Manny Pacquiao has had the regular version of the WBA welterweight championship in his possession for over a year now. This is solid proof he is one of the celebrated champions in the talent-filled 147-pound weight class.
More on the sport of boxing:
But even if he has earned those intricately-crafted belts, he still cannot be regarded as part of the elite in the present landscape of his division. This is why he is fighting unbeaten American boxer Keith Thurman in a title unification contest. The bout will be at the 16,800-seater MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday, July 20. (It will be July 21 in the Philippines.)
From 2013 to early 2019, it seemed Pacquiao has lost touch with the real competition in his bracket. Not counting his May 2015 face-off with Floyd Mayweather Jr., boxing’s only eight-division world champion has not fought a high-caliber welterweight opponent since being knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012.
Instead of facing the best and the brightest his division has to offer during that period, he opted to share the ring with the likes of Brandon Ríos, Timothy Bradley, Chris Algieri, Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse, and Adrien Broner.
Not that I’m discrediting these pugilists on the basis of their subpar credentials. Neither am I putting the entire brunt on Pacquiao for choosing these opponents for the purpose of keeping his name afloat—regardless of whether or not he admits he is in the twilight years of his boxing career.
For the first time in years, an uphill battle awaits the Filipino boxing sensation. Pacquiao is not just fighting for his country and legacy against Thurman this weekend. He is out to reclaim the respect and recognition that comes with the WBA strap; It won’t be a mere accessory, but an evidence of being a top-tier welterweight.
Thurman poses a genuine threat to Pacquiao’s bid of reestablishing himself as one of the best at 147 pounds. The 30-year-old native of Clearwater, Florida is undefeated since turning professional in November 2007, holding a record of 29-0 with 22 knockouts. He is a technical boxer with good hand speed, outstanding jab, and counter-punching while possessing the power of a slugger. Additionally, he has a natural edge in size, and at this stage of both men's careers, he is the bigger puncher. In short, Thurman is at the peak of his prime.
The stakes are high
But should he lose to the Philippine senator, it will prove disastrous for Thurman. A loss will cause the boxing community to question if he is the same fighter he was before he lost nearly two years to injury.
To compound the misery, there will be questions as to whether he was ever at par with boxers like Pacquiao, Terrence Crawford, and Errol Spence Jr. If Thurman cannot beat a 40-year-old Pacquiao, he will have almost erased himself from the conversation around the top 147-pounders in the world.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, will be back to square one if he bows to Thurman in Las Vegas, a venue where he has won 16 of 20 matches. No matter how you look at it, both Pacquiao and Thurman have a lot at stake, which makes the scheduled 12-round clash so intriguing.
Pacquiao may be older and have suffered a lot of devastating blows in all of his 70 professional fights. But for a boxer who is way past his prime to triumph over younger fighters in good physical condition will be remarkable. Yes, it is a toned-down version of the old Manny Pacquiao who on numerous occasions put us at the edge of our seats, but it is safe to say he is now a grizzled veteran who will give up-and-comers a decent spanking before they earn their stripe
If Pacquiao can pull off a decisive win over Thurman, an undefeated world champion who is bigger, stronger and ten years his junior, it will arguably become the most momentous win of the senator’s career.
I am not implying Thurman is a better fighter than Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto or any of the other Hall-of-Famers that Pacquiao defeated in the past. In the more than two decades of his bona fide Hall-of-Fame career, the Filipino boxing superstar has seen and done it all. However, his upcoming fight against Thurman carries a significance of its own, hence the need to look at it with a keen eye. What I am saying here is that, under these circumstances, and with the age and size disadvantages, Pacquiao will not have a more impressive victory on his résumé other than when he wins this.
He could have fought the likes of Amir Khan and Yordenis Ugas for the sake of relevance or big payday. But none of those were his options. Instead, he chose a tough in-ring opposition in the form of Thurman.
If he gets his hand raised against Thurman, Pacquiao has every reason on the planet to celebrate. For Filipinos and his fans all over the globe, it will be a privilege to bask in his glory as this proves he is still a one-in-a-million fighter.