Pacquiao punishes Thurman, secures split decision win
It isn’t often that you see a fighter in his physical prime at age 30 lamenting his inability to keep up with the work rate of a man ten years his senior. Then again, not every 40-year-old is Manny Pacquiao.
When the final bell rang, Pacquiao was lifted up by his corner to the cheers of the announced crowd of 14,356 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Win or lose, the fans had nothing but respect for this legend’s still-present greatness.
The scores – 114-113 for Keith Thurman on one card and 115-112 for Pacquiao on the other two – earned Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 knockouts) the WBA welterweight title. He’s now the oldest fighter to ever win a belt at 147 pounds, and has now done so four times since stepping up to his optimal weight of 147 pounds.
“I wish I had a little more output to go toe-to-toe, I felt like he was getting a little bit tired but he did have experience in the ring,” said Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs), who entered unbeaten and left with the first defeat of his career.
“My conditioning and output was just behind Manny Pacquiao.”
Despite Thurman’s recent inactivity and inconsistencies, there was great reason to worry. Thurman was unbeaten through 29 previous fights and had the sort of power that could bring the onset of becoming a ‘shot’ fighter. Instead, it’s the observers who are getting old waiting for Pacquiao to get old.
Despite having nothing left to prove, Pacquiao came to prove something in round one, wearing a much more intense face than normal. The jibes from Thurman, which included a promise to ‘crucify’ the ultra-religious Pacquiao, seemed to ignite the Filipino.
Pacquiao made the first statement early on, following Thurman as he retreated backwards with a right hook to score the fight’s only knockdown. Thurman seemed troubled as much by the speed from Pacquiao as he was by the creative angles the southpaw punched from, causing Thurman to turn southpaw briefly in the second to get away from the blows.
Thurman began to inch his way back into the fight in round three, landing the occasional right hand to back Pacquiao off, but still getting hit around the guard as Pacquiao circled away.
A pattern began to persist where Pacquiao would be passive early in the round, then turn it up in the last minute when Thurman was beginning to tire.
Thurman began to make an impression, landing right hands around Pacquiao’s guard and pounding to the body along the ropes. Pacquiao drew blood from Thurman’s nose in that round, causing an injury that would impact Thurman throughout the fight.
Pacquiao regained momentum near the end of the fifth, landing repeatedly with both hands and sending Thurman back to the corner on unsteady legs.
The tide began to turn in the seventh when Thurman landed a right hand and a left hook that affected Pacquiao and forced him to bang his own head out of frustration. Pacquiao would offer back a smile as Thurman landed right hands and danced away, but the movement made it harder for Pacquiao to rally.
Pacquiao took the eighth by landing left hands along the ropes. Pacquiao’s footwork, which had been dazzling earlier, slowed and appeared more labored by the ninth. The momentum shifted back Thurman’s way near the end of the ninth as Pacquiao’s head was knocked back by a Thurman flurry, driving him into the ropes.
Sensing a need for something dramatic, Pacquiao pulled one more trick from his sleeve in the tenth, sneaking in a left hook to the body which froze Thurman and forced him to retreat. The wind had gone from his sails and he backed away from danger to regain his breath.
The power that had threatened Pacquiao a round earlier had abandoned Thurman’s hands.
Thurman desperately searched for the power shot that could turn the fight back around but it eluded him. Pacquiao appeared the fresher of the two at the final bell.
“Oh senator oh senator, great is ye oh senator,” Thurman proclaimed afterwards, fulfilling a promise he had made to Pacquiao in the event that he lost.
“He’s not an easy opponent, he’s a good boxer so he’s strong,” said Pacquiao, showing respect for the fighter who pushed him to show his greatness yet again.
While Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao’s arch-rival who defeated him in 2015, was in the ring before the fight, despite not having a professional relationship with either main eventer, he didn’t step between the ropes afterward.
Pacquiao gave a non-answer when asked if he’d consider fighting the winner of the Errol Spence vs. Shawn Porter IBF/WBC unification fight, which was announced earlier in the day for September 28 in Los Angeles.
Pacquiao was set to fly back to the Philippines immediately to attend the State of the Nation address delivered by President Rodrigo Duterte, and says he’d fight again next year, saying he had to focus on his duties as one of his country’s 24 senators.
This writer said a day earlier that Pacquiao had little to gain from adding Thurman’s name to his unparalleled resume. But there’s a different vibe in the air when he returns home to the Philippines after a big win. For as polarizing as he can be, few things excite his nation of 100+ million more than him proving detractors wrong.
More broadly, he added yet another memory to a long reel for boxing fans to replay.