A classy Keith Thurman made himself a bigger star in defeat

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao gave a master class on Saturday in how it is done, both in and out of the ring. Pacquiao’s performance in a split decision victory over Keith Thurman at the MGM Grand Garden in their WBA welterweight title fight is rightly being praised as a remarkable achievement.

The fight is expected to do extraordinary pay-per-view numbers, and that has to do with the work Pacquiao put in promoting the fight. From the time he arrived in the U.S. a month ago to prepare, he was surrounded by media. He hosted reporters at his home and on the trails high above Los Angeles, as he prepared. Every day, he had people come to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood where he trained.

He created interest and awareness in his bout by never saying no and patiently and repeatedly talking about his fight. And as an elder statesman, gone were the short and cliche-filled answers, replaced by thoughtful insights as well as genuine animosity when it existed.

Pacquiao deserves whatever praise he gets because he worked his tail off.

But I came in praise of the loser of Saturday’s fight, a man whose stock I dare say rose more following his first defeat than it did after any of his 29 victories.

Thurman is a class act and a great fighter and he sent a message to his peers: Take risks, fight to win and be classy and patient and you, too, will become a star.

“One Time” is a bigger star now than he has ever been. He made himself a must-see attraction with his action-packed style.

He handled his defeat with grace and class, and endeared people to him rather than whining about the judges. It was textbook stuff from beginning to end for Thurman.

Keith Thurman stands in the ring after losing a WBA welterweight title fight to Manny Pacquiao at MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 20, 2019 in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won the fight by split decision. (Getty Images)
Keith Thurman stands in the ring after losing a WBA welterweight title fight to Manny Pacquiao at MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 20, 2019 in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won the fight by split decision. (Getty Images)

There are seven active welterweights of real significance now: Pacquiao, obviously, being at the top of the list. Then there’s IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. and WBC champion Shawn Porter, who will fight each other on Sept. 28 in Los Angeles. There’s Thurman and his one-time foe Danny Garcia, a former champion. There’s Mikey Garcia, who suffered his first loss in March to Spence.

And then there’s Terence Crawford, the WBO champion who is No. 1 on the Yahoo Sports Pound-for-Pound list of the world’s greatest boxers, but who because he’s signed to an exclusive deal with Top Rank and ESPN has basically no interesting fights ahead of him.

He’s expected to fight Egidijus Kavaliauskas next in a fight that has little to no story behind it. It doesn’t figure to be even remotely competitive, and Crawford isn’t the kind of personality who will get out and sell the fight like Pacquiao did.

There are others – Yordenis Ugas, Jessie Vargas and Sergey Lipinets chief among them – but the real action at welterweight will involve the Big 7.

By taking on Pacquiao, Thurman took a risk, because he knew how great Pacquiao is and he knew that the chance of a loss was a lot greater than it would have been had he fought someone of the ilk of Ugas or Lipinets.

Thurman has long been one of the most fascinating welterweights, a smart insightful and extraordinary loyal guy. His original trainer, Ben Getty, died in 2009, but on Saturday, in the biggest fight of his life, he had Getty’s full name emblazoned across the front of his trunks. That’s the kind of guy Thurman is.

He fought brilliantly on Saturday. He got up to battle back from a knockdown in the first after taking a perfectly timed and placed right hook. In the 10th, when Pacquiao nearly doubled him over with a crippling body shot, Thurman did what he needed to do to survive, and then came back to win the 11th round. That displayed for all who were paying attention how committed Thurman was to victory.

He made himself a star in defeat, and who is not going to want to see him fight again?

Crawford is a brilliant talent, but he could learn a lesson from both Pacquiao and Thurman about the full job of a boxer. If you want to be a star, if you want to make the most money, you have to get out there and sell, and be committed to creating awareness.

You can’t give gruff one-word answers and then expect everyone to watch because they know your in-ring brilliance. Boxing in the 21st century doesn’t work that way.

Thurman is the complete package, and even in defeat, he showed how it is done.

By the work he put in in the weeks leading up to his bout with Pacquiao and then in those 36 gripping minutes in the ring with the Filipino legend, Thurman made his subsequent fights that much bigger.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how the job is supposed to be done.

Well done, Keith Thurman. Very well done.

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