Manny Pacquiao added another impressive notch to his belt by beating the previously undefeated Keith Thurman on Saturday night. While the verdict was a split decision after 12 rounds, the 40-year-old "Pacman" was the clear winner.
He sent Thurman to the canvas in the first round, controlled the first half of the fight, and then, with Thurman sneaking back into the bout, he hurt Thurman with a shot to the body in the 10th. Then he did enough in the late stages to hold off Thurman's rally.
So what did we learn from Saturday night?
Is Pacquiao better now than he was three years ago?
Rafael: I wouldn't say he is better than he was in 2016, a year in which he manhandled Timothy Bradley Jr. (scoring two knockdowns in a clear decision win in their third fight) and also dropped and easily outpointed Jessie Vargas to win a welterweight title. Athletes, especially boxers with more than 70 professional fights, don't get better at 40. Now, it is possible that Pacquiao is more focused and devoted to training than he was in the past. As a senator he has to balance his time and keep a more rigorous schedule, so that might also have helped him stay sharp as a fighter. But he is most definitely not better than he was three years ago.
Kim: That's an interesting question. When Pacquiao is focused and motivated, he is still an incredibly formidable foe. When he lost in stunning fashion to Jeff Horn back in 2017, it seemed as though he might be making the final descent of his Hall of Fame career. But since that point, he has racked up dominant victories over Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and now Keith Thurman.
You could argue that given the circumstances (at his age, facing a strong, undefeated foe in his physical prime) that the victory over Thurman is among his greatest ever. His wins over the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto are certainly memorable, but this one should certainly be up there on that mantel, given the variables.
What are Pacquiao's chances against the other titleholders in the division? And whom should he fight next?
Rafael: The Pacquiao who fought Thurman would give all of them a fight, and he would win some of them. That said, Errol Spence Jr. is a terrible matchup for him. He is faster, more skilled, better defensively, younger and fresher than Thurman. Spence is a bad matchup for most everybody in the division except maybe Terence Crawford, who I also think would be a very difficult fight for Pacquiao, but I'd give Pacquiao a better chance against Crawford than Spence. Shawn Porter is physical and his fights inevitably involve head-butts and rough stuff. Not a great matchup for Pacquiao, but with his speed, frenetic style and ability to move in and out and side to side, I think he'd beat Porter.
As for Pacquiao's next fight, Premier Boxing Champions will probably want to match him up with the Spence-Porter winner, but that might not happen until the second half of next year, meaning Pacquiao would need an opponent in the first part of 2020. There have been the rumors of a possible fight with Amir Khan in Saudi Arabia, but that's a terrible fight with little public interest, at least in the United States. It's a big-time mismatch at this point, in Pacquiao's favor. So knowing he probably won't fight the Spence-Porter winner next, or Crawford (for many reasons), the next-best welterweight for him to fight is Danny Garcia, a really good former titleholder. Excellent fight. Makeable fight. Bring it on.
Kim: OK. While the victory over Thurman is impressive, the reality is that Thurman is a guy who was really inactive (Saturday night was just his second fight since 2017), and in his previous bout, against Josesito Lopez, he showed great vulnerability against a fighter of limited power.
Pacquiao would still be considered a favorite over the hard-trying but limited Porter. But guys like Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford are elite fighters in their physical primes and much more complete fighters. Crawford is a master boxer whose length and athleticism would trouble Pacquiao, while Spence is a strong, physical force who will soon be a junior middleweight and beyond.
As far as whom Pacquiao should face next, that's an interesting question. It's not clear just how long he will be boxing, but given that he's with the PBC, the opponent that makes the most sense from his vantage point is Danny Garcia. Again, this is all about risk vs. reward, and while Garcia isn't as highly regarded as the duo mentioned earlier, he is still a recognizable name and it's a fight that his handlers will probably approve.
The judges ended with the right winner, but how close was this fight, really?
Rafael: I had it 117-110 for Pacquiao, 9-3 in rounds, with Pacquiao also getting the knockdown in the first round. I thought the judges were a little closer than maybe they should be, but there were two or three very close rounds. I had one round that I had a hard time deciding and gave it to Pacquiao, so I easily could have had it 116-111. That seems about right. The fight was very close, because each round was usually competitive, but Pacquiao most definitely won the majority of them, which is why I strongly disagree with judge Glenn Feldman's scorecard of 114-113 for Thurman.
Kim: This fight was ruled a split decision, with Tim Cheatem and Dave Moretti having Pacquiao up by the tally of 115-112, while Glenn Feldman had Thurman up 114-113. It felt more like a close but clear victory for Pacquiao. He took control of the fight early with a first-round knockdown, and Pacquiao won at least four or five of the first six rounds. When Thurman started creeping back into the fight in the late rounds, Pacquiao won the 10th round and fought on even terms in the final two.
You can make an argument that Thurman rallied to make it close. However, you can't really argue that he actually did enough to get his hands raised in victory.
Was the first-round knockdown the key moment of the fight?
Rafael: No. It might have given Pacquiao some momentum, and it might have deflated Thurman a little, but he was not badly hurt and there were still 11-plus rounds to go. In no way is it the turning point of an all-action 12-round fight.
Kim: Pacquiao took control of this fight early on, and by sending Thurman crashing to the canvas with his patented "Manila Ice" right hook, he put early trepidation into the mind of his younger foe. It served notice early on that while Pacquiao might have lost a step, as Eric Dickerson once said, it's a step that most people never had.
And with that early momentum for Pacquiao, doubt was put into Thurman's mind, and he fought rather cautiously in the first half as Pacquiao built up an early lead on the cards. Also, with a knockdown, you put yourself in a position where if you don't hit the canvas yourself, all you need to do is to win six rounds to win by a point.
Is Thurman as good as we thought he was? Where does he go from here?
Rafael: Thurman is very good, and nothing has changed. He said afterward that after 22 months off because of injury he probably could have used another fight or two to get into the groove after having just one shaky comeback fight in January. But there's no shame in losing to a legend. He fought generally on even terms and can bounce back for sure.
Thurman should take a little rest, go back to the gym and work on his whole game. He still has big fights in his future. One hopes he'll be back in with a legit opponent in early 2020.
Kim: Give Thurman this: With wins over Porter and Garcia (a fight in which he unified the welterweight titles) he has a solid résumé. However, long layoffs have never given him the opportunity to truly develop as a complete fighter, and oftentimes you wonder about his overall passion and commitment to the sport.
But losing to Pacquiao is no shame, and there are still plenty of matchups left on the PBC side of the street for him at welterweight.