TWENTY-FOUR years after first climbing into a professional boxing ring, Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao attempted to defy the march of time and won on Saturday when he battled the formerly undefeated American Keith Thurman for the WBA welterweight crown.
The 40-year-old Filipino icon clashed with Thurman at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in what is arguably his most challenging assignment since losing to Floyd Mayweather in 2015’s money-spinning “Fight of the Century”.
Thurman, who at 30 years old is a full decade younger than Pacquiao, initially regarded Saturday as an attempt to build his legacy, and has bluntly vowed to send the Filipino into retirement.”This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to destroy a legend,” Thurman declared way before the boxing match, placing Pacquiao in the boxing pantheon alongside some of the sport’s greatest practitioners.
“It’s as if I’m fighting Sugar Ray Robinson or Roberto Duran,” Thurman said before the fight. “This is Manny Pacquiao. It’s a tremendous feeling, and it’s going to feel even greater when my hand is raised at the end of the night.”
Thurman is one of the hardest punchers in the welterweight division with 22 knockouts in 30 fights.
But Pacquiao ended the US boxer’s winning streak.
He won by a split decision, defeating Thurman on Saturday, July 20, in a boxing match that showed the Filipino boxing champ defying time.
With the win, he becomes the oldest holder of a major welterweight title in boxing history.
He floored Thurman in the first round and never eased up to bring a sell-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to its feet.
Two judges scored it 115-112 in favour of Pacquiao with the third scoring it 114-113 in favour of Thurman.
“For me nothing is personal,” Pacquiao said even before the match. “Our job is to fight. He (Thurman) has to prove something, and I have to prove something.
“It’s easy to say things. But it’s not so easy to do it in the ring,” he said of Thurman’s earlier vows to defeat him in the boxing ring.
The Filipino senator has managed to successfully juggle a political career in the Philippines while continuing to box at a high level, looked sharp in his last outing in January, a unanimous decision against Adrien Broner.
After spending the first part of his training camp in the Philippines, he relocated to Los Angeles to work under the guidance of long-time trainer Freddie Roach at his Wild Card gym in Hollywood.
Roach maintains that Pacquiao has shown no sign of decline during gruelling sparring, and is confident early on that his speed and mobility will cause problems for the naturally bigger Thurman.
-Not retiring yet-
Roach is nervous that a verbal agreement brokered with Pacquiao several years ago — namely that when the veteran cornerman believes it is time to retire, he will heed the advice and hang up his gloves — may no longer be valid.
“There’s too many people around him who will tell him I’m full of shit, and he may listen to them,” Roach told AFP. “At one time I’d have said our agreement was pretty solid and he’d listen to me. But today I’m not so sure.”
The financial incentives may tempt Pacquiao to keep plugging away regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s contest.
This weekend’s fight will reportedly add another $20 million to career earnings estimated at $200 million. A lucrative offer to fight Britain’s Amir Khan in Saudi Arabia in November is on the table, though Pacquiao’s camp deny a contract had been signed.
Pacquiao, who retired in 2016 only to return seven months later, says he will continue fighting as long as his body allows.
“Boxing is my passion,” he told AFP. “It’s really hard to stop and hang up the gloves when you know that you can still fight.”
(with a report by Rob Woollard, Agence France Presse)