NEW YORK (AP) -- Keith Thurman has been limited to fight fan instead of fighter for nearly two years, going to bouts but looking up at someone else's name in lights.
He's ready to be the star of the show again.
The undefeated Thurman returns from a lengthy layoff caused by injuries, defending the one welterweight title he still holds against Josesito Lopez at Barclays Center on Saturday night.
''Last several times that I was in here, it was spectating other cards and other shows,'' Thurman said. ''And it's just a whole other atmosphere and whole other energy. Twenty-two months since I've been in here. I almost forgot what it's like when it's your fight week and when you're the headliner.''
For Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), that was March 4, 2017, when he edged Danny Garcia in a split decision in Brooklyn to unify the 147-pound titles. He had surgery two months later to remove bone spurs from his elbow. When he resumed training after a lengthy recovery, he hurt his left hand.
He says he probably could have returned last year, but opted to wait until the new year for what he felt was a fresh start. He had to give up the WBC belt he won in the Garcia fight that Shawn Porter has since won because of his inactivity, but he is still recognized as the WBA champion.
Frustrated that he couldn't get a straight answer from doctors about how long the elbow surgery rehabilitation would take, Thurman is hesitant to make any promises. He thinks he'll fight twice this year, though won't guarantee it. The only thing he'll say is neither fight would be against Errol Spence or Terence Crawford, the other two welterweight champions who have emerged as the stars of the division while Thurman was sidelined.
''If we fight a champion, we're only fighting the WBC because that champion is me,'' Thurman said. ''I was the champion. I want to reunify my titles before going after the champions that I've never faced before and this reason is because I was the unified champion of the world. When Keith Thurman steps in the ring and faces one of those fighters, there will be my two titles on the line plus their one title.
''Once you get a taste of a certain status, you kind of get used to it. I want to get that status back before going above and beyond.''
First he has to get past Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs), who lost to Canelo Alvarez, Marcos Maidana and Andre Berto. He defeated Victor Ortiz.
''I'm always in tough battles, but I don't shy away from them,'' Lopez said. ''I know I'm in a tough fight this weekend, but I'm more than ready for it.''
In the co-main event televised on Fox, Adam Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs), born in Poland but based in Brooklyn, faces veteran Gerald Washington (19-2-1, 12 KOs). Washington previously challenged Deontay Wilder for his heavyweight title.
Thurman will try to show he's the fighter whose knockout power earned him the nickname ''One Time.'' He said he's healthy and ready, and Lopez is expecting to see an opponent not slowed by ring rust.
''I just know that I've prepared for the best Keith Thurman that I've seen,'' Lopez said. ''I'm at championship level and I'm going to prove that on Saturday.''
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