Keith Thurman vs Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao (right) lands a hard right hand to the face of Keith Thurman. The 40-year-old Pacquiao defeated Thurman via unanimous decision to win the WBA World Welterweight Title.

When Manny Pacquiao agreed to face WBA welterweight champion Keith “One-Time” Thurman, some believed “Pac Man” might be entering the ring one time too many. Though Pacquiao is a surefire future hall of famer, it’s just a matter of time before Father Time puts paws on the 40-year-old fighter and sends his boxing career down for the count.

Saturday was not the day.

Despite being 10 years older than his opponent, Pacquiao defeated Thurman via split decision in front of a raucous Las Vegas crowd. The loss was the first of Thurman’s (29-1-0, 22 KO) career.

During the lead up to the fight, the charismatic Thurman talked plenty of trash in hopes of drumming up interest for the fight and getting under his aging opponent’s skin.

“I’m doing to Manny Pacquiao what he did to Oscar De La Hoya,” Thurman stated at a pre-fight press conference. “Oscar De La Hoya never fought again!”

 “Remember when your mama was crying when you got slapped-slapped – when you went night-night?” Thurman asked rhetorically on a video posted by FightHype.com.

But when fight night came, it was Thurman who nearly went night-night. With just under 30 seconds remaining in the first round, Pacquiao caught Thurman on the jaw with a right hand that sent the champion crashing to the mat.

Thurman quickly rose to his feet, but old man Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KO) had sent a message that the rumors of diminished speed and power were greatly exaggerated.

Pacquiao controlled many of the earlier rounds. However, during the middle of the fight Thurman seemed to pick up on Pacquiao’s timing and stormed back into the fight with solid defense and counter-punching. He landed numerous flush power shots to Pacquiao’s face.

According to CompuBox, Thurman out-landed Pacquiao in power shots 192-113. Unfortunately for Thurman, none of the power punches seemed to bother his opponent.

Down the stretch, Pacquiao’s body attack paid dividends. He landed several hard punches to the abdomen that sent Thurman grimacing, wincing and back pedaling to safety. In the end, Pacquiao earned a hard fought and exciting victory that cemented his status as one of the most-exciting fighters in recent memory.

Thurman was gracious in defeat.

"Like I always said -- I got an 'O,' I'm not afraid to let it go, if you can beat me, beat me.' I was beaten tonight and that's the sport of boxing, baby," Thurman said at the post-fight press conference.

With the victory, Pacquiao won the WBA (Super) World Welterweight Title. It’s another feather in the cap of a career that has seen major championships in a record eight different weight classes.

What’s next for Pacquiao is unknown. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was present at the fight. Mayweather Promotions served as one of the promoters, but the rumor mill is churning that Mayweather could seek to come out of retirement for the 30th time to try to cash in on another big money fight.

Others are calling for Pacquiao to try to unify titles against Terence Crawford (WBO) or the winner of the upcoming unification matchup between Errol Spence Jr. (IBF) and Shawn Porter (WBC). Whatever Pacquiao decides to do next, by beating Thurman at age 40, he cemented his status as a legend in the fight game.

RIP to Sweet Pea

Though I was traveling last week and took a week off from In the Clutch, I can’t possibly ignore the passing of another one of boxing’s all-time great fighters. Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker passed away last week after being struck by a vehicle in Virginia Beach, Va. He was 55-years-old.

Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KO) is one of the most underrated fighters in boxing history. He was a defensive wizard who routinely frustrated his opponents and made them look foolish.

While defensive greats such as James Toney and Mayweather regularly caused opponents to miss with angles and subtle turns, Sweet Pea’s defense was different. His defensive dekes were more dynamic. He loved to duck under his opponents’ punches or lean straight back (normally a no-no in boxing), usually with his hands down by his side. His knees would sometimes come within inches of the mat as he ducked and dodged incoming punches.

It was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting to see. Watching Whitaker was akin to watching someone try to punch one of those wacky waving inflatable thingies only set to smooth jazz the Old Town Road instrumental.

If you’ve ever seen the clip of Muhammad Ali dodging 21 punches from Michael Dokes in 10 seconds, that is how Whitaker fought every single round. He embarrassed his opponents defensively then picked them apart with his crisp counter-punching skills.

So why is Whitaker so overlooked? It’s simple. He was cheated by the politics of boxing.

In 1993, Whitaker faced off against Julio César Chávez, who was 87-0 at the time and one of the most popular non-heavyweight fighters in history. Whitaker boxed the socks off Chavez (who is one of my all-time favorite fighters) over 12 rounds but was forced to accept a bogus majority draw on the scorecards because...boxing.

Four years later, Whitaker faced another wildly popular Mexican-heritage fighter in Oscar De La Hoya. De La Joya had defeated Chavez and become “The Golden Boy.” Not only did Whitaker drop De La Hoya during the fight, but he also out-landed his opponent in punch count and percentage. He also often left De La Hoya punching ghosts as Whitaker used his elusive defense to frustrate his opponent.

Pernell Whitaker

Pernell Whitaker (right) taunts Oscar De La Hoya during their fight in 1997. The defensive wizard often bent down extremely low in order to avoid his opponent’s punches.

However, when the scores were read, De La Hoya was pronounced as the winner via ridiculously wide scores of 115-111, 116-110 and 116-110. For the second time, Whitaker was denied a career-defining victory over one of the most-popular fighters the sport had to offer.

Still, real fight fans know that Whitaker was the real deal and one of the best to lace up the leather. Rest in peace, Sweet Pea. Thanks for the memories.

Be sure to check In the Clutch online and also follow Ishmael on Twitter @ishcreates.

 

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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