Age before brutality

Manny Pacquiao scores a big win over Clearwater’s Keith “One Time” Thurman last Saturday night. (AP photo)

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Score one for the old-timers.

In a battle where age and experience went toe to toe with youth and confidence, 40-year-old challenger Manny Pacquiao proved to be too big an obstacle for WBA super welterweight champ Keith “One Time” Thurman. Defeating the hard-punching Clearwater native by split decision on July 20 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the legendary Philippine fighter wrested the title from previously unbeaten Thurman.

Pacquiao, who turned pro in 1995 when Thurman was in first grade, had held 12 titles before stepping into the ring on Saturday and with the victory improved to 62-7-2 (39 KOs). It was the fourth title defense for Thurman and the defeat dropped the 30-year-old fighter to 29-1 (22 KOs).

The opening round found both fighters keeping busy as Thurman fired off a few combinations, which Pacquiao answered in turn. With under a minute to go, Thurman backed Pacquiao up into the corner and went headhunting with a series of roundhouse lefts and rights, but a determined Pacquiao not only fought his way out but backed up Thurman and with a quickness belying his four decades, landed a left to the gut and a crisp right cross to the chin of the champ, dropping him with just over 20 seconds left in the round.

Thurman seemed more surprised than hurt, as he was likely caught off balance. He grinned at the challenger and sat on the canvas. Thurman took the standing eight count and the round came to a close soon after.

The excitement of the knockdown still buzzing in the area, chants of “Manny! Manny!” greeted the fighters as they began round two. It seemed to provide encouragement to Pacquiao as he became more aggressive, controlling the center of the ring and going after Thurman with fierce overhand lefts.

Firing off a few accurate straight rights that split Thurman’s guard, Pacquiao managed to set the pace and the rhythm. Toward the close of the round Thurman waited for opportunities to counter and picked his moments to strike, but a fired-up Pacquiao came after him like a badger, practically leaping toward Thurman with a loping right, and finishing off the round by treating his opponent — and the MGM Grand crowd — to his version of the Ali shuffle after the bell.

The previously undefeated Thurman was never one to underestimate his opponents, but by the start of round three, it looked like he had a newfound respect for Pacquiao’s sheer quickness and destructive power. He adjusted by taking over the center of the ring and attempting to back Pacquiao up, and keep him backed up, to rob him of his power.

Even so, Thurman was too tentative and threw too few punches of any consequence while Pacqiuao moved around him and stepped in and out to unload the occasional right hand to the head. By the middle of the round Pacquiao, still on the perimeter, invited Thurman to come forward at his peril and unleashed effective counter punches to whatever the champ threw at him.

Pacquiao came zipping out in the fourth to meet Thurman and chased him around the ring, digging in with some well-timed uppercuts to the champ’s body in the process. But Thurman quickly turned the tables and dogged his opponent, snapping off a few rights and lefts and forcing Pacquiao to backpedal.

Thurman backed Pacquiao to the ropes at one point and got in some straight shots and a left hook, but Pacquiao slipped out, spun around and fired off his own combination. The challenger was proving too slippery for Thurman, and as the round neared to a close he buzzed around the champ, landing straights and uppercuts from all different angles.

Thurman came out in the fifth and pressed Pacquiao from the get-go, not giving the challenger the opportunity to get really planted and counter. He managed to blast a strong right to Pacquiao’s nose, snapping his head back. Pacquiao did, however, thread the needle a few times by scoring with precise punches through Thurman’s guard. He closed the round by unleashing a barrage of body-head power punches that clearly hurt Thurman.

Pacquiao turned to his jab more in the sixth, using to it bore his way in and land some harder straight punches, as Thurman floated on the perimeter, sticking a few of his jabs while trying to find openings. The next round Thurman came out far more aggressive and went right to Pacquiao, throwing combinations and catching him with a lightning-quick overhand right to the chin. They were both trading punches when Thurman caught Pacquiao again with a right hand-left hook and then again with that same combination in what was Thurman’s best round so far.

Both fighters kept busy in the eighth, throwing more uppercuts and straight punches and Pacquiao threw into a higher gear on the last minute as he assaulted Thurman with a bombardment coming from all angles, and Thurman was forced to cover up. Thurman worked his way out the ropes, though, and kept his poise by countered with his own straight rights at the bell.

Thurman continued to press Pacquiao in the ninth, gamely trying to expose openings while Pacquiao was content to wait for his chance to counter with his quick hands. Thurman unleashed one his best combinations of the fight when he caught the challenger with a couple of left-rights, and forced him back into the ropes where he drove home some solid hooks to the body. Pacquiao was not slow to respond, however, as he slipped out and dug in a right uppercut of his own followed by a couple sturdy straight punches.

Thurman stalked Pacquiao in the 10th, sticking to his strategy of trying to back up his opponent but Pacquiao proved to be an effective counterpuncher, landing his share of crisp punches. In the midst of a combination Pacquiao snuck in a heavy blow to the body that instantly did immense damage.

A hurt Thurman immediately starting backpedaling, desperately trying to keep some distance between him and his opponent. As Thurman merely tried to ride out the rest of the round, Paquiao moved in but his sloppy punching did little further damage, and Thurman recovered enough to finish the round by throwing a couple of roundhouse rights of his own.

While Thurman came right behind a jab to land an explosive right-hand flush to Pacquiao’s head in the 11th, Pacquiao continued to be a difficult target and fended off Thurman’s advances with his quick hands. Going into the final round, Thurman knew he likely needed a knockout to win, as Pacquiao had been in control for the most of the night.

He hovered around his opponent and managed to land a few shots, but it was apparent he simply didn’t have enough gas in the tank. To Pacquiao’s credit, he didn’t try to ride it out but fought gamely, still keeping busy with his furious and erratic style, sticking and moving and sticking again.

Pacquiao had landed the more effective punches throughout the fight–even bloodying Thurman’s nose — and they had taken their toll on the champ. Thurman managed to jam a powerful right into Pacquiao’s face but failed to follow it up and probably wouldn’t have mattered at this point, as the ageless Philippine wonder had proven that he could absorb anything a hearty young champ like Thurman could throw at him, and more.

The normally calm and collected Thurman too often looked confused and at times unnerved by the ever-resilient Pacquiao, who was unlike any opponent the previously-unbeaten had faced. Thurman, who did his share of trash talking in the weeks leading up to the fight, reportedly had bet on himself to knock out Pacquiao in the first, second or seventh round. Perhaps this only served to motivate Pacquiao.

In any case, this was one time that “One Time” came up short.

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