By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao proved Saturday night that he could overcome an undefeated, significantly younger fighter, too.
The Philippines’ Pacquiao beat Keith Thurman by split decision in a completely competitive, back-and-forth, action-packed welterweight title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The 40-year-old Pacquiao, previously the WBA’s world welterweight champion, also captured the WBA’s “super” 147-pound crown from Thurman in a FOX Sports Pay-Per-View main event.
Two judges – Tim Cheatham and Dave Moretti – scored their fan-friendly fight for Pacquiao by the same margin (115-112). Judge Glenn Feldman had it for Thurman, 114-113.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) knocked down Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) with a right hook late in the first round. He also bloodied Thurman’s nose with a right hand in the fifth round and hurt Thurman badly with a left hook to the body during the 10th round.
Nevertheless, nearly six months after a somewhat perplexing performance against Josesito Lopez, the 30-year-old Thurman redeemed himself with a commendable, gritty outing against Pacquiao.
“Even though Thurman lost, he did his best,” Pacquiao said. “He’s not an easy opponent. He’s a good boxer, strong, and I think I’m just blessed tonight.”
According to CompuBox’s unofficial statistics, Thurman landed more overall punches than Pacquiao (210-of-571 to 195-of-686). CompuBox counted more power punches for Thurman (192-of-443 to 113-of-340) and more jabs for Pacquiao (82-of-346 to 18-of-128).
Thurman still didn’t complain about the decision during his post-fight interview with FOX’s Heidi Androl. The Clearwater, Florida, native also requested a rematch.
“I knew it was too close,” Thurman said. “You know, he got the knockdown, so he had momentum in round one. I wanna thank the fans, thank everyone for coming out. This was a beautiful night of boxing. Manny Pacquiao is a truly great, legendary champion. … He got the victory over me. I wish I had a little bit more output, to go toe-to-toe. I felt like he was getting a little bit tired, but he did have experience in the ring. My conditioning, my output was just behind Manny Pacquiao. It was a great night of boxing. I would love the rematch. It is what it is, baby.”
Sensing that their fight was very close, Pacquiao and Thurman traded power punches at the start of the 12th and final round, before the action slowed down. A right hand by Thurman snapped back Pacquiao’s head with approximately 20 seconds left in their fight.
Pacquiao stunned Thurman by landing a left to his head early in the 11th round. That punishing punch made Thurman retreat, but Thurman managed to make much of the remainder of that round competitive.
Pacquaio hurt Thurman with a perfectly placed left to the body just after the midway mark of the 10th round. Thurman moved away from Pacquiao as much as he could after absorbing that shot and fended off Pacquiao until the round ended.
A straight right hand by Thurman landed with about a minute to go in the ninth round. Another right by Thurman later in the ninth made Pacquiao come firing back to let Thurman know he wasn’t hurt.
Pacquiao and Thurman traded power shots early in the eighth round. A straight right hand by Thurman landed at about the halfway point of the eighth.
An overhand left by Pacquiao backed up Thurman with about 45 seconds to go in the eighth. A straight right by Thurman knocked Pacquiao into the ropes just before the eighth round ended.
Thurman cracked Pacquiao with a right cross almost a minute into the seventh round. Thurman also caught Pacquiao with a short left hook later in the seventh.
Pacquiao tapped his own head with both gloves after Thurman landed the aforementioned right hand to signify he could take his opponent’s power. A right uppercut by Pacquiao snapped back Thurman’s head late in the seventh.
Bayless warned Thurman early in the sixth round for hitting Pacquiao low. A straight right hand by Thurman landed directly in the middle of Pacquiao’s face at almost exactly that halfway point of the sixth.
A short right hand by Pacquiao badly bloodied Thurman’s nose late in the fifth round. Once Pacquiao saw blood, he attacked Thurman as the round came to an end.
Thurman drilled Pacquiao with two right hands when there was just over two minutes to go in the fifth round.
Thurman landed a hard left to Pacquiao’s body early in the fourth round. Thurman backed Pacquiao into the ropes near the midway point of the fourth round, but Pacquiao fired two left hands that landed.
Pacquiao attacked Thurman’s body late in the fourth, including a left that snuck around Thurman’s right elbow and drew roars from the crowd. That didn’t stop Thurman from coming forward, though.
A right hook by Pacquiao, the same punch that dropped Thurman late in the first round, landed flush with about 1:45 to go in the third round. Thurman pressed action toward the end of the third round, but he couldn’t connect with anything that impacted Pacquiao.
After dropping Thurman late in the first round, Pacquiao connected with several straight left hands during the second round. Pacquiao caught Thurman with a hard left hand just before the end of the second round.
Thurman delivered on his promise to try to take out Pacquiao as soon as their fight started. He was aggressive against and clipped Pacquiao with a left hook just after the midway mark of the first round.
Pacquiao came back, though, and knocked down Thurman by blasting him with a right hook that sent Thurman crashing to the canvas with just over 20 seconds remaining in the opening round.
Thurman was surprised, but he seemed to be on steady legs when he got up. He fired a hard right hand at Pacquaio just before the first round ended.
Before Saturday night, a resurgent Pacquiao had won his previous two fights very convincingly.
Following a one-year layoff after his upset loss to Jeff Horn in July 2017, he knocked down Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse (39-5, 36 KOs, 1 NC) three times on his way to a seventh-round technical knockout a year ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Six months later, the full-time senator soundly defeated Adrien Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs, 1 NC) by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder January 19 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Thurman fought for the second time Saturday night since spending 22 months out of the ring due to elbow surgery and a subsequent hand injury.
In his previous fight, Thurman looked rusty against Lopez, who nearly knocked out Thurman in the seventh round January 26 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Lopez (36-8, 19 KOs, 1 NC), who was a huge underdog, hurt Thurman badly with just over 1:40 remaining in the seventh round Thurman estimates that Lopez actually buzzed him with three separate power punches during that shaky sequence.
A resilient Thurman held, moved and eventually punched his way to surviving that surprising seventh round. By the start of the eighth round, Thurman had regained his composure and took control of their 12-round fight again.
Judges Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) scored that fight for Thurman. One judge, Don Ackerman, scored the action even (113-113).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.