Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Thurman-Pacquiao: A Classic Scenario

There are some scenarios in the sport of Boxing that seem to occur throughout a fighter's career. One of such scenario that most fans and historians can all relate to is of an established star in the sport, who has been a central figure in Boxing for many years facing a younger and hungry opponent. At times when such an encounter takes place, it is the older fighter who is viewed as an underdog in a fight that pits youth versus experience.

In December 2008, Manny Pacquiao found himself in a fight that would fight this scenario when he faced Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, NV. Although Pacquiao had won world titles in multiple weight classes prior to that fight, it was indisputable that he was facing a man in De La Hoya, who was the top draw in the sport at the time. An added element of intrigue that was also part of the story of the fight was the fact that Pacquiao, who was a world champion in the 135lb. Lightweight division at the time was moving up two weight classes to face De La Hoya.

Despite being a smaller man having begun his career as a 105lb. Strawweight in 1995, Pacquiao dominated the bigger De La Hoya beating the six-division world champion into submission as the future Hall of Famer quit in his corner after eight one-sided rounds. A defeat that signaled the end of the in-ring career for one of Boxing's all-time greats, but one that also served as a symbolic passing of the torch from Boxing’s longtime top draw and pay-per-view attraction in De La Hoya, who had been a central figure of the sport from the mid-1990's up to the time of his final bout to a man who would go on to dominate much of the sport’s focus for the next decade, Manny Pacquiao.

A familiar part of the narrative of Pacquiao's career since the victory over De La Hoya nearly eleven years ago has been his willingness to face fighters who are naturally bigger than him and his ability to dominate those opponents. While he has also suffered some setbacks over the last decade inside the ring, Pacquiao, who has also forged a successful political career in his native Philippines where he is currently serving as a senator, remains one of the sport’s top draws.

Following a controversial loss to Jeff Horn in 2017, where he lost his WBO Welterweight world championship, Pacquiao returned to the ring in 2017 scoring a dominant eighth round stoppage of Lucas Matthysse and earning interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association (WBA) Welterweight ratings in the process. Pacquiao followed that victory with an impressive twelve round unanimous decision over former four-division world champion Adrien Broner earlier this year. The two victories over Matthysse and Broner put Pacquiao in position to challenge undefeated WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman. An encounter that will take place on July 20th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena In Las Vegas, NV.

The fight, which will headline a Fox Sports Pay-Per-View card here in the United States is certainly intriguing. One of Boxing’s biggest draws of the last decade facing a young, hungry, and unbeaten world champion. In some ways, this fight has a similarity to Pacquiao’s fight with Oscar De La Hoya a decade ago. A similarity of an established star in the sport, who some feel is nearing the end of his career facing one of the top fighters in his division, who could very well be an emerging star. The key is however, now Pacquaio is in the position De La Hoya was and Thurman is cast in the role of the emerging star.

This fight is a classic scenario of youth versus experience. There are a few things to consider. Although things would not appear to be in Pacquiao’s favor due largely to his age, he could be the betting favorite as this fight approaches.

When the odds on this fight opened, every sportsbook website had the champion Thurman as roughly a -135 favorite. However, Pacquiao, who opened around +110, has become the favorite across the board. The early money came in heavily on the 40-year-old and he's moved to -140. According to my top sportsbooks,   the odds are to trend in the other direction as the fight draws closer. Thurman is taller, younger, and undefeated. Oddsmakers were correct in their initial assessment that he is the better fighter at this point in their respective careers; they were just wrong about how much the public loves Pacquiao.

While the betting odds do not tell the whole story of what may and what may not happen when two fighters face off inside the ring, They serve as a strong indicator as to where the support of fans and betters is likely to be. The question is what may happen when Thurman and Pacquiao square off?

From a stylistic standpoint, this figures to be an interesting fight between two offensive-minded fighters. In this observer’s eyes this fight will boil down to who will be able to dictate the combat.

At his best, Manny Pacquiao is a fighter who uses immaculate footwork that enables him to come at his opponents from every possible angle. While Pacquiao’s hand speed and punching power receive the majority of attention from Boxing fans, what at times gets overlooked is his ability to use angles to set his offense up. As yours truly has said many times over the years in covering many of Pacquiao’s fights, he has the ability to throw punches where an opponent will move before the opponent realizes it and it will result in the opponent walking into the punch. As I have often said, he hits them where they ain’t. This along with his hand speed, ability to give angles, awkwardness, and the fact that he is a southpaw makes Pacquiao an extremely difficult fighter to combat.

Although Pacquiao has looked impressive in his previous two fights, it is important to keep some factors in mind. First, Pacquaio has had seventy professional fights and has been through several grueling wars throughout his illustrious career. Second, he is forty years old and at this stage in his career after twenty-four years, the question of when father time will become a factor is a real one to ask.

