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THE great Manny Pacquiao has been labelled many things during the course of his incredible 24-year professional career. He has been called a champion – a champion at multiple weights, no less – and a warrior and a beast and a phenomenon and a hero and a role model and a marvel. He has been known as ‘Pac-Man’, ‘The Mexicutioner’, ‘The Destroyer’ and ‘Senator’.
Never, though, has Manny Pacquiao been described as a ‘bunny rabbit’, nor has his style ever been likened to a ‘hop around the ring’.
Then again, he has never before boxed American Keith Thuman, the WBA welterweight champion, whose view of Pacquiao, at 40, is markedly different to that of others.
“Manny is a world-class fighter,” began Thurman, 29-0 (22). “He’s a gentleman inside and outside of the ring. I look forward to trading punches with a living legend. But one thing’s for sure, he’s not walking away with my title.
“All Manny does is hop around in the ring. I’m not going to lose to a bunny rabbit. He’s not Tupac, but he does a little hip-hop and he’s not going to stop until he gets dropped.
“Manny is a world-class fighter, not a world-class boxer. I’m going to trip him up in the ring and he won’t know what direction to turn to. I know who I am as a fighter, and it will be proven come July 20.”
There is clear respect between Thurman and Pacquiao ahead of their July 20 fight. That cannot be denied. But Thurman is conscious all the same of giving too much respect to a man who unquestionably deserves it. This is perhaps why he describes him as a hopper and calls him not a world-class boxer but world-class fighter.
After all, to treat Pacquiao, 61-7-2 (39), the way he is treated by his legion of fans would be to fall into the trap of becoming merely another name in his win column. It would mean becoming an addition to his legacy rather than the man to end it.
“I’m destroying the legend of Manny Pacquiao,” said Thurman. “His legacy ends on July 20 and mine begins. He’s an inspiration to many people throughout the world and everyone respects him, but I’m respectfully going to finish him.
“This is a big fight as far as the stage goes, but it’s a big fight against a little guy. He’s a veteran and I’ve dismantled veterans in the past. I believe I would have destroyed Manny Pacquiao five years ago. I’ve always been ready for this fight. He’s never fought someone like me with this kind of lateral movement, speed and power. I’m coming for him.
“I think this is one of the best Manny Pacquiao fights in a long time. I’m going to bring it. Pacquiao did not get reminded in his last fight what it feels like to be up against a real champion. I’m the youngest, fastest, hungriest fighter that he’s ever been in the ring with. July 20, it’s the ‘Keith Thurman show’.”
If history tells us anything it is this: the best way to beat a legend in boxing is to treat them as little more than an also-ran. The respect can be paid afterwards. Keith Thurman, a switched on 30-year-old with the gift of the gab, seems to understand this better than most.
Michael Hunter was seemingly so close he could see, smell and almost touch it.
But then, just like that, it slipped through his grasp and someone else picked it up before it hit the floor. The thing in question was a WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight title shot against Anthony Joshua on June 1 at Madison Square Garden, New York, and the person who usurped Hunter in the scramble to catch it was fellow American Andy Ruiz Jnr.
In the end, Ruiz got the plum job, pocketing millions and millions of dollars for the privilege of challenging Joshua, while Hunter, nonplussed by the rebuffal, settles for a May 25 fight against Fabio Maldonado instead.
“They were close to using me because they couldn’t find the right representative – and I think I would have been the right representative – but they found somebody better suited in Andy Ruiz,” he told Sky Sports.
“He’s no slouch and he’s definitely a worthy opponent, whatever people think of him.
“Eventually, once I keep winning and getting better, I’m just going to rise to the top on my own.
“To get it like the way I was going to get it, with the mishap (two failed drug tests) of the ‘Big Baby’ (Jarrell Miller) situation, I don’t think I’ll get that opportunity again.
“If I do get it, it will be because I earned it, and I took it from them.”
Who knows, this patient approach could pay dividends, especially as Hunter is currently on a rich vein of form and will be all the better for continuing this momentum rather than trading it in for a life-changing payday.
That can still happen for him. He is young enough, at 30, to get another chance, and is probably good enough, as a small heavyweight with smarts, to beat a lot of the other potential contenders in and around him.
“That’s the whole reason we’re here, to make statements,” said Hunter. “The guy (Maldonado) has never been stopped, he has only two losses, and the two guys that fought him were undefeated fighters, so there is a statement for me to make out there on this fight.
“The win for me I feel is not just getting the ‘W’, but getting the ‘W’ in great fashion, and that’s what I plan to do.”