There are few parallels to what Manny Pacquiao has been able to do in terms of longevity. He turned pro at 16, making roughly the equivalent of $20 USD for his services. That was in 1995, and since then heâs become an international star, winning world titles in an unprecedented eight classes and making million dollar paydays.
At 40, heâs still fighting at a relatively high level, even if heâs no longer a pound for pound threat the way he was a decade ago.
His upcoming pay-per-view clash with Keith Thurman this Saturday night (local time) has the makings of an entertaining fight. Itâs a rare instance where the WBAâs fully recognized champion, in this case Thurman, and the holder of the WBAâs off-brand ‘regular’ belt are meeting, which should clear up some of the convoluted mess in the sanctioning body picture.
The fight is also another opportunity to make some cash in Las Vegas, the site of many of Pacquiaoâs biggest fights. It had seemed like his days in the fight capital were over as he circled around the Pacific region, taking fights wherever they were to be found.
Signing with Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) has breathed new life into Pacquiao’s career, opening up a new roster of welterweights to match him with.
Whatâs less clear is just what the end game is for Pacquiao. Heâs in the twilight of a unique career, has a day job as a senator in the Philippines, and yet still he submits himself to the punishment that is inextricable from the sportâs nature.
All of the plateaus one could reach, heâs reached them. He won a world title in his eighth division by 2011, was named ‘Fighter of the Decade’ in 2010. He finally had his long-awaited showdown with Floyd Mayweather in 2015, a losing effort which set financial records that may not be topped for some time.
Mayweather has said he has ‘zero interest’ in a rematch, and has been fighting exclusively against mixed martial artists and kickboxers since 2015, meaning itâs unlikely Pacquiao will ever get a chance to avenge that loss.
Hiss name is frequently floated as a potential presidential candidate for 2020 and his boxing career provides the ultimate public relations boost in a country where Pacquiao is considered a national icon. Like a politician, he refuses to voice his interest in running.
Point to prove
His refrain these days is that he wants to prove he can still be a world class fighter at age 40, reminiscent of George Foremanâs famous ‘life begins at 40’ line.
“Thatâs what Iâm trying to prove this time because we know that a lot of our fans and people in boxing were doubting my capability at the age of 40,” said Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 knockouts) at last weekâs conference call.
Proving he could fight at an advanced age against a version of Lucas Matthysse which was physiologically much older, or against an Adrien Broner with little ambition remaining in his career is one thing. Itâs quite another to face a 30-year-old natural welterweight who has entered the ring with several champions and remains unbeaten.
Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) had lost much of the momentum from his 2017 unification win over Danny Garcia, missing the rest of 2017 and all of 2018 due to injuries. He underwent surgery on his right elbow, then suffered a left hand injury that kept him out of action longer.
His inactivity has led to some chiding the man known as ‘One Time’ or ‘Sometimes’. His last outing, a majority decision over gatekeeper Josesito Lopez in January, included a moment of distress that did little to instill confidence from his backers.
Outside of that, Thurman had also been hurt in his 2013 win over Jesus Soto Karass, and was hurt to the body by Luis Collazo in 2015.
“Iâm not considering his performance and style on that fight because he just came back from a long layoff of almost two years. So I understand that. This time, this fight Iâm sure heâll be in 100% condition and Iâm sure he did a lot of things in training,â said Pacquiao.
Still, Thurman knows this is his opportunity to finally break out onto the world scene after numerous stops and starts. He had built a reputation for his fierce punching power, and even though it hasnât shown in the way of knockouts lately, that danger is always present.
He scored a knockdown of Lopez in his last fight with a step-back left hook counter. But itâs his right hand, a prime weapon against a southpaw, that is his most potent.
The Clearwater, Florida native has done everything he can to goad Pacquiao into losing his cool, promoting the fight with taunts that have ranged from the obnoxious to the inflammatory. None of that is likely to get a rise from the Filipino, who is as cool as it gets outside the ring.
Pacquiao made a calculated gamble here: Thurman is not Errol Spence, the IBF titleholder viewed by many as the best among a talented crop of 147lbers, nor is he Terence Crawford, the switch-hitting WBO titleholder over at Top Rank.
Plus Getting Thurman off a subpar performance has to help Pacquiaoâs chances.
As good as heâs been lately, itâs been awhile since weâve seen Pacquiao have to dig deep. Most think he beat Jeff Horn in 2017, but he still had a much harder time than expected.
Pacquiao faded late, blaming a cut suffered early in the fight and overtraining that put stress on his ageing body. Heâs begun to listen to his body and rest when he needs to in camp. If Thurman can hang in there in a close fight, can Pacquiao still turn it on late and close the show?
And if he does win, which heâs a slight favorite to do, then what? Does he face the winner of the fight between Spence and Shawn Porter? These fighters belong to another time, a generation or two after Pacquiao.
Pacquiao has little to gain by beating Keith Thurman but for his opponent this is the opportunity of a lifetime.