The legend lives on.
Forty-year-old Manny Pacquiao employed his speed and power early and landed devastating body shots late, scoring a split decision Saturday night over Keith Thurman in a World Boxing Assn. welterweight unification title bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“It was fun,” Pacquiao said. But it was a hard-fought victory for Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), who took one piece of the welterweight title and put himself in line for a shot at the winner of the Errol Spence Jr.-Shawn Porter fight on Sept 28 at Staples Center.
Pacquiao scored a first-round knockdown, endured tough moments in the middle rounds and battled through the final few. Judge Dave Moretti scored it 115-112 for Pacquiao. Tim Cheatham had it 115-112 for Pacquiao. Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Thurman.
Twelve punishing rounds were evident in Pacquiao’s face. He was weary. And he was not prepared to say what was next. First, a long trip home to Manila awaited him. He was scheduled to board a private jet that would get him home in time for the senator to hear the State of the Nation address early next week. Then, he said he would begin to think about his future in boxing.
“I think I will fight next year,” he said. “I will go back to the Philippines and work and then make a decision. I hope to be at that fight on Sept. 28.”
Pacquiao came into the ring to “Eye Of The Tiger.” He stood behind a church-like choir dressed in Filipino colors. He sang along, a Filipino senator with the choir singing his nation’s anthem. He was fighting for country. Fighting for himself.
Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) wore red, white and blue. There was a sequined star on the front of his trunks and one on the back. He looked much bigger. He was.
But that bigger body found itself flat on the canvas late in the first round. Pacquiao caught him with a straight right.
“I knew it was too close,” Thurman said. “He got the knockdown, so he had momentum.”
Thurman began the second round looking surprised and with swelling above his eyes. That swift assault continued, forcing Thurman to cover up, back away and re-assess. Those three minutes belonged to Pacquiao. The capacity crowd of 14,356 roared, chanting “Man-ny!”
Pacquiao’s pace slowed in the third. Thurman appeared to regain his footing, if not some confidence. Still, there was a sudden burst of energy from Pacquiao in the final seconds. It was the way Pacquiao, perhaps, still could control the fight with one quick burst.
Thurman worked to establish his jab. In the fourth and early in the fifth, the jab began to land, backing up Pacquiao. Then in the final minute of the fifth, there was Pacquiao’s burst of power and speed all over again. It bloodied Thurman’s nose.
But Thurman was as stubborn as he was bloodied. In the fifth he patiently tried to impose his bigger body onto Pacquiao. He moved forward, tirelessly throwing a long jab that began to land like the thick end of a bat. There was a hint of fatigue in Pacquiao’s face. The fifth ended with a renewed Thurman walking back to his corner thinking he still might have a chance.
In the seventh, there were moments when the 30-year-old Thurman began to look like he was decade younger than Pacquiaio. He rocked Pacquiao’s head with a jab and right hand.
“I wish I had a little bit more output to go toe to toe,” Thurman said. “I felt like he was getting a little bit tired, but he did have experience in the ring. My conditioning and my output was just behind Manny Pacquiao’s. I would love the rematch.”
In the eighth, Pacquiao’s astonishing conditioning reappeared. Again, there was that burst of power and speed. Suddenly, the momentum changed just as blood began to pour from Thurman’s nose and into his mouth all over again. Pacquiao was back in control.
Yet the ninth swung back to Thurman, whose deliberate pace and bigger body slowed Pacquiao to a crawl.
It was in the 10th, however, that Pacquiao did what he had hinted at throughout the week. He thought Thurman was vulnerable to body shots. He was. Pacquiao landed two, hurting Thurman and sending him into a desperate retreat.
It was a key moment, a late sign that Pacquiao might win one on the scorecards and one more for a lengthening legacy.
Caleb Plant promised to school Notre Dame alum Mike Lee during a weigh-in exchange of insults Friday. Plant told him he would teach him a lesson he never learned at Notre Dame. It was funny then. It was no joke Saturday.
In a textbook example of a mismatch, Professor Plant dropped Lee three times within three rounds, winning a TKO at 1:29 of the third in Fox-televised bout before the pay-per-view telecast. The super-middleweight from Nashville easily retained his 168-pound IBF title.
Lee also was on the canvas a fourth time, midway through the two knockdowns in the third. But referee Robert Byrd didn’t count it. He ruled it was a slip, despite video replay that showed Plant landing a solid counter that appeared to send Lee tumbling onto the canvas.
Not that it mattered. Seconds after opening bell, it was clear that Plant (19-0, 11 KOs) could have knocked down Lee (21-1, 11 KOs) as much as he wanted to.
Early in the first, he landed a variety of jabs, head-to body combinations and then a looping left that dropped Lee for the first time in the closing seconds. It was early, but the end already was imminent. Lee smiled at Plant in the second. He stuck out his tongue at him. But the act fooled nobody, especially Plant.
“It went exactly how I planned it would go,” said Plant, who was fighting for his late daughter and mom.
The memory of both, he said, would be with him when he entered the ring and motivate him to fight on.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They are a big reason I’m here and why I will continue to fight at a high level.”
A quick combo from Plant dropped Lee early in the second. A short left finished the job before the third was half over. Lee jumped up and appeared to argue with Byrd’s TKO decision. But Byrd did Lee a favor, saving him from more knockdowns and punishment. Minutes later, it sounded as if Lee had changed his mind. He didn’t exactly thank Byrd. But he didn’t argue with him either.
“No issue with the stoppage,” Lee said. “That’s the referee’s job and I respect it.”
Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs), a bantamweight from Tijuana, landed a left to Juan Carlos Payano’s rib cage, dropping him to the canvas in pain and unable to get up midway through ninth round in the first pay-per-view bout.
“He was a very complicated fighter at the beginning,” Nery said. “He’s a veteran, so I had to try to adapt to his style to see how I could get in. In the fifth or sixth round, I started gaining control of the fight and then that left hook came to the body, which was devastating.
“I saw the openings in the body and then that’s when the left hook came and it was over.”
Referee Vic Drakulich reached the count of 10 and, still, Payano (21-3, 9 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, stayed flat on his back, a loser by knockout at 1:43 of the ninth.
There was a substitute foe for Kazakhstan welterweight Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs). Filipino Javar Inson got in his way instead of John Molina Jr., a Covina welterweight who withdrew from the fight Friday with a back injury. Inson (18-3, 12 KOs) was gone within two rounds, blown away by a Lipinets left hook that appeared to knock him unconscious before he hit the canvas.
Referee Jay Nady waved the fight off, declaring a TKO, before he even began the count at the 50-second mark of the second.
Cuban welterweight Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11 KOs) threw and landed more punches than Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-1-1, 19 KOs) of Weslaco, Texas. Ugas won a unanimous decision in bout that was a unanimous bore. In the first round, Ugas landed a right hand with enough power to knock Figueroa out of his pink socks. Instead, he knocked Figueroa into the ropes, which kept him from falling onto television row. Referee Russell Mora scored it a knockdown. But not much else happened. It was an ugly fight, pink socks and all.