Keith Thurman returns with unanimous-decision win over Mario Barrios

Fighting for the first time in 31 months, Keith Thurman mostly looked sharp in a unanimous-decision victory over Mario Barrios on Saturday at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

The judges turned in tallies of 118-110, 118-110 and 117-111 for Thurman, who graded his performance a "C+, B-."

The former unified welterweight champion from Clearwater, Florida, hurt Barrios on several occasions, but he never scored a knockdown. Complicating efforts to finish Barrios were the size of the gloves: Barrios didn't agree to fight in eight-ounce gloves, electing for 10 ounces.

The fight was Thurman's first since a July 2019 split-decision loss to future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao. Afterward, Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs) had surgery on his left hand.

He bruised one of the knuckles on that hand, he said, after connecting with a left uppercut on Saturday.

"We rocked him, [but] we weren't able to put him down and out," said Thurman, who owns wins over Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia. " ... I saw some fundamental mistakes; I saw him crossing his feet over and said, 'OK, I can treat this guy like one of my sparring partners and school him a little bit.'"

With Barrios out of the way, Thurman can set his sights on the elite fighters in one of boxing's best divisions. A matchup with the winner of April's three-belt matchup between Errol Spence Jr. and Yordenis Ugas appears viable (all three boxers are aligned with PBC). Terence Crawford holds the fourth division belt. A fight with "Bud," too, is more plausible than ever now that Crawford is a promotional free agent.

On Saturday, Thurman was fighting an opponent far below the level of that trio. Barrios (26-2, 17 KOs) was coming off an 11th-round TKO loss to Gervonta Davis in June; he moved up one weight class for the Thurman opportunity.

The 26-year-old from San Antonio had no answers as Thurman controlled the action and unloaded with powerful combinations. By Round 4, Barrios was bleeding profusely from his nose, which was grossly disfigured by the end of the fight.

He'd also been wobbled in Rounds 3 and 4 as Thurman winged hooks off the jab. When Barrios did attack, Thurman was already out of range.

"I felt stronger [at 147 pounds], there was nothing in there that really had hurt me where I went to the canvas or couldn't continue," Barrios said. "I was happy with the outcome. I didn't get the win but I gave the fans a good fight."

Thurman doled out a beating on Barrios, and again appeared on the verge of the finish in Round 8. That's when Barrios finally landed a punch of consequence, a left hook to the body that prompted Thurman to remove his mouthpiece in order to catch his breath.

From that point on, Thurman appeared tired and mostly threw one punch at a time before throwing a fight-high 70 shots in the final round. He promised to throw more punches against Barrios after acknowledging he wasn't active enough against Pacquiao, and he delivered.

Thurman connected on 181 of 661 punches, per CompuBox; he threw 571 against Pacquiao. Barrios landed 105 of 492.

Naturally, it's easier to open up against the likes of Barrios rather than Pacquiao, and Thurman will have to be better if he lands the type of fight he's looking for later this year.

But in his first fight in 31 months, Thurman gave the boxing world a glimpse of the talent he possesses and hope that he'll return to his former perch now that his comeback fight is out of the way.

"I just have to get back in the gym, get grinding, and push that high intensity, high endurance," Thurman said. " ... I just have to go a little harder and get back later this year. I want the belts, I want the champions. Whoever is willing to send Keith Thurman the contract, let's go baby."