By Jake Donovan
Keith Thurman didn’t even need to hear the full undercard lineup to learn what he already believed all along; that his July 20 showdown with Manny Pacquiao is the biggest boxing night of 2019.
The unbeaten welterweight titlist puts his title and perfect record on the line versus the legendary Filipino southpaw in a highly anticipated Fox Sports Pay-Per-View event at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. The stacked card extends all the way down to a preceding primetime Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Fox lead-in telecast featuring undefeated 168-pound titlist Caleb Plant in the first defense versus unbeaten challenger Mike Lee.
Wedged in between are a pair of welterweight crossroads bout as well as a bantamweight showdown featuring Mexcio’s unbeaten Luis Nery versus Dominican Republic’s two-time Olympian Juan Carlos Payano in a battle of former titlists.
Still, it’s the pairing of top welterweights that makes the night worth the price of admission.
“I truly believe so,” Thurman (29-0, 22KOs) told BoxingScene.com of his upcoming title defense being more notable than any other fight this year. “Look at some of the fights that were dubbed big events this year. You had Canelo (Alvarez) and (Daniel) Jacobs in their middleweight title (unification). Before that, Errol (Spence) and Mikey (Garcia), the battle of unbeaten champions (Garcia moving up two division for Spence’s welterweight title).
“They were big events going in but can we really say that they delivered? Alvarez-Jacobs was a GOOD fight but didn’t live up to what the fans really wanted. Spence-Garcia wasn’t even competitive. This fight between Manny Pacquio and myself, I don’t see how it won’t live up to the hype.”
Oddsmakers seem to agree, with the latest lines listing 40-year old Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39KOs) as a slight favorite over the unbeaten champ from Clearwater, Fla. who is 10 years his junior. Pacquiao—boxing’s only eight division titlist—has won four of his last five since a May 2015 loss to Floyd Mayweather in the most lucrative event in boxing history.
Pacquiao’s lone loss over that stretch was a controversial 12-round defeat at the hands of unbeaten Jeff Horn in their July 2017 title fight on the road on Australia. Two wins have since followed, including a wide points win over former four-division titlist Adrien Broner this past January in Las Vegas, Nevada.
That bout came one week prior to Thurman’s ring return following a 22-month absence, where he looked vulnerable in a 12-round win over Josesito Lopez. The 30-year old has held a recognized portion of the welterweight crown since 2015 (previously serving as an interim titlist), including close but clear wins over Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, the latter a unification clash between unbeaten welterweight titlists.
Injuries stalled Thurman’s career progress, stealing nearly two years of his prime prior to returning in his aforementioned win over Lopez. Still, it was flawed enough not only to convince post-prime Pacquiao to choose him as his next opponent, but convince industry experts that such a matchup in 2019 is a virtual pick-‘em.
“The truth is, there’s no easy fights for any of us,” Thurman notes of the top welterweights. “Whether it’s myself, Manny, Errol Spence, Shawn Porter, Danny or Mikey Garcia (not related), or Terence Crawford, it’s tough fights no matter how we’re matched. At the end of the day, this is just a tremendous matchup and that’s what fans are seeing.
“Do I think it’s going to be a competitive fight? I’ll let our actions decide that. If it turns out to be competitive, then it validates the fans’ belief that I’m not the fighter I once was. Whether I win, or lose, it’s all entertainment which is what you’re going to get on July 20.
Mind you, Thurman isn’t at all short on confidence that he leaves his first career PPV headliner with his hand raised, along with unbeaten record and title still intact. He’s just wise enough to understand what makes this fight so appealing to fans—and humble enough to where he can buy into the selling points.
“For now, it’s whether Manny can win this (WBA “Super” welterweight title) that he could never get,” notes Thurman. “The last one to hold this version was Floyd Mayweather and we know what happened there. For me, fans want to know can Keith Thurman be great again, just six months into my “comeback” after missing two years of my prime.
“It’s just a really great matchup. I’m honored to star in an event of this magnitude, and it will be an even bigger honor to retire the great Manny Pacquiao, doing to him what he was able to do to Oscar de la Hoya.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox