Risky title fight vs. Manny Pacquiao has Hall of Fame implications for Keith Thurman

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

LAS VEGAS — You name the great fighter who has been in or near Manny Pacquiao’s weight class since he turned professional nearly a quarter of a century ago and the Filipino senator has most likely fought him.

In his 70 pro fights, he’s had six bouts against three different fighters — Erik Morales (three matches), Marco Antonio Barrera (two) and Oscar De La Hoya (one) — who are already shrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

That doesn’t count fighters such as Juan Manuel Marquez (four bouts), Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto (one bout with each), who are virtual certainties to be inducted into the Hall when they become eligible.

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That means that an incredible 17 percent of his bouts have come against Hall of Famers.

And it can get better, because a few other former Pacquiao opponents, notably Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton and Timothy Bradley, have at least a chance to be elected. If each of them makes it, that would mean 22 of Pacquiao’s 70 bouts would have been against Hall of Famers.

Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman pose during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman pose during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Pacquiao faces unbeaten Keith Thurman on Saturday for the WBA belt, and it’s no stretch to say that Thurman has a shot to be elected to the Hall of Fame when his career ends. He’s 29-0 with 22 knockouts and already, at just 30, has significant wins over Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter.

If Thurman is inducted, that would mean that 32.4 percent of Pacquiao’s opponents after Saturday’s bout were Hall of Famers. It’s a leap, but it shows the level of opposition Pacquiao has faced.

Yet, the Thurman fight is a significant one for him, one of the biggest of his career. He remains a massive star, even though the mainstream frenzy that surrounded him a decade ago has quieted a bit because of his lack of knockouts and a few losses.

In his last 15 bouts, Pacquiao has four losses and just one knockout win.

Pacquiao all but predicting KO vs. Thurman

Fighting a younger, talented opponent like Thurman can help him turn back the clock to the glory days of 2008-10, when much of the country and not just his devoted Filipino fans had PacMania.

“One of the things that’s great about Manny is if there is something out there people think is as good or better than he is, he says, ‘Let’s fight and find out,’” trainer Freddie Roach said.

This bout is a risk for Pacquiao in a way that no bout has been since he fought Antonio Margarito in 2010. Margarito was vastly bigger and had more than 20 pounds on Pacquiao once the bell rang. Mayweather is the best fighter he’s fought, but given the enormous amount of money each fighter made, there was no risk in taking it.

But in fighting Thurman, he risks the momentum he’s built in his last two fights in which he looked good against Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner.

Manny Pacquiao clinched his 60th victory on July 15, 2018, with a seventh-round KO of Lucas Matthysse, his first stoppage in nine years. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun, File)
Manny Pacquiao clinched his 60th victory on July 15, 2018, with a seventh-round KO of Lucas Matthysse, his first stoppage in nine years. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun, File)

Pacquiao, who has faced vastly superior opposition than Thurman, is brimming with confidence and is all but predicting a knockout. That is highly unlike him, but he’s said several times Thurman’s talking has him motivated like he hasn’t been in a while.

“There is a big percentage that this fight will not go 12 rounds,” Pacquiao said. “That is not a prediction, [it is] just my analysis. If he goes toe-to-toe with me, that will be lovely. It will make it a shorter fight. Keith Thurman is a good fighter. His record shows that. His record also shows who he has fought. His [level] of opposition is a lot different than mine. The difference between the mentality of my era compared to Keith Thurman’s is I have a strong passion for the sport of boxing and he seems to have other interests.

“I still have something to prove at age 40. This is not about my legacy. It is about adding an important milestone to my résumé. It is about proving that at 40, I can still fight anyone, that I am still relevant in boxing. I have pushed myself to the limit in training camp and I am prepared to push myself to the limit on [Saturday]. Keith Thurman has talked a good game. We will see how far he is willing to push himself on Saturday night.”

Thurman: Pacquiao’s about to get beat up

The fight is easily the most significant of Thurman’s career, and he noted that his career has built toward this moment.

The question for him is if he’ll be able to deal with Pacquiao’s speed, angles and power. Thurman seems convinced he’ll take Pacquiao out, and Pacquiao has been stopped in the past.

Thurman almost sounded cocky as he analyzed the fight.

“Manny isn’t going to do anything with those little 'T-rex' arms,” Thurman said. “He’s about to get beaten up. I get to punch a senator in the face and he’s going to feel it. If he’s upset about it, he can do something about it Saturday night. It’s called swing, swing, swing, baby.

“I’m a winner in life, and to bet on myself to win in the opening rounds, it makes me do what I said earlier, which is swing, swing, swing. You’ve got to swing to hit a home run. You can’t just sit there and pump-fake all day.”

The prize for the winner will likely be a bout with the winner of the Errol Spence-Shawn Porter fight, because neither is likely to fight Terence Crawford of Top Rank, who is No. 1 on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list.

Thurman would also cement his own Hall of Fame credentials with a win.

Roach, though, taunted Thurman and urged him to try to attack Pacquiao.

“Thurman is 10 years younger than Manny and Manny is the one who has been more active,” Roach said. “This will be Manny’s third world title fight in 12 months. The pressure is all on Thurman to perform. I think he will make a show of it early and come after Manny. That’s when reality will set in. Thurman will try to keep up with Manny’s pace and that’s when ‘One Time’ finds out what it’s like to fight ‘All Time.’

“Thurman will then be faced with an unenviable choice: Does he run away from an old man like Broner did, or does he get pushed around the ring by an old man, like Matthysse did? Manny will have the Fighter of the Year award wrapped up after this one.”

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