On Keith Thurman's unusual path to stardom, only Manny Pacquiao stands in his way

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Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
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Manny Pacquiao, left, and Keith Thurman stand face to face during a news conference on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in New York. The two are scheduled to fight in a welterweight world championship boxing bout on Saturday, July 20, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman fight in a welterweight world championship boxing bout on Saturday, July 20, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

There are few more insightful or intelligent boxers than Keith Thurman. The unbeaten WBA welterweight champion has varied interests and doesn't struggle to talk about more than the intricacies of the fight game.

Even though he dropped out of high school when he was 15 years old to pursue a career as a boxer, Thurman (29-0) has long been one of the sport's most thoughtful and compelling interview subjects.

His speed, his punching power and his boxing skill have made him a world champion, and earned him a July 20 date with the legendary Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2) at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, PPV).

But his ability to express himself and create a compelling persona is what has him on the precipice of stardom.

His unusual journey to the top is what makes his story so captivating, though. He's unapologetically himself, from repeatedly referring to himself in the third person to being willing to set parameters for when, where and who he’ll fight.

Part of who Thurman is came when he made the choice to give up school and devote all of his energy to boxing. He's a millionaire at 30, so it’s hard to argue against his decision, though it’s hardly the conventional or recommended path.

Though he left school, he never quit learning, and he said he’s already received a doctorate from his time in boxing. He knew early on he wasn’t a 9-to-5 kind of a guy, and said he told his mother when he was 10 that nobody would be his boss.

“At the end of the day I was rebellious,” Thurman said. “I was a dreamer and I didn’t know it at a young age, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I was going to pursue boxing and hope that boxing opens up doors that allows me to live out my life as an entrepreneur. Luckily for me, I’ve had great success and I believe that I will have a life after boxing as well. ...

“It’s a blessing to at a young age to understand your passions. There are many children who don’t have a sense of direction, who don’t know what they want to do, don’t know what they want to be, and maybe they have a skill set. But, maybe that’s not what they want to inspire in life. So I’m a very fortunate individual and I’m very blessed to live the life that I live.”

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - JULY 10: Keith Thurman works out for members of the media ahead of his fight against Manny Pacquiao on July 20th at St Pete Boxing Club on July 10, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Keith Thurman works out for members of the media ahead of his fight against Manny Pacquiao (not pictured) on July 20 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

Thurman is at something of a crossroads in his career, though. Because of injuries and personal reasons, Thurman has been largely inactive. He defeated Shawn Porter in a compelling bout on June 25, 2016 and then beat Danny Garcia in another excellent match — which did huge TV ratings on CBS — on March 4, 2017.

His fight with Pacquiao will be the first time since 2015 that he fought twice in the same calendar year. He returned to fight Josesito Lopez in January, and was hurt in the bout and nearly stopped. He survived and went on to win a majority decision.

That landed him the spot against Pacquiao, who has been motivated by Thurman’s trash talk throughout.

Pacquiao, as is his wont, has stayed above the fray, though the same can’t be said of his trainer, Freddie Roach. Roach hasn’t hesitated to lob verbal shots at Thurman, with the most damning being a condemnation of his speed. Pacquiao’s career has been built on being quicker and faster than nearly everyone he’s fought.

To hear Roach tell it, it’s going to be the same on July 20.

“Manny is so unbelievably fast,” Roach said. “He’s 40 years old and moving around the ring with the same speed he had when he was just a seven-division world champion. Manny has Keith Thurman’s number. Thurman is slower than Heinz ketchup. Manny is going to beat him 57 ways on July 20. The fans know it, and the sportsbooks know it. Manny has gone from underdog to a betting favorite. Manny is money for this fight. It’s going to be champagne and lobster ‘Thurmandor’ for us”

Thurman has been around too long and done too much to be phased by that kind of talk. He’s confident in what he’s done and believes in his skills that despite the betting shifting heavily in Pacquiao’s favor, he’s unswayed.

Pacquiao is now -160 at the MGM Grand sportsbook, while Thurman is +130. Thurman sees that as a bonus, an opportunity to prove once again why he’s been elite for so long.

He’s had such a great camp he believes he’ll finish Pacquiao, which would give him his first stoppage victory since he stopped Luis Collazo after seven rounds on July 11, 2015.

“My prediction? Less than six rounds,” Thurman said. “I would love to be 30-0 with 23 knockouts. We’ve got 22 and we’ve held those 22 knockouts for a little too long. It’s time to get one more knockout.”

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