PBC on Fox -- Keith Thurman vs. Josesito Lopez prediction, fight card, odds, expert pick

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Twenty-two months after he last entered the ring and cemented his place atop the throne of the welterweight division, WBA champion Keith Thurman returns to a very different 147-pound division. 

Typically known as boxing's sexiest and financially strongest division, welterweight opens the new year with a gluttony of depth including unbeatens Errol Spence Jr., Terrence Crawford and Mikey Garcia, along with veteran stalwarts Manny Pacquiao, Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia. 

Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), who was stripped of the WBC title that Porter now holds due to inactivity, will defend his WBA title on Saturday when he looks to bounce back from elbow and hand injuries against rugged brawler Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs) in a Premier Boxing Champions card (FOX, 8 p.m. ET) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

"I had a lot of ups and downs but once we got into camp, we did what we had to do," Thurman said. "We slowly improved each day and now we're ready. It was a slow start, but we're going to be finishing strong on Saturday.

"My ranking, my '0' and my accomplishments haven't gone anywhere. I've been out of sight and out of mind for a little but I'm back now. You can't block a star from shining. We're in the galaxy and shining bright."

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While the 29-year-old Thurman exited his hard-fought 2017 decision win over Danny Garcia in their unification bout with the respect and consideration as the best in the division, absence has made the hearts of many fans grow cynical about his dedication to proving he's still the best. A big part of that surrounds Thurman's unwillingness to operate under any timeline but his own. 

FightWeightclass

Keith Thurman (c) -10000 vs. Josesito Lopez +1600

WBA Welterweight title

Adam Kownacki vs. Gerald Washington

Heavyweight

Tugstogt Nyambayar vs. Claudio Marrero

Featherweight

Despite the hopes from many that Thurman would jump right back into the deep end despite injuries and seek high-profile unification fights against Spence or Porter (in a rematch of their fantastic 2016 bout), Thurman openly wanted a softer touch against Lopez. He has pushed that desire even further by saying he may also need another one in 2019 and doesn't necessarily see himself seeking a big name early in this comeback unless it was someone the likes of the 40-year-old Pacquiao, who soundly defeated Adrien Broner last weekend. 

For Lopez, 34, the fight represents what could be a final shot at fulfilling his dream of being a world champion. The rugged veteran feels comfortable in the underdog role, hence his nickname "The Riverside Rocky," and believes his 3-0 run under new trainer Robert Garcia has prepared him to pull another upset on the level of his breakthrough knockout of Victor Ortiz in 2012. 

"It's hard to say if Keith will be my toughest opponent but he definitely has a great resume and is a great champion," Lopez said. "I've fought some great guys but I'm taking this as the most important fight of my career.

"I think that since I started working with Robert Garcia, all of my skills are on par with Keith Thurman. Most importantly, I'm a much smarter fighter than I've ever been. I'm always going to be courageous in the ring, but we've developed a game plan where I take less unnecessary risks."

Prediction 

If all things are equal and Thurman can prove rather quickly that lingering injuries and ring rust won't play a factor in this fight, this has all the makings to be a blowout. Yes, Lopez brings elite level heart and always possesses a willingness to shoot for the stars and lure a more talented opponent into a brawl. But he's noticeably outgunned here when it comes to speed, power and technique. 

Lopez's best chance for success, outside of Thurman re-aggravating an injury, could come by patiently targeting the body. Not only could such a strategy fatigue Thurman and test his cardio after such a long layoff, it brings back memories of the 2015 left hook to the body that Luis Collazo used to visibly hurt Thurman and open a passing window of opportunity toward an upset that never came to fruition. 

Should Lopez get too aggressive in the early going, however, it could be a short night considering Thurman has too much firepower and accuracy. Lopez will need to be smart in terms of when he takes chances and will need to watch Thurman closely for any tells surrounding injury or fatigue. 

Ultimately this is Thurman's fight to lose and considering how big the business is that awaits him, it's unlikely that he will take this challenge lightly. Given the large audience expected to be watching on national television and Thurman's thirst for the spotlight, look for "One Time" to rise to the occasion in a big way.

Pick: Thurman via KO7 

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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