Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) will face Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) for his WBA welterweight super title in what will be one of the last important fights in the Filipino’s legendary career.
Pacquiao shouldn’t need an introduction with combat sports fans at this point. He’s one of the modern greats, has won titles from flyweight to super-welterweight, had legendary rivalries with Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez and you might remember a clash with Floyd Mayweather Jr. being a rather anticipated fight.
Although he’s been past his best for a good few years now, Pacquiao has remained a top welterweight despite his decline. Since getting robbed against Jeff Horn in Australia in 2017, he’s looked very good for his age in his last two but it should be noted that his opponents were, respectively, shot in the case of Lucas Matthysse, or a notorious headcase who didn’t seem that interested in trying to win the fight in the case of Adrien Broner.
In the ring, much of the mobility and ability to push an incredible pace that made Pacquiao such a special fighter in his prime is gone by now. But even at 40, he’s still very fast, still punches hard enough to keep anyone honest and if he can’t push a pace as hellish as he did a decade ago, he always shows up in excellent condition which allows him to still finish his fights very strong.
Thurman once had a claim as the top welterweight after unifying his WBA title with the WBC title held by Danny Garcia in 2017. However his inactivity and unwillingness to fight emerging top fighters like Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. means he’s been passed over since in the eyes of most observers.
He is a good mi- range boxer, mostly looking to outbox his opponents and potentially catching them with a big counter. He packs a decent punch but has a bad tendency to just start swinging as hard as he can and to abandon the generally subtler work that brought to this point as soon as he hurts his man.
There’s always questions about what we will get with fighters Pacquiao’s age but barring a sudden fall of a cliff since January, I expect his style to mesh pretty well with Thurman’s. They should deliver a competitive and fun to watch fight on Saturday. Given that Thurman doesn’t push a particularly high pace, especially against southpaws, and the he tends to fight late in fights, I’m leaning towards Pacquiao adding another line to his great résumé and taking a close-ish but clear decision.
In addition to this clash of top-5 welterweights, the event features a surprisingly deep undercard, with another pair of good fights at welter, a bantamweight KO machine and a super-middleweight title fight headlining the prelims on FOX.
Luis Nery (29-0, 23 KOs) beat the then top bantamweight in the world, Shinsuke Yamanaka twice in 2017 and 2018 but the fights were marred by a positive test for the first one and Nery missing the weight for the second one. This prevented him from officially taking Yamanaka’s spot and he’s now on a second climb to the top. He’s scored 3 KOs against lesser competition since and is taking another step towards his goals with a fight against former WBA champion Juan Carlos Payano (21-2, 9 KOs). Payano will be mostly known as the victim of a vicious KO from the new king of the division, Naoya Inoue but he’s a solid veteran who will be a threat if Nery doesn’t show up at his best. But at 34 and not being much of a puncher, I expect Nery’s aggressive style and power to blow him away early.
At welterweight, we’ve got former WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-0-1, 19 KOs) in a clash of styles with Cuban stylist Yordenis Ugas (23-4, 11 KOs). Figueroa’s forehead to forehead inside fighting style has remained very fun to watch at welterweight, but it’s not as effective as it was at lightweight and he had a tough time against John Molina Jr. in his last outing. The slick boxer Ugas is coming off of a very good performance in a split decision loss (which I think he should have won) for the WBC belt against Shawn Porter. He’s also a bit taller and has the skills to handle himself on the inside so I’m picking him to outbox Figueroa and win a relatively comfortable decision.
Still at 147, Sergey Lipinets (15-1, 11 KOs) who moved up after losing his super-lightweight title to Mikey Garcia and just retired former titlist Lamont Peterson. He’s a tough pressure fighter but I think he lacks a bit of size at 5’7” to be a factor at welterweight. He was initially scheduled to fight veteran John Molina Jr. (30-8, 24 KOs) who would have been a nice test but had to withdraw on fight week with a back injury. He has been replaced on very short notice by Filipino Jayar Inson (18-2, 12 KOs) who was scheduled to fight on the preliminary card.
And rounding out the undercard and headlining the Fox prelims is the first defense of IBF super-middleweight champion Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs). He made his claim as a top fighter taking the belt against the tricky José Uzcategui with a very disciplined and complete performance. His first defense is unlikely to teach us much about where he stands exactly in the elite of the division as he’s facing a competent enough fighter that doesn’t really seem like anything special in Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KOs). That should be a nice appetizer for a promising card capped off by one of the last opportunities to see a legend in the twilight of his career.
Main Card – PPV – 9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) vs Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs)
WBA welterweight “super” title, 12 rounds.
Yordenis Ugas (23-4, 11 KOs) vs Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-0-1, 19 KOs)
Welterweight, 12 rounds.
Luis Nery (29-0, 23 KOs) vs Juan Carlos Payano (21-2, 9 KOs)
WBC silver bantamweight title, 12 rounds.
Sergey Lipinets (15-1, 11 KOs) vs Jayar Inson (18-2, 12 KOs)
Welterweight, 10 Rounds.
Preliminary Card – FOX – 7:00pm ET / 4:00pm PT
Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs) vs Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KOs)
IBF super-middleweight title, 12 rounds
Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KOs) vs Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KOs)
Heavyweight, 10 rounds
Preliminary Card – Youtube/Facebook – 4:45pm ET / 1:45pm PT
Genisis Libranza (18-1, 10 KOs) vs Carlos Maldonado (11-3, 7 KOs)
Flyweight, 8 rounds
Abel Ramos (24-3-2, 18 KOs) vs Jimmy Williams (16-2-1, 5 KOs)
Welterweight, 8 rounds