In Keith Thurman, Pacquiao will face a fighter who has registered a career knockout percentage of 73% having scored knockouts in twenty-two of his twenty nine career wins. Thurman won the WBA Welterweight world championship in January 2015, initially holding the same interim/regular champion designation in the WBA Welterweight ratings that Pacquiao currently holds before eventually being named full champion. 

While the structure of the WBA’s rankings process may confuse some, what is not confusing is Thurman has established himself as a major player in the Welterweight division having successfully defended his title five times including briefly unifying the WBA crown with the World Boxing Council (WBC) Welterweight world championship with his victory over two-division world champion Danny Garcia in March 2017.

Thurman’s status as a unified world champion however, would not last due to injuries. The first requiring surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs and calcium deposits in his right elbow shortly after his victory over Garcia, followed by an injury to his left hand during a sparring session prior to a scheduled title defense in May 2018, which had to be cancelled. This resulted in Thurman relinquishing the WBC crown.

After nearly two years out of the ring, Thurman returned to the ring in January of this year and successfully retained his WBA world championship with a twelve round majority decision over longtime top contender Josesito Lopez, Despite scoring a knockdown of the always “Game” Lopez in the second round, Thurman did struggle throughout the fight in what was a hard-fought battle.

Although Lopez was able to give Thurman some trouble in that fight, it is fair to question whether Thurman was affected by both inactivity after being out of the ring for a lengthy period of time as well as the fact that he was coming off of significant injuries that resulted in the type of fight we saw. Some may question whether Thurman is ready for a fight of this magnitude after fighting only three times in the previous four years.

The task that faces the champion in this fight in my eyes is whether he will be able to impose his will on Pacquiao. Thurman has a near three-inch height advantage and a two-inch reach advantage over the challenger. While the thirty year old Thurman will also have youth on his side, the key will be whether he will be able to earn the respect of Pacquiao early.

Although Pacquiao’s loss to Jeff Horn was seen as controversial by many including this observer, one thing that I believe helped Horn’s case as having won that fight is he consistently brought the fight to Pacquiao and looked to back Pacquiao up. It is crucial in my view that Thurman apply smart pressure on Pacquiao early on.

Even though the term “Smart Pressure” is not new in the sport of Boxing, there may be some who might be curious as to what yours truly is referring to.  Thurman must be tactical in his approach and apply the type of pressure on Pacquiao that will minimize his movement and ability to use angles. He must however, not be reckless as Pacquiao is a fighter who has the ability to land precision counter punches and will no doubt be looking to set up opportunities to land counters as Thurman comes forward.

A topic of discussion from Thurman in the build-up to this fight has centered on the fact that, despite being the champion, Thurman has been cast in the challenger’s slot in all the promotion leading up to the bout. While it is understandable how one in Thurman’s position might feel disrespected due to the name recognition value Pacquiao brings to the table, he must not allow it to affect his approach in this fight. If Thurman walks into the fight with the intention of making a statement by scoring an early knockout over a future Hall of Famer like Pacquiao, it could instead play into the challenger’s strategy.

While this may be a moot point in the eyes of some, what has been overlooked as this fight approaches is for the first time in a long time, the structure of the WBA’s rankings where a fighter who holds interim/regular champion status is often asked to wait a significant period of time before getting an opportunity to face the WBA world champion has actually resulted in a fighter getting a title shot in a more timely manner than has been the case over the years. It is certainly open to debate that the reason for this just might be because the fighter holding such designation in this case just happens to be a fighter of Manny Pacquiao’s stature.

The political aspects of the sport notwithstanding, what has not been and should not be overlooked is that this on paper should be one of the best fights of 2019. A fight between two fighters that can knock an opponent out with either hand and at any time. If both fighters bring their best on fight night, a fight that seems to have the classic scenario of an established star in the sport nearing the end of his career facing a young emerging star, just might produce Boxing’s next great classic that will be talked about and debated for years to come.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Thurman vs. Pacquiao takes place on Saturday, July 20th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The card can be seen in the United States on a cable/satellite pay-per-view basis on Fox Sports Pay-Per-View as well as globally on www.Fite.TV and through the Fox Sports app for  $74.99. The pay-per-view card will begin at 9PM ET/6PM PT (U.S. Time ) with a prelim portion of the card airing on Fox beginning at 8PM ET/5PM PT featuring a battle for the IBF Super-Middleweight world championship between undefeated champion Caleb Plant and undefeated challenger Mike Lee Contact your local cable satellite provider or visit www.FoxSports.com/PPV for ordering information. Check your local listings internationally.

The Fite TV and Fox Sports apps  is available on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices including Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV. For more information download the Fite TV and Fox Sports apps on Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or visit: www.Fite.TV  www.FoxSports.com for more information.

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