By Jeremaiah Opiniano

As Keith Thurman trash-talked during the pre-fight presser, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao smiled gamely. That’s Filipino humility against the aggressive American’s arrogance.

This humility from the blitzkrieg boxer is now laced with the tick-tock of humanity. Pacquiao’s fight with the reigning WBA (World Boxing Association) welterweight (super) champion is the 40-year-old’s “test… if I can give my best or not.”

He knows his global fame is slowly fading away; his human existence — post-boxing — has to move forward. Yet to the bewilderment of boxing analysts and today’s welterweights, the Pacquiao who’s not the same as five to 10 years ago still flicks some speed and power, even with ageing arms. He moves forward when given the chance.

He is now hoisting a 13th world title, that total spanning eight weight classes. Pacquiao continues to move forward because of his “passion (for) the sport,” to pursue “happiness” that is “not complete without boxing.”

So this WBA welterweight (super) title fight, Pacquiao avers, against the undefeated, brash Thurman “will be a good fight.”

“What I feel right now is that I can still fight.”

Pacquiao and his nemesis Floyd Mayweather, Jr. are the sport’s post-modern showcases. The speed that packs punching power from multiple, surprising angles is Pacquiao’s trademark (that’s “swing-swing-swing,” says Thurman). Mayweather’s calculated counterpunching, plus his effective use of the shoulder roll and his footwork, are boxing’s defensive art forms — all enough to clip Pacquiao’s power four years ago.

One wonders who will follow suit from these post-modern pugilists. Three are on deck, all undefeated: Thurman (30 years old), World Boxing Organization (WBO) champion Terence Crawford (31), and International Boxing Federation (IBF) titlist Errol Spence, Jr. (29).  

But there’s no linear welterweight champion, a belt given by the prestigious Ring Magazine. This linear champion of whatever division is the man who beats the man.

Ring Magazine’s current policy is that the linear title is given to the winner of the fight between the no. 1 and 2 contenders. Another way is when either the no. 1 or no. 2 contender fights and wins against either the third-, fourth- or fifth-ranked contenders.

At welterweight, Spence is no. 1, Crawford 2, Thurman 3, Keith’s victim Shawn Porter (aged 31) at 4, and Pacquiao at 5. On this new but final path to the sport’s pantheon, Manny Pacquiao is battling physical frailty to hopefully end his career as the man who beat those title-holding men.

Pacquiao still wishes that Mayweather, soon turning 43, will fight him again. Pacquiao squeals on what the rumor mill has on Mayweather: he is said to be talking with Middle East-based promoters. “You’ll never know, maybe he’ll come back.”

That wish from the PacMan to box “Money” Mayweather began after he lost controversially to Jeff Horn (2017) in a free-TV fight in Brisbane. Pacquiao knocked out then WBA (regular) welterweight champion Lucas Mathysse in Kuala Lumpur July 2018, in a fight that almost did not take place.

Three months later, Pacquiao signed with a new promoter, Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) by promoter Al Haymon, after the Filipino parted ways with Top Rank and its boss Bob Arum.

In January, 40-year-old Pacquiao returned to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to outclass Adrien Broner (29) and retain his (regular) welterweight title. Before 13,025 fans, in this ongoing, final stretch to be “the man who will beat the man,” Pacquiao shouted that he’s back. 

Save for cheerleading Philippines and her legions of boxing fans, analysts of the boxing world weren’t that crazed over this July 2019 fight by the maturing Pacquiao. Surprisingly also however, some analysts even think the top three welterweights are special but not like that division’s top-draws: Mayweather and Pacquiao.

Thurman’s win over Josesito Lopez last January fulfilled his comeback from inactivity owing to surgery on his right elbow in 2017. His flashy, swinging hooks as counterpunches were Thurman’s trump cards during his healthy prime, but he was almost beaten by Lopez.

Crawford, last April, won over British star Amir Khan when the American, in the sixth round, gave a low blow that, as Ring Magazine saw, “looked to hit more thigh than (the) groin” of the Khan. Yet Crawford dominated the fight, though that was not enough to impress Ring Magazine and make him the no. 1 welterweight.

Spence is what HBO boxing commentator Max Kellerman refers to as a “special” boxer. Handled by Haymon, Spence drubbed Mikey Garcia in a 12-round unanimous verdict for the IBF title. Spence is being groomed to go head on with Crawford within the year — said to be “the fight” at welterweight.

But as Joseph Santoiliquito of Ring Magazine wrote last April, “Crawford and Spence don’t carry the crossover, household cache that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. once did.”

With the way the PacMan has been drubbing his most recent opponents who are a decade younger, it may only be his ageing body that’s slowing down his hand speed. However, versus Tim Bradley in 2016, and then Horn in 2017, Pacquiao’s defense seemed suspect (Thurman himself noticed: “I think his offense is his defense. I don’t think he really has offense.”)

Thurman, however, is neither like Spence nor Crawford. Thurman swings like Horn, though surgery may have weakened Keith’s power punching. On his first pay-per-view fight, Thurman hypes himself (“I am the next Pacquiao”) by talking trash (“He has T Rex-like hands”).

Pacquiao and his age may have a hard time drawing back an older Mayweather, one final time. Should Thurman be his next victim, and Mayweather continues teasing Pacquiao into another megabuck fight, the Filipino is the “active, sharper fighter,” says Kellerman on ESPN’s First Take in June 2017. “…There’s a very good chance that Pacquiao will stop Floyd Mayweather!”

That final fight with “Money” may become irrelevant. The Filipino star’s boxing career is not an infinity gauntlet that can reverse time and still pack a powerful punch. But “I am still having fun,” Pacquiao said at ESPN’s Undisputed.

In the waning scenes of Pacquiao’s endgame, be it over Thurman or against either Spence of Crawford, he wants to fight on and be the man who beats the man.

Jeremaiah Opiniano publishes news for a community news organization in Lipa City (south of Manila).