Will Thurman be too much for Pacquiao at 40?

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LAS VEGAS — The welterweight division is the deepest in boxing. It’s one with big-time star power, where a number of major fights can be made with relative ease because most of the top guys at 147 pounds reside under the same Premier Boxing Champions umbrella.

Two of those fighters are world titlist Keith Thurman and the still-formidable secondary titleholder Manny Pacquiao, the biggest star in the division and one of the biggest in boxing.

Once Pacquiao manhandled former four-division titleholder Adrien Broner in a dominating decision win in his PBC debut on Jan. 19, and Thurman returned from a 22-month injury layoff to shake off the rust and score a knockdown in a decision victory against Josesito Lopez on Jan. 26, it was a forgone conclusion they would meet this summer in one of the biggest fights of the year.

The bout takes place Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET), where Thurman will seek to retain his title for the sixth time in the most significant fight of his career.

“The time is now,” Thurman said. “He’s the legend, but I have 10 years of youth on my side. However, we’ve seen world champions and legends do tremendous things at later [ages]. For example, Bernard Hopkins won the [light heavyweight] world title at 45 years old. Is Manny Pacquiao that kind of world champion? Keith Thurman will be the first one to find out.”

Pacquiao, the favorite at -150 according to Caesars, has had many huge fights at the MGM Grand and will attempt to defeat yet another elite opponent in his 71st fight and extend his legendary 24-year career.

“It’s going to be another page of my story on Saturday,” Pacquiao said. “There’s a big chance that this fight is not going the distance. I’ll be prepared, but I’m thinking it’s not going 12 rounds.”

This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:


Age is but a number

Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) is the only fighter in boxing history to win world titles in eight weight classes. He may be 40, but he has looked sharp in his past two fights, against Broner and in a seventh-round knockout of Lucas Matthysse last July — a stoppage that ended a 13-fight streak without a KO extending back to 2009. The fight with “One Time” Thurman will also be Pacquiao’s third in 12 months, his busiest stretch in years.

Pacquiao, a senator in the Philippines who is fighting during the summer recess, has admitted to making adjustments to the rigorousness of his training camps, such as taking an occasional day off if needed to help his recovery. But he remains fast and precise with punches while still boxing with a sense of joy.

“I consider this fight one of the most important of my career because I am 40 and I want to prove something,” Pacquiao said. “It would mean a lot to be 40 years old and beat someone undefeated. It shows that I can still fight against the best.

“I just want to maintain my name in the top of boxing and continue my career. I already accomplished what I want to accomplish in boxing. I’m continuing my career because boxing is my passion.”

He aims to show, like fighters before him such as George Foreman and Hopkins, that he can still hack it against the best even at such an advanced age for a professional athlete.

“That’s what I’m trying to prove this time because we know that a lot of our fans and people in boxing [are] doubting my capability at the age of 40,” Pacquiao said. “I’m thinking about what I can do for the fans.”

Pacquiao said he continues to fight not only for the money and glory but because he is “addicted to exercise.”

“Even if I don’t have a scheduled fight … I’m playing basketball four to five hours almost every day,” he said. “So when this time comes and when I have a scheduled fight, then I’m so motivated myself to work hard, to train hard and to focus to the fight.”

Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach — who has been with Pacquiao since he first came to fight in the United States in 2001, save for the one-fight breakup for the Matthysse bout — marvels at his star pupil’s ability to retain his skills and remain motivated at 40.

“Well, it’s still what he does best. It got him to where he is today,” said Roach, who co-trains Pacquiao with Buboy Fernandez. “We want to fight a high-level person. We’re not in this game just to fight anybody. We want to be the best and we’d like another championship, and I don’t think we’ll stop until we get that.”

As for Thurman, he made it clear he has no intention of fighting at 40.

“Hell no,” he said when asked. “My grandfather said, ‘If you’re going to do it, boy, get in and get out.’ He meant it in a twofold way. He meant if you can stop them, stop them and get out of the ring early and make your money and get out of boxing while you’ve got sense and you can talk straight. I’m going to do my best to not take too many shots. A few more of these paychecks and we won’t be here when we’re 40 years old. I don’t need $100 million in life. I just need a little bit of moolah.”


