Keith Thurman exclusive: Manny Pacquiao is more important than a world title but I'll be the young lion who sends him into retirement

Keith Thurman tells Danny Flexen why he admires Manny Pacquiao but ‘my style beats his at all times’

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Keith Thurman with Dan Birmingham (PBC)
Keith Thurman with Dan Birmingham (PBC)

If things fail to go the way of Keith Thurman on July 20, he can always pursue an alternative career as Manny Pacquiao’s publicist – all due respect to current incumbent, Fred Sternburg. Undefeated Super WBA welterweight champion Thurman defends against multi-weight world titlist (six or eight depending on your perspective) Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and, in advance of the biggest fight of his career, is notably respectful, even admiring of the Filipino legend. That said, it soon becomes clear that the reasons for this reverence are also why this victory means so much to the Floridian.

“I’ve fought tremendous fighters in the past, I’ve fought for world titles, unified world titles - those are all big events - but fighting Manny Pacquiao is kinda more important than a world title,” Thurman tells me over the phone in a break from training. “I’m an undefeated champion, he’s fighting for my title and the whole event is based around another Manny Pacquiao fight, the legacy he’s brought to the sport, he almost tries to make the show all about him. I don’t mind, this might as well be Manny Pacquiao’s last fight, it’ll be a tremendous thing to go down in history as the last man to fight Manny Pacquiao and be the young lion who sends him into retirement.
“Pacquiao fights with a beautiful country behind him, he’s brought a whole country into the sport and now they love it. Filipino fighters are now aspiring to be the next Manny Pacquiao. Whether its five years from now, 10 or 15, they’re training hard and competing. I was always happy back in the day seeing the Pacquiao superstardom arise, especially when he beat Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto; he’s an amazing individual. The country should always be proud of him.”

They certainly are, backing their countryman with a passion and ferocity usually reserved for war heroes, which of course Pacquiao is, of a fashion. But “One Time” feels it is his time and that, while he feels his style would always have proved problematic for Manny, right now the Pacquiao era is drawing to a close.

“Everybody has their time,” Keith mused. “Floyd Mayweather stepped down from the world of boxing and has his legacy intact. Manny Pacquiao can fight another day, he’ll obviously be more encouraged if he wins, but if he loses it’s up to him and his team, no one can tell a fighter to stop fighting. Pacquiao is also a Senator in the Philippines, he already has another job lined up, although it’s probably a lot more boring than boxing. I feel like he’s already got the beginning stages of his retirement set up. Win, lose or draw, his is still one of the greatest stories of all time.
“But I’m a boxer-puncher and a true welterweight. I wanted this fight six years ago, but here I am at the age of 30 and those who really know boxing know that styles make fights. Pacquiao’s style really is something I grew up with in sparring partners, the way he fights in spurts, the only difference is my sparring partners were right-handed. He hops in, throws four, five or six-punch combinations; it’s not like he’s famous for his jab. I fought Shawn Porter, he uses his jab to get on the inside to hit you with a barrage. He’s bigger and more physical on the inside, I handled him and I easily believe I can handle Manny Pacquiao. Size will play a role, Pacquiao looked good in his last fight but he didn’t really hurt Adrien Broner. They will beg me to not use my footwork, Freddie Roach has already said he hopes I stay toe-to-toe, because he knows the weakness of his own fighter: he doesn’t like movement. I’m a boxer-puncher and I just think his style is made to lose to mine at all times.”

If Thurman is right then he will sentence the man he so lauds to a lifetime in politics. Could there be a more severe punishment?

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