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Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Keith Thurman could be the last time we see him in the ring

Manny Pacquiao, left, and Keith Thurman pose during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao, left, and Keith Thurman pose during a news conference on Wednesday in Las Vegas for their welterweight championship boxing match scheduled for Saturday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

One preaches. The other promises. Both have a big punch, which for now is the one thing in common that figures to finally separate one from the other Saturday night in a compelling welterweight fight full of traditional elements loaded with the potential for a classic.

Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman will enter a ring at MGM Grand Garden Arena in a Fox pay-per-view bout (6 p.m. PDT) that places each on opposite ends of a path driven by ambition, ego, age and money. Call it a crossroads with no apparent exit on anybody’s horizon.

It looks as if only a collision awaits. Perhaps that‘s why a crowd began to gather Friday for the formal weigh-in. About 4,000 fans chanted and cheered, putting an unmistakable buzz into this mid-summer clash. There was no difference on the scale. It was a draw. Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 knockouts) and Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) both were 146.5 pounds. Other than the power, however, that’s where the similarities end.

The potential drama rests in the multiple differences, and none of them suggest that the fight will end in the always-dreaded draw. It’s a so-called pick-em fight. Maybe it goes to the scorecards, but fighters and the fans are picking a knockout.

Manny Pacquiao is becoming an ageless wonder to many people. Others wonder why somebody his age -- 40 -- is still boxing as he prepares to fight Keith Thurman.
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Thurman, who is expected to be between 160 and 165 pounds at opening bell, is betting on one. He promised to place wagers on winning a KO in the first round, the second or the seventh. He forgot to bet on the other rounds . The Pacquiao corner jokes that all those wagers are pink slips. But you get the idea. He’s cocky and convinced he will put the final punctuation on to Pacquiao’s long, legendary career.

“Night-night, Manny,’’ he said to Pacquiao this week at the end of one of the many media sessions.

Pacquiao, boxing’s humble elder, smiled, which he has been doing a lot of all week. If this boxing thing doesn’t work out for Thurman, there might be a future for him in stand-up. Pacquiao likes to hear him talk. But the preacher in Pacquiao is never far away. He ended his part of the formal news conference Wednesday with a verse from the Bible. He still says he is angry that Thurman said he would “crucify” him when the fight was first announced.

“I feel more motivated now than in a long time,’’ said Pacquiao, who doesn’t figure to be much heavier at opening bell than he was Friday.

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He’s motivated enough to say the fight will end in a stoppage. But he has said that before, despite only one knockout over the last six years: a seven th-round TKO of Lucas Matthysse last July in Malaysia.

The promised knockout from both camps, however, is just one complementary piece that fits nicely into a fight that promises something definitive. Above all, there’s Pacquiao. He’s 40 years old, which means he’s near the end if not already there.

It might be the last time anybody gets to see him on the dangerous side of the ropes. Trainer Freddie Roach is quick to say that it is hard to know what will happen with a 40-year-old fighter. More to the point, perhaps, the question is: Who will show up? The young man? Or the old one?

“This is true,’’ Roach said. “We’ll know not long after opening bell. If it’s the old man, I won’t be shy in stepping in to end it.’’

Keith Thurman has fought only once since 2017, but he insisted he won’t be rusty against Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight title fight Saturday in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao and Roach are promising the younger version. A scaled-down training camp has allowed him to conserve his energy, they say. His muscle memory, the instinctive residue of nearly two decades at the top of the game, should be more than enough to guide the eight-division champion

But the 30-year-old Thurman and those close to him wonder if the years finally have caught up with Pacquiao.

“Father Time is undefeated,’’ said former middleweight champion Winky Wright, who became Thurman’s mentor not long after a 10-year-old Thurman walked into a gym near his home in the Tampa Bay area. “Not even legends can beat the clock. Manny’s footwork has always been special. His speed has always been special. But has all of the fights and all of those years taken away just a split second? That might be enough.’’

Thurman says this is his time.

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“I’m stopping one legend and starting one of my own,’’ said Thurman, who holds the World Boxing Association’s version of the 147-pound belt. “I’ve already made history. Now, it’s time to make some more.’’

More, of course, also means money. According to the contract filed with the Nevada Athletic Commission, Pacquiao is guaranteed $10 million. His final purse is expected to exceed $20 million. Thurman is guaranteed $2.5 million. His final check also is expected to be bigger, yet whatever the number, it still figures to be a fraction of Pacquiao’s payday.

On the undercard, super-middleweight Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs) of Nashville will defend his title in a grudge match against Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KOs), who grew up in Chicago and graduated from Notre Dame with a major in finance.

“I’m going to teach him something he never learned at Notre Dame,’’ Plant said in a testy exchange Friday after the weigh-in.

Plant was at 168 pounds. Lee was at 167. The bout is the featured part of the Fox telecast before the pay-per-view portion. It is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. PST.


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