just two fights in nearly 60 months. Barrios has had 10 fights since the start of 2017. Thurman has had three. The ingredients are all there for the upset, even if you can say that Thurman should win. Pick: Mario Barrios via UD