To fear any conflict is to hope for a consequence. When this fight was formally announced in New York City on May 23, WBA welterweight champion Keith “One-Time” Thurman (29-0, 22KOs), he of the super variety, made it abundantly clear, both in body language and soul of voice, that ordinary WBA welterweight champion and Filipino icon Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39KOs) is beneath him. Upon grand arrival to Sin City, Thurman, looking like a pop star in a black “Game Over” t-shirt, echoed this refrain emphatically with a smile, telling the world that Pacquiao's ‘legacy isn't greater than me', which is really code speak for: “I'm facing a has-been.”
I hope Pacquiao Vs Thurman (Saturday night @MGM Grand, Live on FOX PPV for PBC), both the main event and co-feature pitting IBF super middleweight champion Caleb Plant Vs Mike Lee, prove to be a study of fearless conflict and dire consequence.
Unafraid to cast the first stone and finish last by placing a boulder sized chip on the shoulder of the eight-division world champion, Thurman at once admitted to being “insulted” Pacquiao had the audacity to even take this fight. Then, in a statement that sent shock waves through the Philippines and will most likely have ripple effects in boxing lore, Thurman took things to a level of pious not seen since a dark day in Rome. And legend truly has it, because he made the decision to tell Senator Pacquiao in front of international cameras that he was going to “crucify” and circa December 2008 Oscar De La Hoya him with a replica of himself. He was probably selling the fight, but in the process, dismissed an iconic world leader with an entire Asian peninsula and international press corps behind him. How'd Julia Roberts say it in Pretty Woman? “Big mistake. HUGE.”
Keith Thurman, whatever he truly is after a tumultuous two year oddysey of physical malady, will probably face roughly 85% of the fighter that damn near killed Ricky Hatton — based on the merits of this training camp. He looked an angry sensational; very much like the same fighter with serious disdain for Hatton's trainer in that May 2009 fire fight. So when Pac-Man showed up in Las Vegas looking like a Bruce Lee incarnate from “Game of Death” and tells the media that a vow of crucifixion motivated him like never before, you have to know he's hell-bent to give Thurman the equivalence of being physically nailed to a cross in the squared circle.
It’s difficult to know if this, Thurman's first foray into the PPV universe, was a causal reason for hubris. We know he watched contemporary and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr pinata Mikey Garcia at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX back in March. In the immediate aftermath while still in the ring, Spence, with complete humility, offered to fight Pacquiao much in the same manner you might ask him for an autograph. By comparison, I can think of no one else over the course of the last 40 years but the late Davey Moore who potentially fits the blasphemous description of dangerously foolish in the face of a legend.
What a 32nd birthday it was for Roberto Duran, as a heavily inspired “Manos de Piedra” gave Moore, who taunted Duran in an extremely cocky and arrogant way, arguably the most savage beating he ever gave any fighter in the ring when he was thought to be done.
Being age 32 and considered a has-been in June 1984, is like being 40 years-old now. I was a child and I witnessed that live with my fight game defanged uncle, through the smell of a million cigarettes, cigars, beer, pimps, prostitutes and the lingering stench of seeing Luis Resto's guilt for what he'd done to Billy Collins Jr and whatever else may have gone on in Madison Square Garden that night. Considering the extremely disturbing account recently rendered by our own Jeremy Herriges, which paints Caleb Plant as the most extreme opportunist in the eyes of glaring women ahead of his war with Mike Lee in the co-feature, and we may have our own modern replay of that eventful night from the world's most famous arena.
What I also remember about that night were two Japanese judges who found a way to score four rounds even, although Moore was bludgeoned in every round before rescued by his corner. Pillars of history, Eddie Futch disciple Freddie Roach and his own protege in Buboy Fernandez want nothing to do with the potential of judges rolling dice over the scorecards. Roach well knows that a vengefully resurgent Duran then carried that momentum into a superfight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler in November 1984 and damn near beat him. It's conceivable that the same scenario could play out in such a match-up with Spence (who should maul a gritty Shawn Porter) pending results.
However, if Pacquiao faxes in something close to Duran's butchering of Moore in front of arch-nemesis Floyd Mayweather (whom Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe confirmed will be ringside), it gets easy to fathom their own Thrilla in Manila, as Pacquiao alluded to not only badly wanting a rematch with “Money”, but that he'd love to do it in the Philippines. In the here and now, Vegas is buzzing over this fight, for if nothing else, Thurman has proven to be a charismatic showman before proving whether or not he's some sort of diabolical ring carpenter for the annals. I can see Manny hitting Keith with pupils that look like Bibles at the weigh-in. Ones that scream, “Don't run from me son!”