Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman fight: Five storylines to watch for from Las Vegas
It's a welterweight showdown in Sin City with huge implications for boxing's money division
Two of boxing's biggest stars will share the ring on Saturday in a welterweight world title main event from Las Vegas between living legend Manny Pacquiao and unbeaten Keith Thurman.
Not only is there plenty at stake in this blockbuster summer pay-per-view, but there's also no shortage of questions regarding each fighter that can only be answered in the ring when Thurman puts his WBA championship on the line against Pacquiao's secondary title.
Let's take a closer look at what to watch for entering Saturday's showdown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
1 How in the heck is Pacquiao still doing this? Pacquiao has been so great for so long that it's easy to take for granted what he has accomplished. In one sense, you can't mention his name without affixing his historical designation as the only fighter in boxing history to win world titles in eight different weight divisions. But as incredible as that accomplishment is -- and for a fighter who turned pro at 106 pounds and won a world title as high as junior middleweight, it really is -- Pacquiao reached that threshold nine years ago when still at the peak of his prime. All he has done since that point is pad his legacy and refuse to succumb to an expiration date. The fact that Pacquiao has now been a professional for 24 years and yet is favored to beat an unbeaten champion in Thurman is ridiculous. For a man who has suffered vicious knockout defeats and been the victim of outright robbery on the scorecards, Pacquiao's mastery of reinvention has become the most underrated part of his legacy.
2. Thurman enters the fight with more questions than Pacquiao. It's completely odd to frame the fight this way but it's true. Despite his age, Pacquiao is still very much elite. Yes, he has slowed down from his explosive prime. But one can be fairly confident in what to expect from him at this point. The 30-year-old Thurman is a much, much bigger wild card. Had this fight taken place in 2017, following Thurman's breakthrough wins over a prime Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, this conversation would be completely different. But a 22-month layoff due to hand and elbow injuries seemed to come at an inopportune time for Thurman just as he established himself as the best welterweight in the post Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao era. Not only has the division blossomed even further with elite talent like unbeaten champions Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, Thurman looked anything but a sure thing in his January comeback against Josesito Lopez. Thurman, who was lucky he wasn't stopped by the aggressive journeyman, must prove against Pacquiao that he still has the want (not to mention the backbone) to win a firefight against an elite opponent should Saturday demand such a performance. Against Porter, we saw a Thurman who proved that he could. One fight later against Garcia, however, Thurman was criticized for cruising to a close decision late (while circling backwards in the championship rounds) with the fight very much up for grabs.
3. The winner gets one step closer to calling himself the best welterweight in the world. It wouldn't be hyperbolic to remind that we are in the midst of what feels like a historic era in the 147-pound division. Even better, with the exception of Crawford, just about every single welterweight who matters competes under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. The winner of Pacquiao-Thurman will exit with the WBA world title. Yet the bigger prize at stake appears to be an advancement to the finals of what has been a de facto PBC tournament. Of course, the long-term hope is that whomever proves themselves to be the best PBC welterweight will eventually go on to face Crawford in a mega pay-per-view. But in the meantime, the winners of Pacquiao-Thurman and Spence-Porter eventually facing off could end up being the best fight short of a heavyweight unification that can be made in the sport.
4. Speaking of those best-laid plans … has anyone heard from Floyd lately? At the age of 42 and four years removed from fighting anyone but an MMA champion and a kickboxing phenom who is 40 pounds lighter, it might be safe to assume that Mayweather has officially ridden off into the sunset with his 50-0 record. Yet each time he gives an interview, the self-proclaimed "TBE" tends to tease the idea that one more fight isn't a ridiculous notion. Could Mayweather be conjuring a big-money rematch with Pacquiao should the Filipino icon defeat Thurman on Saturday? Crazier things have happened -- including Pacquiao leaving promoter Top Rank and signing with Al Haymon's PBC in the first place. Both the "PacMan" and Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach have been vocal about their hope for a second chance at handling Mayweather his first loss. And considering the viral trolling that has come from Mayweather's recent mishap on the basketball court of getting shook to the point of falling over by Bone Collector, one has to wonder whether there is motivation to rehab his brand in the public eye.
5. Does Caleb Plant have legitimate crossover star potential? One has to believe PBC thinks so considering his placement on the card. The Pacquiao-Thurman PPV undercard is expected to be a good one, offering three bouts which all possess the likelihood of action. But it was Plant, the IBF super middleweight titleholder, who was given the second biggest platform on this night in a title defense against fellow unbeaten Mike Lee on Fox in the final bout before the main card. The showcase could prove to be a big one for Plant, who brings flashy skills, a sellable backstory laced with tragedy and an unavoidable "great white hope" tag, which the native of Tennessee has worked hard to overcome. Plant, who dropped the dangerous Jose Uzcategui twice en route to out-pointing him to capture his world title in January, seems to have the kind of intangibles like toughness and charisma to have an outside shot at crossing over should he continue to win.
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