By Jonah Dylan
Saturday’s welterweight world title fight between Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao was, for my money, the best fight on the 2019 calendar so far. It was a true 50-50 fight that also had extremely high stakes, and with all the diluted A-side vs F-side fights we’ve seen so far this year, it was refreshing to see top guys actually fighting each other. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence are still miles away from each other, sure, but we’ll take what we can get.
It was a great fight. Thurman may not have been the same guy who beat Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, but he came to fight and didn’t make it easy for the 40-year-old Pacquiao. The legendary eight-division champion just had more firepower than the younger fighter, and he walked away with a well-deserved victory.
Aside from Pacquiao-Thurman, we had an easy title defense for Caleb Plant (see: A-side vs F-side), a shaky performance from Teofimo Lopez and lots of heavyweight action in London, so let’s get right into it.
1. Pacquiao-Thurman is probably the Fight of the Year
With respect to Hurd-Williams and Roman-Doheny, this was the best fight we’ve seen this year. To me, the knockdown in round one mattered a lot more than most people seem to think. Thurman was winning the round and had landed a few clean shots earlier in the round, and though it was a flash knockdown, he clearly fought a much more tactical fight early on because of it. Maybe it was a footwork problem, maybe he wasn’t prepared for Pacquiao’s power, but it changed the fight.
To me, this was the most anticipated fight of the year. You could make the argument for Canelo-Jacobs, but Canelo was the clear favorite in that fight. This was the only fight that was both a high-level fight and also a real toss-up. If you want to award FOTY based on craziness and drama, then you really have no choice but to give it to the Robert Talarek-Patryk Szymanski fight that featured 10 knockdowns in five rounds.
But if you’re factoring in what the fight meant and what it was for, it’s tough to pick against Pacquiao-Thurman. To me, you could make a case for Roman-Doheny (it was a title unification) but Saturday was the rare pay-per-view that actually lived up to the hype. Both guys didn’t let up, both guys had their moments and the right guy won in the end.
2. As good as Pacquiao looked, he shouldn’t go near Errol Spence
And I don’t think he will. Spence will meet Shawn Porter to unify welterweight belts on Sept. 28 and had probably planned to fight Thurman after as he tries to fully unify the division. He’ll want the Pacquiao fight, but my guess is there won’t be much enthusiasm from Pacquiao’s side.
He’s probably headed for a fight with former titleholder Danny Garcia, which I’m fine with. Pacquiao-Garcia would be a good fight and based on Saturday’s result, Pacquiao would probably be a slight favorite. A rematch with Thurman could also be in the cards, assuming Thurman stays active and fights high-level opponents.
After Saturday, you can make the case Pacquiao is better than pretty much anyone in the division save for Spence and Crawford. At this stage of his career, there’s no reason for him to go near either one of them. He’s already proven more than enough, and he doesn’t need to take dangerous fights just for the sake of it. Fight Thurman, or Garcia, or even Mikey Garcia, and people will line up to watch.
3. Is Teofimo Lopez ready for a world title fight?
It doesn’t really matter now, because he’s about to get one. After a clear but somewhat shaky win on Friday night, Lopez – the 2018 prospect of the year – will fight Richard Commey for the IBF lightweight world title later this year. Like Lopez, Commey is a big lightweight and will make for an intriguing matchup. Lopez showed some defensive flaws on Friday and will need to correct that before his next fight.
Top Rank’s plan is for the winner of Commey-Lopez to meet the winner of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Luke Campbell for the undisputed title in 2020. Lopez against Lomachenko would be a fascinating matchup, given that Lopez can barely make 135 pounds and Lomachenko is clearly fighting above his natural weight class. There was a lot of intrigue in the fight, especially when you look at what Lopez had been doing to the guys in front of him.
People will start pumping the breaks on the Lopez train, but there’s no reason to write him off. Lomachenko would have and still would be favored in a fight, but that doesn’t mean Lopez isn’t a real contender. Everyone has a bad night, and Lopez’s bad night ended with his hand getting raised. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.