By: Tommy Rainone
I will be the first to admit that going into last Saturday nights Pay Per View championship fight against Keith “One Time” Thurman, I had my reservations on Manny Pacquiao being able to pull this one out. At the age of 40 (a little over 40 1/2 really) Pacquiao turned professional when Thurman was all of 6 years old. Manny has had a pro career that will hit 25 years come January, while Thurman just entered his 30’s .
1995, the year that “Pac Man ” turned pro, was a long time ago.
1988, was the year that “One Time” came into this world, which makes him around the perfect age today that a world class athlete is usually in their prime. Manny as good as he still is, is certainly removed from his.
It wasn’t the difference in age that had me leaning towards Thurman as ten years isn’t exactly a lifetime, but more so the 70 professional fights under Manny’s belt, the 474 rounds, and all the years of hard training camps, even harder fights, and the wear and tear that come along with it all. That’s like two life times in boxing. Couple that with the incredible amount of distractions Pacquiao has had in his life from his political ambitions, becoming a senator in the Philippines, along with the amount of fame, money and accolades that he’s achieved makes a man, any man, less hungry and determined as he once was before those acquirements and accomplishments.
Thurman on the other hand entered this fight as the 29-0 22 KO, WBA welterweight champion, a title that he has held since March of 2015. Really, it was July of 2013 if you want to count the interim version of that title that he held and defended three times before reaching full status as WBA champion. (yes the sanctioning bodies suck).
Any way you slice and dice it “One Time” has held a version of that WBA title for 6 long years now. Arguably except for the man he was about to fight Saturday night, Thurman has the best resume in all of the stacked welterweight division. Manny Pacquiao was the perfect pawn to help launch Keith Thurman into super stardom. Along with that stardom comes bigger paychecks and better opportunities both in and out of the ring. Thurman has always been the brash, confident, almost arrogant contender and then champion, and his conviction was shining as bright as ever heading into this fight.
So bright in fact that he placed 3 separate wagers on himself in Vegas…one to stop Pacquiao in the first round and the other 2 to stop him in the each of the proceeding rounds. As far as Keith Thurman was concerned as well as many experts and hordes of fans, this was the passing of the torch to one of the new faces of boxing.
Leading up to the event, Pacquaio remained his quiet and humble self that we are accustomed to seeing throughout the years. A part of me felt as if Manny didn’t understand what he was getting himself into. Yes he has more experience and wisdom than anyone in the sport but with the rare exceptions of guys like Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward, every last fighter overstays their welcome. Fighter’s fight until the very end and literally and figuratively leave it all in the ring, often a shell of their former self outside of the ring much less in the one they were competing in past their expiration date. Fighters fight until they can’t win anymore…then they fight a couple more times. It’s been this way since the beginning of boxing times almost like a silent time honored tradition and like the thousands of brave warriors that fought on to long before him, Manny hasn’t gotten the memo.
When the bell rang to start the first round Saturday night the first thing I noticed was Manny’s timing seemed off. Thurman was able to easily read a majority of Pacquiao’s attempted offence for the first 2 min and 30 seconds of the opening stanza. Thurman was using his height, reach, and what appeared to be better athleticism, to avoid the incoming almost as if he could see what Manny was doing before he was doing it… and he could. Thurman easily blocked Pac Man’s punches, and when he wasn’t blocking he was using his younger, fresher legs to bounce out of range from Manny’s blows. Manny looked off and Thurman looked comfortable controlling the tempo of the fight while going to his power shots early and landing some thudding ones to stunt Pacquiao’s attack. I remember thinking to myself ” this isn’t Matthysse or Broner” who were Pac man’s last two victims with one being well over the hill and the latter never living up to the perceived expectations. Those victories showed Manny still had something left in the tank but just how much was questionable as some smoke and mirrors were involved. Then right on queue vintage Manny appears in the form his classic 3 punch combination, the right jab upstairs, left cross to the body and quick right hook to the head and Thurman is immediately deposited on the canvas flat on his back. Just like that, Manny took the round (a 2-point round because of the knockdown) and the momentum of the fight as we have seen him do countless times before. It was a flash knockdown but one that buzzed Thurman and would now keep him honest while letting him know…. you’re in a fight.
