Manny Pacquiao will attempt to defy the passing of time Saturday when he battles undefeated American Keith Thurman for the WBA welterweight crown.
Twenty-four years after first climbing into a professional boxing ring, the 40-year-old Filipino legend clashes with hungry Thurman at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in what is arguably his most challenging assignment since losing to Floyd Mayweather in 2015’s money-spinning “Fight of the Century”.
Pacquiao, who has managed to successfully juggle a political career in the Philippines while continuing to box at a high level, looked sharp in his last outing in January, rolling over Adrien Broner.
But the eight-division world champion is facing an altogether higher-calibre opponent in the shape of Thurman, renowned as one of the hardest punchers in the welterweight division with 22 knockouts in 30 fights.
Thurman, 30, says he wants to build his legacy, and has bluntly vowed to send the Filipino into retirement.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to destroy a legend,” Thurman declared, placing Pacquiao in the boxing pantheon alongside some of the sport’s greatest practitioners.
Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 knockouts) has shrugged off Thurman’s blood-curdling pledges of destruction, insisting he harbours no animosity towards the brash American.
“For me nothing is personal,” Pacquiao said. “Our job is to fight. He has to prove something, and I have to prove something. It’s easy to say things. But it’s not so easy to do it in the ring.”
Long-time trainer Freddie Roach maintains that Pacquiao has shown no sign of decline during gruelling sparring, and is confident that his speed and mobility will cause problems for the naturally bigger Thurman.
“One guy is fast, one guy is slow. Thurman hits hard but he has no speed at all. I don’t see him being able to get close to Manny because of his speed.”
Roach however acknowledges that for all Pacquiao’s impressive form in training, the acid test will come under the bright lights of the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena on Saturday.
“This is true,” Roach said. “Usually it doesn’t show up in the gym. It only shows up in the fight. And I’m very aware of that. And if it does show in the fight I’ll be the first one to stop the fight if need be.”
But Pacquiao, who retired in 2016 only to return seven months later, says he will keep plugging away as long as his body allows.
“Boxing is my passion,” he told AFP. “It’s really hard to stop and hang up the gloves when you know that you can still fight.”