Manny Pacquiao ignored Keith Thurman’s taunts for several days before their WBA welterweight title fight, responding instead with the occasional nod sometimes accompanied by a smile.
He chose not to talk but to defy doubters who believed that Pacquiao was all but finished at age 40. To avoid the natural attrition that accompanies a storied 24-year professional career. To upend the younger, fresher fighter before an announced sellout crowd of 14,356 that included undefeated and retired boxer Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night.
Knocking Thurman to the canvas only served as a bonus.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 knockouts) dropped Thurman with a right hook in the first round and spent the subsequent 11 rounds displaying vintage speed, quickness and power en route to a 115-112, 115-112, 113-114 split decision victory over his 30-year-old opponent.
The Filipino senator — boxing’s only eight-division champion — bloodied the Clearwater, Florida, native in the fifth round and survived a spirited rally by Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs), who breathed mostly from his mouth while fighting the last six rounds with a bloody nose.
Afterward, Pacquiao basked in the glory of his victory and embraced an enthusiastic ovation from a jovial crowd — thrilled to again support its hero.
“I’m not that kind of boxer who talks a lot,” Pacquiao said. “We were just promoting the fight. I think he did his best, and I did my best. I think we made the fans happy tonight because it was a good fight.”
Pacquiao was calm throughout the promotion, knowing full well he had competed in several fights on this kind of stage.
It was obvious from the start. Pacquiao set the tone in the first round with his fleet feet and punching power, then established his presence late with a flush hook to Thurman’s jaw.
But Thurman eventually settled in and used his jab to set up combinations against a fatiguing Pacquiao. He actually landed 210 punches to Pacquiao’s 195 and converted 36.8 percent of his attempts to Pacquiao’s 28.4 percent.
“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.”
That won’t happen.
At least not right away.
Pacquiao fended off Thurman in the final rounds and embraced him after the final bell sounded. Thurman honored Pacquiao and thanked him for taking the fight — certainly the most significant of his career.
“You get blessings and lessons. Tonight was a blessing and a lesson,” Thurman said. “Thank you, everybody, and thank you, Manny Pacquiao.”
Pacquiao said he plans on returning to the Philippines to attend to his political career, then will decide when and who he will fight next. He paid his respects to Thurman and promptly moved on.
Just like he’s done the past 24 years.
“Even though Thurman lost, he did his best,” Pacquiao said. “He’s not an easy opponent. He’s a good boxer, and he’s strong. I was just blessed tonight.”
Las Vegan Plant wins by third-round TKO
Las Vegas resident Caleb Plant dropped Mike Lee three times en route to a technical knockout 1:29 into the third round on the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman undercard Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.
Plant, the IBF super middleweight champion, improved to 19-0 with 11 knockouts. Lee fell to 21-1 with 11 KOs.
“It went exactly how I planned it would go,” said Plant, who landed 50 punches to Lee’s eight. “I think I have a high boxing IQ, and I do this at a really high level. So it was just about making adjustments. He’s a big, strong guy.”
In other fights:
— Las Vegas resident Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11 KOs) battered Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-1-1, 19 KOs) for 12 rounds to win a 119-107 unanimous decision in their WBC welterweight title elimination bout.
— Sergery Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs) caught Jayar Inson (18-3, 12 KOs) with a flush left hook to end the WBO Intercontinental welterweight title fight 57 seconds into the second round.
— Bantamweight Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) stopped Juan Carlos Payano (21-3, nine KOs) with a left hook to the rib cage at the 1:43 mark of the ninth round. Nery has knocked out his past 11 opponents.
— Heavyweight Efe Ajagba (11-0, nine KOs) went 10 rounds for the first time in his career, winning a 99-91 unanimous decision over Ali Eren Demirezen (11-1, 10 KOs).