Thurman, Pacquiao to Battle for Title; Perfect Records on the Line for Plant, Lee
Undefeated WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman will fight future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Updated: July 18, 2019 • 9:38 PM ET
Manny Pacquiao is looking to add another accomplishment to his impressive resume.
WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman’s title defense against Filipino legend and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao will headline a giant night of boxing this Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“I’m very grateful, very happy to be sharing the ring with a legend like Manny Pacquiao,” Thurman said at a May press conference. “But for those who know boxing and truly understand boxing history, times change. I believe boxing has come to a new era.
“Floyd (Mayweather) is gone, Pacquiao is here. Come July 20, he will disappear.”
Promoted to “super” champion in 2017, Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) has held the WBA welterweight title since 2015 and defended the belt four times. He most recently defended against Josesito Lopez in January, ultimately winning the bout by majority decision. In a split-decision victory over Danny Garcia in March 2017, Thurman also won the WBC welterweight title, but vacated the belt soon after due to injuries.
Due to the injuries, Thurman was inactive for 22 months, including all of 2018, before returning against Lopez in January. He has only fought twice since defeating Shawn Porter in June 2016, and the fight against Lopez wasn’t as impressive as many had expected. Nevertheless, Thurman has a golden opportunity to silence the critics who may believe he has lost his hunger.
“This is a big fight,” Thurman said. “Bombs are being dropped. I’ve waited 22 months to get back in the game.
“People can say what they want about my injuries, I’m a professional athlete. We have our ups and downs and obviously, your boy Keith “One Time” Thurman is back on the rise.”
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Including Porter, Garcia and Lopez, Thurman has notable wins over Luis Collazo, Robert Guerrero, Leonard Bundu, Julio Diaz, Jesus Soto Karass and Diego Gabriel Chaves. He respects Pacquiao, but believes a win over the Filipino will add to his legacy.
“With all respect, he is a legend,” Thurman said. “He will always be remembered in the sport. But I’m doing to Manny Pacquiao what he did to Oscar De La Hoya.
“You can Google it if you want to, Oscar De La Hoya never fought again.”
Despite having a four-year run as champion, Saturday’s fight will be the 30-year-old Thurman’s first time headlining a pay-per-view.
“For me, we’ve fought on HBO, we’ve fought on Showtime, we’ve fought on so many different primetime networks and now we have this beautiful relationship with FOX,” Thurman said. “It’s my first pay-per-view, new territory for me, not new territory for Manny Pacquiao.”
On Saturday, Thurman has the opportunity to defeat one of the greatest boxers of all time. If he can win in spectacular fashion, he’ll put his name back in the conversation of the welterweight division’s elite and possibly set himself up for a fight with another champion. But regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) is heading to the Hall of Fame.
Pacquiao has put together a 20-plus-year career, during which he became the only fighter to win titles in eight different weight classes. While recently defeating Adrien Broner by unanimous decision in January, Pacquiao has victories over some of the biggest names in boxing history, including Lucas Matthysse, Timothy Bradley Jr. (twice), Chris Algieri, Brandon Rios, Juan Manuel Marquez (twice), Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera (twice) and Erik Morales (twice).
The pride of the Philippines plans to add Thurman’s name to the list of fallen fighters he has challenged.
“I’ve been in boxing for two decades, and I’m never scared or intimidated by my opponent,” Pacquiao said. “I’m so excited for this fight, because I’m fighting with an undefeated. Keith Thurman is the kind of fighter you cannot underestimate.
“He’s undefeated, and this gives me more encouragement, motivation to work hard. I like what I did before in my previous fights against the big names in boxing.”
When asked his response to those saying he’s on the downside of his career, Pacquiao said, “My time is not yet over. My journey will continue. That’s what I want to prove on July 20.”
The undercard’s feature bout will also be for a title, as undefeated IBF super middleweight champion Caleb Plant defends against undefeated challenger Mike Lee.
To win the title, Plant (18-0, 10 KOs) earned a unanimous decision victory over Jose Uzcategui in January, his fifth straight decision win. While the Nashville, Tenn. native hasn’t had a finish since 2016, Plant doesn’t think Lee has any idea of what is in store for him on Saturday.
“He's never faced anybody like me,” Plant recently said via Premier Boxing Champions. “He's never even come close. He just told you guys that he's not even getting the sparring of anybody who even looks like me.
“How many people do you think I can spar that fights like Mike Lee? How many people do you think he can spar that look like me? And he answered it for you. I don't even have to tell you. So no, he has no idea, but that's okay.”
The 27-year-old Plant is ready to defend the title on such a giant stage.
"This is a huge platform,” Plant said via the Nashville Post. “PBC and FOX have put together an amazing platform for world champions like myself to display their talents. But at the end of the day, it's just another day in the office.
“I hope the viewership is high, and I think it will be leading into the pay-per-view. I am just looking forward to putting on a great show."
Lee (21-0, 11 KOs) most recently defeated Jose Hernandez by unanimous decision in June, and Saturday’s fight will be the 32-year-old’s first since moving down to super middleweight from light heavyweight. The Illinois native graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2006 with a degree in finance, but decided to turn pro in boxing in 2010 after competing in college and the 2009 Chicago Golden Gloves competition.
After a successful start to his career, however, the autoimmune disease Ankylosing Spondylitis sidelined Lee in 2012 for two years.
“There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I could get out of the hospital bed,” Plant told Boxing Scene last year. “So being a world champion, there was a time in my darkest moments when I was in pain and hooked up to IVs that boxing wasn’t even on my radar. Just becoming a healthy young man and getting out of the hospital was what I was hoping for.
“And as momentum started carrying me through and I started getting healthier and healthier, I ultimately got the right diagnosis and how to treat it. That’s when the dream started coming back.”
Lee has the opportunity to pull off one of the biggest upsets of 2019, which seems to be becoming a trend.
“The beauty of this sport is that it's only me and Caleb in there,” Lee said. “Everyone else can only talk. I've been in the ring through adversity and stuck it out, because that's the kind of person I am.
“I know that if I come on July 20 as the best Mike Lee possible, that I can win.”
The rest of the main card on Fox PPV
Welterweight bout - Omar Figueroa Jr. vs. Yordenis Ugas
Welterweight bout - Sergey Lipinets vs. John Molina Jr.
Undercard on Fox
Bantamweight bout - Luis Nery vs Juan Carlos Payano
Heavyweight bout - Efe Ajagba vs Ali Eren Demirezen