Why Manny Pacquiao chose Keith Thurman for his next fight

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Manny Pacquiao fights Adrien Broner during the WBA welterweight championship at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Jan. 19, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao fights Adrien Broner during the WBA welterweight championship at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Jan. 19, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

There is no way a 40-year-old legend looking to squeeze in an extra paycheck or two would ever willingly choose to fight someone like Keith Thurman. Heck, boxing is in the state it’s in in large part because there are champions in the prime of their careers who dodge the serious challenges.

The reason Manny Pacquiao has been so beloved over the years is the same reason we’re so grateful to first responders whenever there is a fire. While everyone else is running away, they’re the ones running toward the flames.

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Pacquiao is running headlong into the fire on July 20 in Las Vegas against Thurman, who is 29-0 with 22 knockouts and among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

The men, each of whom holds a version of the WBA welterweight title, will meet in the main event of a Fox Sports pay-per-view in sort of an unofficial opening round of a Premier Boxing Champions welterweight tournament.

How Thurman caught Pacquiao’s eye

Though it hasn’t been officially announced yet, IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. will face WBC champion Shawn Porter in August. The obvious next fight after that would be for the Pacquiao-Thurman winner to meet the Spence-Porter winner for welterweight supremacy.

The bout will be Thurman’s second of the year, following a Jan. 26 win over Josesito Lopez in which he looked more vulnerable than he has at any point. Because of a series of injuries and getting married, Thurman fought just once in 2016 and once in 2017 and not at all in 2018.

It was that March 4, 2017, bout that captured Pacquiao’s attention, and is why he opted to fight Thurman first among that group of PBC welterweights.

“I liked the way he fought against Danny Garcia,” Pacquiao said. “I thought his style would match up well with mine. We are going to give the fans a great fight and an exciting night.”

Keith Thurman (L) defeated Danny Garcia by split decision in their WBA/WBA welterweight unification fight at the Barclays Center on March 4, 2017. (Getty Images)
Keith Thurman (L) defeated Danny Garcia by split decision in their WBA/WBA welterweight unification fight at the Barclays Center on March 4, 2017. (Getty Images)

Thurman is rarely in a dull fight. He’s a multi-faceted fighter with plenty of power, and loves to attack. Pacquiao became one of the most beloved fighters in the sport’s history for his willingness to take on anyone and then engage them in all-out battles.

Thurman looked somewhat vulnerable against Lopez, and was hurt for perhaps the first time in his career in a bout that was little more than a tune-up. He was expected to cruise to victory, but found himself in a gut check down the stretch.

Pacquiao, though, expects to see a vastly different opponent in front of him in July.

“I would say Keith Thurman has looked rusty in the past,” he said. “I do not think that will be an issue when we fight because he has already fought once this year. I anticipate an action fight from him.”

There is lingering disappointment in boxing that Spence isn’t fighting Terence Crawford, the WBO champion and the only one of the four who isn’t signed with the PBC. Crawford and Spence are 1-2 on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list and coming off dominating victories, Crawford over Amir Khan and Spence over Mikey Garcia.

Welterweight, though, is an unusually deep division with good fights to be made.

It’s still tough to know that Crawford-Spence, a fight that could be the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns of our time, may not happen until 2020 for no reason other than promotional differences, but it’s hard not to be thrilled by a Pacquiao-Thurman match.

And while there is plenty of justification for the notion that Thurman no longer has the passion that once fueled his rise to the top, he’s still only 30 and hasn’t been in a lot of hard fights.

Pacquiao: ‘I want to entertain the fans’

Pacquiao probably rates Thurman higher than most of the public, which is quick to push a fighter on the way up and quicker to thrash him on the way down.

There is no getting around the fact that he looked ordinary at best in the win over Lopez, but it was the first time he’s ever looked ordinary, and he still won.

“I believe Keith Thurman is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing,” Pacquiao said. “That is why I am fighting him. He has faced and beaten two former welterweight champions, Robert Guerrero and Danny Garcia, and one current welterweight champion of the world, Shawn Porter. I have always looked for the best challenges in my career and Keith Thurman is an undefeated WBA super champion.

“He is the best 147-[pounder] available at this time so I watched some video of Thurman and saw that he brings an exciting style to the ring. That’s what the fans want, two of the best going at it. I want to entertain the fans.”

He’s done that consistently and rarely taken a soft touch. He’s fought everyone who is anyone during his time and isn’t slowing down, even at 40.

Though Floyd Mayweather isn’t expected to fight again, there have been rumblings in the not-too-distant past that he may unretire for one more fight against his long-time rival.

Should he do that, it’s possible that Pacquiao’s final four fights, all of which came after he turned 40 in December, would be his Jan. 19 decision over Adrien Broner; his July fight with Thurman; a fight later this year or early next against the Spence-Porter winner; and then perhaps a legends bout with Mayweather.

It’s remarkable. There are fighters in the Hall of Fame who haven’t fought that kind of opposition in their 20s, and Pacquiao could pull that off in his 40s.

It’s why it’s going to be a sad day for boxing when he finally walks away for good.

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