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Pacquiao vs Thurman preview: What’s at stake, how they got here, and how the fighters match up

Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman lock horns this Saturday night on pay-per-view.

Manny Pacquiao v Keith Thurman - Press Conference Photo by J. Yim/Getty Images

This Saturday night on FOX pay-per-view, it’s all-time vs “One Time” when Manny Pacquiao faces Keith Thurman for the WBA welterweight title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

What’s at stake?

The WBA welterweight title is on the line between Thurman (29-0, 22 KO), who holds their “super world” title, and Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO), who holds their “world” title. It’s pretty funny that we have a unification fight between guys holding basically the same title, but that’s boxing for you. More than that, though, this is just a big fight — Pacquiao is still one of the top stars in boxing, and after years of knocking on that door, Thurman is going to try to join that group.

How did Manny Pacquiao get here?

For the sake of something approaching brevity, let’s focus on what Manny Pacquiao has done since making the move to welterweight in Dec. 2008. Obviously he did a ton before that. In fact, if you could split Manny Pacquiao’s career in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.

Pacquiao had already become a star and a respected multi-weight champion when he got the call in late 2008 to face Oscar De La Hoya, which came about after Floyd Mayweather “retired” and didn’t do a much-anticipated rematch with De La Hoya at 147 pounds. So with Floyd out of the picture, Oscar needed a hook for the fight, and he did something rare for the time: he worked with Top Rank, his former promoters, and got Pacquiao signed up.

Most expected De La Hoya would be too big and strong for Manny, but most didn’t anticipate De La Hoya looking like absolute trash at 147 pounds, either. It makes sense in retrospect, as Oscar hadn’t fought at that weight in over seven years, and had been a part-time fighter for the prior two. He overtrained and was drained on the night. It’s not an excuse, it’s a simple fact. If you go back and look at De La Hoya physically in the ring, even before the action starts, even at the weigh-in the day before, it’s clear he wasn’t in good shape.

But that’s always a risk for any fighter in any fight, and De La Hoya was the one who signed up to fight at welterweight again. Nobody forced him. He could’ve made money fighting just about anyone at any weight. So it doesn’t take away from what Pacquiao did. In De La Hoya’s prior losses, he’d pretty much always been at least competitive. Even when somewhat overmatched and knocked out by Bernard Hopkins in 2004, De La Hoya won at least a couple rounds and didn’t look terrible.


Manny, though, just thrashed him. Absolutely decimated him. There wasn’t a moment of the fight that was competitive, as Pacquiao darted in and out, dicing De La Hoya up with both hands, until finally, the superstar conceded defeat. On his stool after the eighth round of Pacquiao blistering him, De La Hoya accepted that he had no answers, stood up, and walked over and congratulated Pacquiao. Oscar never fought again, and Manny Pacquiao went from star to superstar, the torch fully passed.

In May 2009, Pacquiao popped back down to 140 for a one-off fight against LINEAL!!! champ Ricky Hatton, who had never been beaten at that weight. It was expected to be a good action fight. It was, if you’re Manny Pacquiao, as he dropped Hatton repeatedly before knocking him out cold in the center of the ring at the end of round two.

The full move to welterweight followed. He dominated Miguel Cotto in Nov. 2009, and in March 2010, punched a wall called Joshua Clottey for 12 rounds. He took another one-off fight in Nov. 2010, facing Antonio Margarito in a 150-pound catchweight fight for a 154-pound title. Pacquiao dominated, but went 12 for the third straight fight, and took a little punishment just because Margarito was genuinely bigger than him.

Shane Mosley looked uncharacteristically timid and lost all 12 rounds of their May 2011 fight. And then in Nov. 2011 came a third meeting with old rival Juan Manuel Marquez, whom Pacquiao had previously battled over 24 impossible to separate rounds at 126 and 130. In fact, the last opponent to take more than a round, maybe two, from Manny was Marquez, back in March 2008.

Pacquiao’s career momentum was incredible, but once again Marquez proved his equal and simply a tremendously tough matchup for Manny. Pacquiao escaped with a majority decision win in a fight that plenty of people thought Marquez should have won. So make it 36 rounds and basically nothing separating them.

All this time, the boxing world had been demanding Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather, but for a million reasons, each stupider than the last, it didn’t happen. Knowing they were running out of Pacquiao opponents in-house — or at least somewhat easily acquired — Top Rank had signed former 140-pound titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr, and Bradley got the Manny call for a June 2012 fight.

Bradley officially won that night in Las Vegas, considered by most to be highway robbery. There was so little doubt in the public’s mind that Manny had the fight stolen from him, in fact, that Pacquiao didn’t even go after an immediate rematch, feeling he’d already clearly beaten Bradley and that there was no interest.

So instead, he lined up Marquez for a fourth fight in Dec. 2012. The tone for this one was set early, as Marquez dropped Pacquiao in the third, and from there, the fight was on, with Marquez hitting the canvas in the fifth. In another truly compelling, electric matchup between the great rivals, Pacquiao made a mistake late in the sixth, lunging forward and leaving himself wide open for a Marquez right hand. Marquez didn’t miss. Pacquiao was down face-first on the canvas, and he was out. The fight was over. And there was no question about this one.

11 months later, Pacquiao returned in a tune-up fight against Brandon Rios, an exciting but limited brawler, with the fight taking place in Macau, part of Top Rank’s plan to make Macau a big fight base, which didn’t really pan out in the end. Pacquiao had no real problems with Rios, then signed up for an April 2014 rematch with Bradley, getting “revenge.”

After dispatching of Chris Algieri in Macau in Nov. 2014, Pacquiao finally got the fight he’d longed for over the years, facing Floyd Mayweather in May 2015 in Las Vegas.


