Keith Thurman whips Guerrero

LAS VEGAS -- Keith Thurman and Robert Guerrero, fighting in the first main event on NBC in prime time in 30 years, opened adviser Al Haymon's brainchild, the "Premier Boxing Champions" series, with a bruising, bloody bang Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It was a spirited, exciting fight filled with power punches and toe-to-toe exchanges, but Thurman dominated. He dropped Guerrero hard in the ninth round and went on to win a lopsided unanimous decision as he retained his welterweight world title for the first time before an announced crowd of 10,106.

The judges had it 120-107, 118-109 and 118-108 for Thurman, who overcame terrible swelling on the left side of his forehead from the third round on. ESPN.com also had it for Thurman, 119-108.

The arena was decked out with an elaborate array of bells and whistles -- with staging and lighting à la the WWE -- befitting the magnitude of the network prime-time return. It was the first of five prime-time cards this year (20 overall between afternoons and prime time on the network and NBC Sports Network) as part of Haymon's time-buy deal, with more to come next year as well.

There were no entourages in the ring before the fight -- just the boxers and their trainers -- and an off-camera ring announcer to introduce the proceedings. Interestingly, no reference was made to Thurman's world title, clearly Haymon's decision as he seeks to downplay the sanctioning bodies, a move that has led to heavy speculation that he will seek to introduce a PBC belt at some point.

When it came to the fight, Thurman and Guerrero delivered the action fans hoped for, despite the one-sided nature of the scorecards.

"Robert Guerrero was a tremendous warrior," Thurman said. "He's known as 'The Ghost' and is a veteran, a [former] world champion. He showed it today and was a little more calm.

"I thought he was going to press more in the beginning rounds. But he's a veteran, and he knew how to pace himself and stay a little bit out of range. This was a tremendous fight and an incredible learning experience for me, Keith 'One Time' Thurman."

Guerrero gave him full credit for his victory.

"He is one of the best. He came in and stuck to his game plan. I take my hat off to him," Guerrero said. "I'm not a hater."

Thurman (25-0, 21 KOs), who said repeatedly during the lead-up to the fight that he knew how important it was to be exciting for the network audience, came out firing hard in the first round. He was stalking Guerrero (32-3-1, 18 KOs), throwing heavy power shots to the head and body, looking for a knockout. Guerrero took some big shots, and the crowd got right into the fight.

Guerrero began to give it right back in the second round, landing a hard, clean right hand to Thurman's head that he took well as the fighters began to settle into their rhythms.

But in the third round, an accidental head-butt left Thurman with swelling on the left side of his forehead.

Although the swelling looked bad, it did not hamper Thurman's aggressiveness. He continued to go after Guerrero and land cleanly. A sharp right hand wobbled Guerrero in the fourth round.

Another hard right hand at the bell ending the sixth round sent Guerrero staggering into the ropes in an increasingly dominant performance by Thurman, who won an interim 147-pound title in 2013 by 10th-round knockout of Diego Chaves, made three defenses and was recently elevated to a full titleholder.

Guerrero, 31, of Gilroy, California, whose face also was showing damage, continued to grind and throw power shots, but he was just missing many of them.

In the ninth round, Thurman, 26, of Clearwater, Florida, scored a huge knockdown. He landed a flush right uppercut, another right hand and a window-dressing left hand as Guerrero crumpled to the mat, his left eye badly bleeding from the shots as Thurman raised his arm.

But Guerrero survived and rallied big time in the 10th round to hurt Thurman, whose purse was $1.5 million, as they exchanged to the delight of the crowd, which was on its feet and going wild.

"I'm a fighter. He caught me with a good shot, dazed me and I went down," Guerrero said. "I could have got up quicker but I took the eight count. Like I said, he has power."

Said Ruben Guerrero, Robert's father and trainer, "To me my son is a champion. To this day he is a champion. He fought one of the toughest fighters. He was good on his feet. We just have to get back to work and catch whatever they bring in."

The crowd spent most of the exciting 12th round chanting for Guerrero, who earned $1.225 million, as they went at it hard until the final bell.

According to CompuBox statistics, Thurman connected on 211 of 598 punches (35 percent), and Guerrero landed 104 of 497 (21 percent).

"Thurman is a tough fighter. He came to fight. Now I know why they call him 'One Time.' He has a lot of power in both of his hands and is fast," Guerrero said. "I came to fight. I know I didn't win the fight but I won the hearts of America.

"I always come through and keep fighting my heart out, and that's why the fans love me. I just can't wait to get back into the ring and give America more fights like this."

If Guerrero, Thurman or any of the other top fighters who will appear on PBC on NBC do that, boxing might be back in prime time for many years to come.