Ever since WBA welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao reached 40 in December, experts have been giving a generally guarded assessment about his fighting skills.
Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 knockouts) proved a good number of doubters wrong when, just a month after he turned 40, the multi-division world champion battered 29-year-old former four-division world champion Adrien Broner during their 12-round world welterweight title bout last January in Las Vegas.
But conditioning coach Justin Fortune remains adamant that the General Santos City-born ring warrior is not just the same young Pacquiao who terrorized the best fighters in all of eight divisions he conquered.
For the Australian strength coach, Pacquiao has even actually evolved into a better, more dangerous fighter at this point of his career.
“He’s still there. He just gained a whole bunch of experience,” Fortune said in a recent interview.
“He sees a lot more, he does a lot more and he’s more tactical. Yes, he’s had 70 fights but he’s the same Pacquiao, same super fighter, very strong with more experience. More dangerous now.”
Surely, Fortune knows what he’s talking about because apart from working with notable champions in the past such as Mike Tyson, Johnny Bredahl and Brian Viloria to name a few, the US-based Aussie has known Pacquiao since 2003, the year Pacquiao first came to the famed Wild Card gym of Freddie Roach in Hollywood.
“Sure he still surprises me, surprises me that he is still going, that he’s been champion or No. 1 in the sport for 16 years, which is phenomenal in any sport, especially in boxing. To be in that level for 16 years is crazy,” said Fortune.
This weekend, Fortune will again work in the corner of Pacquiao who is set to face fellow 147-lb champion Keith Thurman, a 30-year-old undefeated champion who has tallied a 29-0 record, 22 via knockout.
Fortune, 53, said Thurman was just one of a handful of elite boxers Pacquiao wanted to take on as a follow-up to his victory over Broner.
Pacquiao, Fortune said, also considered topnotch welterweight fighters Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia and Shawn Porter as potential foes.
“Everyone else was booked or had just fought. Thurman was available, Manny looked at it and he made the choice. He’s not handpicking,” revealed Fortune
“If he’s handpicking he could have fought someone else. But no, he wants to fight the best. He (Thurman) is the WBA champion and a dangerous guy.”
Fortune, who fought as a heavyweight from 1990 to 2009 and compiled a 15-9-2, 9 KO record, still sees a tough but winnable fight for Pacquiao.
“It’s not an easy fight. Thurman’s definitely the best fighter we’ve fought in years but Pacquiao’s fast and stronger, better, helluva lot more experience. Manny feels he can beat him, we’re getting ready for it, it’s a very winnable fight,” said Fortune.
Pacquiao and Thurman, who are both recognized by the WBA as world welterweight titleholders, will battle in a 12-round title fight Sunday morning (Manila time) at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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