Trash talk

Pacquiao has never been one to talk a big game before a fight, but he has been put off a bit by Thurman running his mouth during the promotion, which is also a bit out of character for Thurman.

Nonetheless, Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), 30, of Clearwater, Florida, said he would send Pacquiao into retirement. He equated the match to Pacquiao’s 2008 destruction of Oscar De La Hoya. Pacquiao was 30 then and in his prime when he savaged the aging “Golden Boy” in an eighth-round stoppage to send him into retirement. Thurman has promised to play the Pacquiao role in this fight, with Pacquiao serving as De La Hoya.

“I believe boxing is in a new era. Come [Saturday], Pacquiao will disappear,” said Thurman, who predicts a knockout win inside six rounds. “He’ll always be remembered in the sport, but I’m doing to Manny Pacquiao what he did to Oscar De La Hoya.”

Pacquiao did not appreciate Thurman’s words.

“Well, it is kind of over the line for me, but I’m not angry with him. I’m somebody very motivated by all he says,” Pacquiao said. “The trash talk that he did, he made even my mom get mad. … This is a very interesting fight for me because it has been a long time [since] I have focused like this for a fight.”

Pacquiao even piped up a bit to return fire at Thurman.

“Keith Thurman has it easy. His only job is to train for this fight,” Pacquiao said. “I have three jobs. I am a fighter. I am a public servant. And on Saturday I am going to be Keith Thurman’s teacher. I have heard everything he has said about me. I have heard everything he has said he will do to me in the fight. Those things he says about me do not make me angry. They inspire me. This has been the best training camp I have had in years. Keith Thurman thinks he is going to retire me. I am not ready to look back. I am still looking forward.”


Which Thurman shows up?

In back-to-back fights in 2016 and 2017, Thurman asserted himself as a true force to be reckoned with when he retained his title by decision over Shawn Porter and then outpointed Danny Garcia to unify two belts. Those were strong performances and significant wins that shot Thurman to the top of the division.

However, Thurman has only fought once since the Garcia fight in March 2017, the majority decision over Lopez in January. The layoff, caused by a right elbow injury that required surgery followed by a deep bone bruise on his left hand, was so long that Thurman gave up one of his belts because he could not make a mandatory defense in a timely fashion.

When he returned against Lopez, although Thurman scored a second-round knockdown and looked sharp at times en route to victory, he also looked rusty in spots and nearly got knocked out in the seventh round, when Lopez rocked him with a pair of right hands. It was Thurman’s worst crisis of his career and was such a lopsided round that all three judges scored it 10-8 for Lopez even though there was no knockdown.

Thurman weathered the storm, but left himself open for questions about whether he was the same fighter as he was before the injuries and layoff.

“I have an ‘0’ and I’m not afraid to let it go,” he said of his spotless record. “If you can beat me, beat me. Josesito Lopez had it right there in front of his eyes. He couldn’t close the deal. He couldn’t close it.”

So which Thurman will show up Saturday? He said the Lopez fight was just what he needed: a tough 12 rounds to shake off the rust and help prepare him for a tougher fight.

“I dropped him in the second round. I could have possibly had it finished in that round,” Thurman said. “They would have said, ‘Oh, Keith Thurman is back, he’s devastating.’ But I wouldn’t have had a tough fight. I know what kind of champion I am, and it just takes certain fights and certain challenges for me to prove how I can fight out of rough situations.

“In the seventh round, I showed once again that Keith Thurman is not a punk. If you want to fight me, fight me. You want to hurt me, hurt me. If you drop me, you drop me, but you better stop me. As long as you don’t stop me, I’m coming out the champion like I always do because that’s what I do.”

Pacquiao said he was not paying any attention to the Lopez fight.

“I’m not considering his performance and style on that fight because he just came back from a long layoff of almost two years,” Pacquiao said. “I’m not basing anything off his last performances. He’s well prepared for this fight because he’s not fighting Lopez, but he’s fighting Manny Pacquiao.”

Rafael’s prediction: Pacquiao by decision.

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