LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao, the all-time boxing legend, aimed to prove he could still take care of business against an elite opponent at age 40.
He did just that, adding yet another enormous victory to his storied, 24-year career by defeating Keith Thurman, a man 10 years his junior, by split decision to take his undefeated record and welterweight world title before 14,356 on Saturday night at the raucous MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Pacquiao, who knocked down Thurman in the first round, won 115-112 on the scorecards from judges Dave Moretti and Tim Cheatham, while judge Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Thurman. ESPN also had it for Pacquiao, 117-110.
“It was fun. My opponent is a good fighter and boxer. He was strong,” Pacquiao said. “Even though Thurman lost, he did his best. He’s not an easy opponent. He’s a good boxer, and he’s strong. I was just blessed tonight.”
Pacquiao first arrived from the Philippines to fight in the United States as a relative unknown former flyweight titleholder and, in this same arena, knocked out Lehlo Ledwaba in the sixth round in a big upset to win a junior featherweight world title as a late replacement on an Oscar De La Hoya undercard in 2001. Eighteen years later and 25 pounds heavier, Pacquiao continued to thrill fans in an arena that has become something of a second home to him, as he took down Thurman in an action-packed fight.
Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs), 30, of Clearwater, Florida, who was making his sixth defense against the secondary titlist Pacquiao, had promised to send Pacquiao into retirement. Thurman, who predicted he would knock Pacquiao out inside six rounds, said he would make PacMan “disappear.”
Thurman mocked Pacquiao’s smaller size by saying he had “little T-Rex arms” and claimed that his in-and-out style was made him look like a bunny. Thurman said he would do to Pacquiao what Pacquiao had done a decade ago to the aging De La Hoya — give him a savage beating and send him into retirement.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), 40, the iconic senator from the Philippines and the only fighter in boxing history to win world titles in eight weight classes, claimed the trash talk motivated him to work even harder than usual in training camp. True or not, Pacquiao looked sharp. His speed and reflexes were there, as was his stinging power and ability to move in-and-out and side-to-side as he hurt “One Time” Thurman several times.
“I’m not that kind of boxer who talks a lot. We were just promoting the fight,” Pacquiao said. “I think he did his best, and I did my best. I think we made the fans happy tonight because it was a good fight.”
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Pacquiao landed 195 of 686 punches (28%) and Thurman connected with 210 of 571 (37%). Thurman’s 192 power shots (anything other than a jab) were the most landed on Pacquiao in the 43 fights of his that CompuBox has tracked. But Pacquiao had a massive edge in jabs landed, 82-18.
“I knew it was too close,” Thurman said. “He got the knockdown, so he had momentum in Round 1. 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 and my output was just behind Manny Pacquiao’s. I would love the rematch.”
They went right at each other with heavy punches from the outset. Each landed solid shots in the first round, but it was Pacquiao with a clean straight hand that connected flush and knocked Thurman down in the waning seconds of the round to elicit a massive cheer from the crowd.
Thurman quickly beat referee Kenny Bayless’ count, and the round ended.
Pacquiao rocked Thurman with another straight right hand in the second round, followed by a burst of punches from all angles. Thurman tried to fight back but didn’t land much and could not get away from Pacquiao, who chased him down.
When Thurman forced Pacquiao to the ropes in the third round with a flurry of punches, Pacquiao immediately responded to blunt his success as the crowd began to chant, “Manny! Manny!”
Thurman tried to get his jab going and land to Pacquiao’s body in the fifth round. He has some success, but Pacquiao eventually forced him back and fired combinations. By the end of the round, Thurman looked a bit shaky and was bleeding from his nose.
Thurman bounced back in the sixth round as the pace slowed. He got in a few solid shots and appeared to share the round.
Thurman continued to come on strong in the seventh round, whacking Pacquiao with right hands and leaving him with swelling by his right temple.
Pacquiao rocked Thurman with a left hand in the eighth round, and Thurman’s nose began to spout blood again.
There was a fierce, toe-to-toe exchange in the ninth round when Thurman forced Pacquiao to the ropes and unloaded, but Pacquiao quickly turned the tables.
Pacquiao had a big 10th round, when he visibly hurt Thurman with a left hand to the body. Thurman winced and was on the run trying to get away as Pacquiao swarmed him and belted him with shots.
Thurman, who missed 22 months because of elbow and hand injuries before returning for a January win, connected with a left-right combination in the 11th round as Pacquiao’s temple area continued to swell, but it appeared like he would need something dramatic in the final round.
Pacquiao did not look to cruise in the final round, however. He cracked Thurman with heavy punches and stood toe to toe with him to close out the exciting fight.
Pacquiao drank in the cheers while standing on one of the ring posts with the black belt slung over his shoulder. He bowed the fans and blew them kisses.
Manny Pacquiao earns his 62nd victory and hands Keith Thurman his first career loss after winning their fight via split decision.
“I really love the fans. Thank you so much for coming here and witnessing the fight,” Pacquiao said. “I’m sure they were happy tonight because they saw a good fight.”
Pacquiao said he likely will return to the ring next year. He will return to the Philippines to be in the senate when it goes back into session and will make his decision in the coming months. But the obvious fight for him would be a title unification match against the winner of the fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter, which was announced at a news conference on Saturday hours before the card began.
“I hope to be at that fight on Sept. 28,” Pacquiao said.
The winner surely will want to fight Pacquiao because of the pay-per-view riches he can still bring to the table. Thurman embraced facing Pacquiao. He had never backed down from a top opponent. He has taken on and defeated Danny Garcia and Porter and made this his mantra: “I have an ‘O’ and I’m not afraid to let it go. If you can beat me, beat me.”
When Pacquiao did exactly that, Thurman did not complain about the decision, showing the all-time great the utmost respect.
“You get blessings and lessons. Tonight was a blessing and a lesson,” Thurman said. “Thank you everybody, and thank you Manny Pacquiao.”