Round 2 sees Manny coming forward and being more aggressive and landing enough touching shots to keep “One Time” from fully committing to his offence while Pacquiao is often using his under rated high guard defense to catch a majority of Keith’s swat’s. Pacquiao did some good body work in the second round but nothing that seemed to bother Thurman much; but it was very clear now that this was a different Thurman then the one who came out and fought a beautiful nine- tenths of the first round.
As this fight progressed Thurman seemed to bite down on his mouthpiece knowing he had a long night ahead of him while refusing to fold. All preconceived assumptions and expectations were out the window for ‘One Time’ as well as the money he wagered on himself to end matters with in the first 3 frames. His character was never in question for me. We have already seen him win in a war of attrition with Shawn Porter. We already saw Keith somehow not only remain on his feet from a wicked Luis Collazo counter left to the liver (that hurt me just watching) and badly hurt “One Time ” absorbing it but surviving the round and ultimately winning the fight. His last fight against Josesito Lopez was one in which he took incredible punishment and was badly hurt in round 7 only to withstand the onslaught and come away victorious. Thurman has already shown us championship heart and he would need it on this night against a determined Pacquiao who was doing all he could to turn back the clock.
The proceeding rounds were close and “One Time” was plenty live and competitive but these were rounds that Pacquiao was banking on. He banked them with a toll to pay as after a very good first half of the fight the 40-year-old legend seemed to be slowing down some, and the second half as Thurman was making up ground from round 7 on. Many of those rounds from 7-12 were close rounds, swing rounds which could have gone either way and often lead to controversial decisions and never-ending bickering between fans of one guy or the other. Both warriors continued to trade momentum, no sooner did Pacquiao assume command of a round would Thurman take the play away with resistance and heart battling back to never allow Pacquiao to run away with the ball.
This scenario continued to play out and repeat its self throughout the course of the night as both men traded punches and momentum. There were many close rounds until a pivotal moment arrived in the 10th round with Thurman making his way back in on the score cards as the aggressor while Manny looked to counter, Pacquaio landed a big left hand to the liver. Thurman was recognizably and badly hurt. The old killer instinct returned as Manny chased a damaged Thurman around the ring firing shots and looking for the stoppage. Thurman couldn’t hide his distress and was visibly hopping around the ring trying to get separation from a chasing Pac Man while often doubling over every time Manny closes the distance. Thurman survived the round, but this crucial round belongs to Manny and the momentum carried over to the 11th and 12th. He rode the wave of confidence and self-belief, mixed with the diversity of an aggressive 11th round, and a box, move, and counter 12th to secure victory by a split decision. Father time held off one more time.
This was an excellent seesaw battle between an all-time great fighter and a potentially great fighter whose greatness was held off on this summer night. Thurman was humbled in defeat and most likely made more fans with his honest assessment of coming up short in a close fight while praising Pac for his performance and promising to learn from his first taste of defeat. A fighter learns more in one loss then in 29 victories and “One Time” will be back. Many a time a fighter of great character and equal talent comes back re-focused and hungry and I doubt we have seen the last of Keith Thurman victorious on a world class level.
As for Manny, once again he fought off father time, and this will likely go down as one of his signature victories. There are too many to choose from, let alone single out just one after an almost 25-year career of excellence but, this one at 40 years old was special, if not historic . He somehow remains extremely relevant in a welterweight division with many sharks in the water. A farewell fight against just about anyone with name recognition would be a beautiful and safer way to call it a career. After what I saw Saturday night, he most likely still beats elite welters like Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, but would be well advised to stay away from the great whites of the division. Guys named Errol Spence and Terrance Crawford are too young and too much for Manny the great, he has nothing to prove and has overachieved more than any fighter perhaps in this sport. I would love to see him call it a career after defying the odds once again, but much like “The Doors” book and box set dedicated to the late Jim Morrison… “No one here gets out alive,” not in this sport.