As renowned HBO commentator Jim Lampley struggled to properly pronounce his name in his 2001 U.S. debut and super bantamweight title shot against former South African champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, no one that night would’ve predicted the explosive Filipino fighter would become a household name and cement his legacy in boxing history.
Now 18 years later, as most of his former opponents have dedicated their retirement to ringside commentating or embarrassing MMA fighters in exhibition matches, Filipino legend Manny “Pac-man” Pacquiao continues to entice boxing fans taking on intriguing fights against dangerous fighters in the welterweight division.
This Saturday, July 20, Pacquio will face undefeated WBA Welterweight World Champion Keith “One Time” Thurman at Pacquiao’s established stomping grounds of the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. As fight week festivities await, boxing fans around the globe wonder if the 40-year-old now senator of the Philippines has enough left in the tank to defeat a young crafty fighter in Thurman.
“I just want to prove that at the age of 40, I can still fight,” Pacquiao told Xicana Boxing. “I can still compete with the younger ones, the 30-year olds, and this is the test of my career to prove that I’m still there.”
Ten years his junior, Thurman is eager to remind boxing fans of his undeniable skills in the ring and make a statement by defeating one of the greatest of all time in Pacquiao. In the L.A. press conference, Thurman assured the crowd he wouldn’t let no “bunny rabbit” defeat him and poked jokes at Pacquiao’s religious beliefs by stating he would “crucify” the southpaw come Saturday night.
Following his last title defense against “Riverside Rocky” Josesito Lopez in which he seemed stunned in the seventh round, some fans are doubtful Thurman has completely shaken off the ring rust following two years of inactivity and vacating the WBC welterweight title he won against the then-undefeated Danny “Swift” Garcia. While a majority of fans can agree Pacquiao’s biggest advantage is his speed and experience, we must not ignore Thurman’s resume is one of—if not the best— amongst the other welterweight champions.
Having shared the ring with rugged fighters like Jesus Soto Karass, Luis Collazo, Robert Guerrero and Shawn Porter will definitely serve as experience for Thurman when he steps in the ring to settle who’s the real WBA welterweight champion. Thurman will also have the convenience of higher height and reach over Pacquiao; though as we learned long ago, that has rarely served as a true advantage for most of the eight-division world champion’s list of former opponents.
“Styles make fights,” Thurman told Xicana Boxing, “I just guarantee you that Manny Pacquiao has not been up against the style of Keith Thurman. I’m just too much with everything from all my angles, in and out, my jab, my reach, my countering ability. I just think that I’m gonna be able to dictate the fight from the first bell to the last.”
It is Thurman’s style, however, that long-time Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach claims will be the reason this won’t be toe-to-toe matchup fans enjoy. In the L.A press conference, Roach predicted Thurman would “get on his bike” and dance around the ring to avoid exchanges with the much faster Pacquiao.
“[Thurman’s style] will just give Manny opportunities to cut the ring off and chase him down and take care of business.” Roach told Xicana Boxing at Pacquiao’s media workout last week.
While the boxing motto is “Hit and don’t get hit,” fans expect a thrilling fight when Pacquiao is involved especially when it’s a pay-per-view. As Pacquiao started the year in a PPV against former three-division world champion Adrien Broner, we can expect a similar style of fight with Pacquiao as the aggressor and Thurman fighting on the backfoot. Boxing fans, however, expect Thurman to let his hands go and make it an entertaining and competitive bout.
Keys to victory:
Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao must remain his explosive self and relentlessly target Thurman’s body in the early rounds to ensure the Florida native slows down enough for Pacquiao to capitalize on Thurman’s ring rust and corner him against the ropes as he did multiple times against Broner, and as Lopez did against Thurman in that seventh round. Though Pacquiao will surely be the aggressor, he must make sure he doesn’t let Thurman dictate the pace of the fight and be cautious of possible counters, as Thurman has the longest reach. If Pacquiao can outland, outwork and overwhelm Thurman especially to the body, Pacquiao can ensure a unanimous decision victory.
Keith Thurman: Being the younger fighter might perhaps be the biggest advantage for Thurman fighting a legend far from his prime. A confident Thurman claims he’s faced all the styles Pacquiao can bring, but he must not overlook the older welterweight and his ability to deliver one of the best left hooks in boxing. Though fans may not approve, it’s Thurman’s best bet to stick to his technical boxing abilities against the ferocious southpaw and use his jab to maintain his distance and set up effective counter punches. Avoiding punches won’t be enough to dance his way to a unanimous decision; if he wants to win decisively, he must exploit his reach for every chance at an accurate counter shot. Because Pacquiao has been brutally knocked out before, Thurman must stay alert for openings to deliver the punch that could send Pacquiao into unconsciousness or as he promised, into retirement.
Inside PBC Boxing on FOX had a segment dedicated to current and former boxing champions making predictions on the blockbuster welterweight showdown, in which the fight proved to be a 50/50 draw if you count Pacquiao who of course, voted for himself.
Older boxing legends like Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley and Roberto Duran predicted Pacquiao to win based on experience and speed, while most current champions like Errol Spence, Deontay Wilder and Leo Santa Cruz all pick Thurman for being the younger fighter.
Whether you believe Thurman can score a career-ending knockout on the much older Pacquiao or think Pacquiao can be the cause of Thurman’s first loss, it is evident both champions want to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division. For Thurman, it is the biggest test in his career to dethrone a legend and remind his division who was reigning before the current champions moved up and a clear statement that “One Time” is back. Pacquiao in the other hand has nothing left to prove but instead seems to genuinely enjoy putting on memorable fights that will continue to engrave his name in the list of all-time greats.
Boxing fans can only hope the winner of this fight goes on to fight the winner of Errol Spence vs. Shawn Porter, though as Pacquiao told Xicana Boxing, they have to take it one fight at a time.