Financially, Mayweather-Pacquiao was a blockbuster the likes of which we’ve never seen in the modern era of boxing. It was the highest-grossing fight ever, the biggest pay-per-view ever. Though it was years past its in-ring peak potential, the fight was still a matchup of the two biggest stars in boxing, with years of hype behind it.

In the ring, though, there wasn’t much to it. Pacquiao complained of an injury after dropping a clear 12-round decision, and though there’s still chatter about a rematch to this day, it hasn’t happened and in all likelihood never will, and in all reality shouldn’t.

Pacquiao licked his wounds again for 11 months, then faced Bradley in a third meeting that nobody much wanted to see, but Top Rank only had so many options. Once again, Pacquiao clearly defeated Bradley, then followed in November with a routine win over Jessie Vargas.

A trip to Australia in July 2017 saw Pacquiao defend the WBO welterweight title against Jeff Horn, a former Olympian sold by his day job as a teacher. Horn came in the massive underdog, but pulled off the upset, at least according to the official judges. Like the Bradley fight in 2012, most felt this should have been a Pacquiao win, but there were more people this time willing to listen to the argument for Horn as the fallout went on. Not a majority or even a half, mind you, but more.

It would be a year before Pacquiao fought again, returning against Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur in July 2018. Working without trainer Freddie Roach for the first time in relevant memory, Pacquiao also scored his first stoppage win since 2009, dominating Matthysse and getting him out in the seventh. That fight was also where his relationship with Top Rank came to an end, as Pacquiao signed a deal with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions.

In January, Pacquiao was matched with Adrien Broner and won a wide decision.

How did Keith Thurman get here?

Thurman has had a good pro career already — really good, in fact — but he doesn’t have near the story of Manny Pacquiao.

Thurman started boxing as a kid in Florida and turned pro in 2007, a couple weeks before his 19th birthday, spending his first year in the paid ranks as a regular at Tampa’s A La Carte Pavilion. Slowly, he built some buzz, and found himself on the undercard of the Mayweather-Cotto show in May 2012, where he stopped Brandon Hoskins in three. Two months later, he was on HBO, stopping veteran Orlando Lora in six and setting his rise in full motion.

In Nov. 2012, Thurman was impressive in a fourth round stoppage of the experienced and solid Carlos Quintana, and followed that up with a March 2013 win over Jan Zaveck, who took Thurman a full 12. He added stoppage wins over Diego Chaves and Jesus Soto Karass in 2013.

The win over Chaves gave Thurman the interim WBA title, which he defended against Julio Diaz and Leonard Bundu in 2014. He stepped up a bit against Robert Guerrero in March 2015, winning a wide decision, then stopped Luis Collazo four months later.

Keith Thurman v Shawn Porter Photo by Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

At that point, everyone was waiting on Thurman to really step into the spotlight, and he did in June 2016, facing Shawn Porter. Porter gave Thurman a tough battle, but Thurman got out with unanimous scores of 115-113 across the board, establishing himself for sure as a true top-tier welterweight. He cemented that status in March 2017, beating Danny Garcia by split decision.

Following the good wins over Porter and Garcia, though, Thurman went on the shelf. He needed surgery to repair his right elbow, and was expected to be out around six months. In early 2018, a fight with Jessie Vargas was rumored, but Thurman denied those reports. Still, he was scheduled for a May 19 return, which wound up not happening when he suffered a “deep bruise” to his left hand.

He gave up the WBC belt he’d won from Garcia, but kept the WBA title. It was late in 2018 before Thurman had an official return date and opponent, a Jan. 2019 fight with veteran fringe contender Josesito Lopez.

Thurman won that fight against Lopez, but had some scares and admitted to some ring rust, taking a majority decision that perhaps left more questions than answers about where he stands at this point in his career.

How do the fighters match up?

Height- and reach-wise, Pacquiao has always been regarded as a pretty small welterweight, listed at 5’5½” with a 67-inch reach. He makes up for that with his speed and skills, and enough power at the weight that you can’t walk through his shots at the very least. He also carries the weight pretty well because of his famously thick legs.

Thurman is no monster welterweight, either, listed at 5’7½” with a 69-inch reach, but those are still advantages for him. Once upon a time, his power was vaunted, but that was before he stepped up in competition. He’s now seen as more of a boxer-puncher. He doesn’t have any sort of sensational style, but he can be awkward and he’s got a good ring IQ.

But the biggest numbers are obvious: 30 and 40, the ages of Thurman and Pacquiao, respectively. Manny has still looked good in the ring — clearly past his prime, but still very good — but 40 is 40, and time catches up to every boxer if they hang around long enough. When you consider some of the wars he’s had over his 24 years in pro boxing, it’s remarkable that Pacquiao has held up as well as he has. By all rights he should have been done years ago.

There’s also reason to suspect Thurman might be an old 30, having dealt with injuries and inactivity. And some believe Thurman may lack the hunger to be truly, genuinely great. I have no opinion on that one because I don’t know the man, and I’m not gonna write some dude’s mentality off because he got married and is happy in life.

Who’s the favorite?

For once, the odds have actually been pretty interesting. Thurman opened as the slight favorite (around -150) with Pacquiao the underdog (+120), but that has changed over the time since the fight was announced. Pacquiao is now the mild favorite, currently listed between -137 and -175, and Thurman the underdog, between +110 and +142. But the fight is essentially a pick’em on the books. It’s rare a big time main event has lines this close.

Who will win?

Check back for our staff picks on Friday at Noon ET!


We previewed the full undercard earlier this week.

Bad Left Hook will have live coverage of Pacquiao vs Thurman on Saturday, July 20, starting with the FOX prelim fights at 7 pm ET and continuing with the PPV at 9 pm ET

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