Adjust Your Aperture: Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman Preview and Prediction

We spend so much of our lives focused only on the things that affect us. When someone offers us perspective, it often comes as a shock. That wise counsel you received when you really needed it was provided by someone standing further away from, or closer to, the problem than you. Everything that had been so out of control and complex suddenly seemed simple when you received the words, because they painted a picture of the whole scene. As you enter middle age, you’ll even begin to notice how grateful you are for these aperture adjustments and how much of your personal and professional life revolves around providing perspective to others. It’s rewarding, in a daunting and humbling way.

Sometimes you have to adjust on your own. It’s always interesting to explore what makes fighters compelling as people or to point out specific accomplishments that help define them for us, but those are only parts of a picture. If you get too close or too far away, you miss the focus.

Manny Pacquiao versus Keith Thurman is a good fight. That’s enough. It airs Saturday night on a Premier Boxing Champions on Fox PPV card from The MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The undercard has compelling bouts featuring Luis Nery (29-0, 23 KO) against Naoya Inoue highlight-reel knockout victim Juan Carlos Payano (21-2, 9 KO) in a bantamweight fight that will tell us a great deal about Nery, and an interesting super middleweight scrap between Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KO) and Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KO). You’re an adult. It’s your money. You decide if it’s worth your 75 bucks.

Let’s begin by disposing of the notion that this fight is being held between elite power punchers. Manny Pacquaio (61-7, 39 KO) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO) have a combined one knockout between them in the last five years. They hit hard, but Thurman has never come close to knocking out an elite welterweight, and Pacquaio has done it once, against Miguel Cotto, quite literally a fucking decade ago.

Now that that’s out of the way. The 2019 versions of these fighters are fairly even physically, which seems odd given the 10-year age gap. Thurman is taller, rangier and has fresher legs, but where he lurches forward and backward, Pacquiao can still burst. Pacquiao doesn’t do it often, because he’s old and because his footwork is good enough to use angles to go the shortest distance, but it’s there. Thurman’s endurance should surely be better, but Pacquaio has become efficient with age and he’s completely relaxed in the ring, where Keith is often tense. You can’t particularly separate them as athletes, which is a testament to how insanely gifted Manny Pacquiao was in his absolute prime, because the last five years represented Thurman’s prime. He’s just at the crest of his physical powers, and in terms of hand speed, foot speed, and motor, Thurman is almost equal to a 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao. But “almost” is the keyword there. Thurman is a shade better in all categories. It adds up.

In orthodox-versus-southpaw fights, the lead feet are always a point of contention. Whoever establishes his lead foot on the outside has a better angle to land his power hand, and the opponent can’t retaliate because his power hand is too far away and pointing the wrong direction. This could become interesting if either, or both, start to employ his lead hand for power. Thurman has an excellent short left hook that he can use as a counter or lead. He gets good leverage on it if he isn’t on his back foot, and it lands hard. Using it as a counter behind Pacquiao’s jab would be effective. Unfortunately, Thurman has a tendency to keep his left hand low, which leads me to Pacquaio’s right hook. It’s his most underutilized weapon lately, and it’s maybe his nastiest punch. When Pacquaio plants his lead foot just outside or on top of his opponent’s lead foot, that right hook is almost always there.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thurman spend a great deal of time on his bicycle, which is his wont. Pacquaio’s movement and foot speed began to depreciate after he moved to welterweight in his early 30s, which is pretty normal, but it seems to have plateaued in the last five years. Pacquaio is no longer capable of the explosives-laden pinball routine of his prime, which explains the lack of KOs. But he has been able to find a workaround by only being in punching range when he wants to, and by bursting unexpectedly. Thurman cruising around the ring actually works in Pacquiao’s favor because Pacquaio won’t have to chase him. He’ll most likely have claimed the center of the ring and only need to set a course at a diagonal to intercept. This is where the fight becomes interesting. Thurman employs this maneuver to give himself space to launch forward with a combination, but if you get to him before he can start forward, he can be pinned against the ropes. Both Shawn Porter and Josesito Lopez pulled this off repeatedly, and Pacquiao may be looking to do the same. In rounds that Thurman otherwise should win, the time he spends against the ropes is going to be telling on the cards because Pacquiao will be in control, even if nothing lands cleanly. Oh yeah, and if you go back straight with your guard down, as Thurman often does, Pacquaio is still quick enough to put you on your ass. But if he doesn’t, it’s a long night.

All of that could happen. Or none of it. Pacquiao might finally be properly old and wander around the ring aimlessly after a retreating and pot-shotting Thurman. Thurman might finally decide to let his guns blaze and blast Pacquiao out. They both might throw down in a badass slugfest.

It’s likely you don’t believe any of that, and I damn sure don’t. Look for a tactical back-and-forth. Thurman will make Pacquiao try to press the action so he can tire him out and score flurries. Pacquiao will be patient and try to control tempo with his jab and body punches. Thurman will try to score the telling shots. Sporadic action and lots of jockeying for space, angles and position. That’s focusing only on the fight in a vacuum, with no consideration paid to Pacquiao’s political career or Thurman’s desire to bring Jethro Tull back together for a reunion. By manhood, nothing is ever just about you anymore, and you have to behave accordingly. 

Prediction: Close/split decision for Thurman. People will definitely bitch about the cards, even if they are completely fair. But I’ll bet you dollars to pesos that there will be at least one seriously squirrely card. If Pacquiao wins, I won’t be remotely surprised.


(Photo by Andres Kudacki;AP Photo)