The Talented (and confident) Freddie Roach

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The typically pleasant Manny Pacquiao is fuming over undefeated welterweight champion Keith Thurman’s trash-talk heading into their 147-pound showdown Saturday on FOX SPORTS PPV. And Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach couldn’t be happier at this development.

In the backwaters of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao began collecting paydays with his fists for the first time in his life. It was 1995. 

That same year, the Bosnian War screeched to a halt with the passing of the Dayton Peace Accords. On frenzied Wall Street, Netscape went public, introducing the internet to the masses and kickstarting the first wave of the dot-com boom.

Horrific acts of domestic terrorism sprung up in Tokyo, where nerve gases were unleashed in a subway during rush hour, and in Oklahoma, where a car bomb went off on a municipal building, killing 168 people within a 16-block radius.

NBA superstar Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play, once more, for the Chicago Bulls. And, not to be outdone, the trial of the century drew to a stunning close with the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on two counts of murder.

1995, in other words, was eons ago. 

So, you can understand why Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach never seriously considered the possibility that his charge, now a sprightly 40-years-old, would be in a position to take on Keith Thurman, the mouthy, and considerably younger, thirty-year-old welterweight champion from Clearwater, Florida.

To offer some perspective, when Thurman began his professional career in 2007, Pacquiao had already etched his name for posterity by tussling the cutthroat Mexican trio of Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manual Marquez.  

“Yeah, yeah it’s a surprise,” Roach said in a recent phone call from the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. “Where the two guys were (in their careers) I never thought it was a fight that was going to happen. It was just never on my radar. But both guys jumped on the fight, and now we’re here.” 

Pacquiao and Thurman will square off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on July 20, in the main event of PBC on FOX SPORTS PPV (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT)

Although developments in sports science have allowed athletes across the spectrum to compete at high levels past their primes years, the fact of the matter is that whispers of the eight-division world champion’s imminent decline have been circulating for more than half a decade. 

When Juan Manual Marquez drygulched Pacquiao in their final meeting in 2012 with a face-to-the-canvas knockout blow, it seemed to mark Pacquiao’s descent from the upper echelons of the sport. Further confirmation came in 2015, when Floyd Mayweather outpointed him.

The decline seemed like a sure thing, when most recently in 2017, Pacquiao dropped a highly controversial decision to rugged underdog Jeff Horn. Even so, it was clear throughout the fight that Pacquiao, who bled profusely from headbutts, had difficulty tempering Horn’s brutish physicality. His days, in any case, seemed numbered. 

Indeed, immediately after the Horn fight, in the dressing room, Roach candidly told Pacquiao that he didn’t think he could fight at the highest levels while also taking care of his senatorial duties in the Philippines. He had to choose.

Recalling that episode, Roach said, “Yeah, well I was just being honest. It’s hard being a professional boxer and I thought he needed to make a choice. Some days he would get out of the Senate and it would be 3pm, other times it would be 3 in the morning.” 

You don’t want a pissed-off Manny. Hall of Fame Trainer - Freddie Roach

When Pacquiao handily outpointed problem child Adrien Broner earlier this year, however, the predominant narrative seemed to take a different turn. If late-period Pacquiao could dominate a talented, if dilettantish, welterweight in his prime, who else could he outclass? 

“One of the things I talked to about Manny is that we would only continue if he could continue to fight at a high level”, said Roach. “And well, look, he’s still at the top of his game.” 

All of which has made Roach especially giddy as July 20 approaches. 

“The bookies have come through for me,” Roach chuckled, after being told that Thurman was the slight favorite. “I’m about to make a killing on this. I haven’t bet in a long time, but…” 

Those odds have since changed. Pacquiao is now the favorite. Presumably, this makes more sense to Roach. In Thurman, Roach sees youth and power, but not much else that troubles him. 

“(Thurman) likes to paw with the jab, move around, and then come down with the straight right,” Roach said. “It’s real basic stuff. Real basic. I mean, if we can’t fucking figure that out, then we don’t deserve to be in this fight. We should just go home.” 

There are a few other factors that benefit Team Pacquiao. 

Though Thurman was once regarded as the most promising welterweight in the world, he has seen his fortunes dimmed after incurring neck and elbow injuries that kept him out of the ring for nearly two years.

When he returned, it was in a tune-up against Josesito Lopez. What was supposed to be a breeze turned into a survival match after Lopez wobbled Thurman midway through the fight. (No doubt, this was the performance that helped convince Pacquiao to take on Thurman as an opponent.) Roach, however, refrains from reading too much into Thurman’s recent performances.

“He didn’t look that good, for sure, but it could have just been a bad night for him,” Roach noted. “It happens. We can’t go into the fight thinking he’ll look the same. But yeah, he didn’t look so good.” 

On the topic of why Thurman has not had any knockout victories in almost four years, Roach also offered this theory. “I think it has to do with the fact that he’s always looking for a knockout,” he said. “And when you’re always looking for a knockout, it usually doesn’t come. It’s kind of similar to Manny. You know he was getting all these knockouts at one point.” 

At the same time, Roach knows that the fighter with the physical advantages is Thurman.

“It’s still a dangerous fight,” Roach opined. “Keith will probably come in weighing 165 pounds. Manny will be two, three pounds above. But we like our speed.”

At risk of sounding too charitable, Roach also gives Thurman the nod in the trash-talking department. In the initial press conferences, Thurman made it clear he was seeking to end Pacquiao’s boxing career. 

“He’s supposed to say that,” Roach insisted. “He better say that. He’s the younger guy, a hard puncher. He should want to end Manny’s career. Otherwise what’s he doing this for?”

Verbal barbs rarely affect Pacquiao, a devout, born-again Christian. An exception has to be made, according to Roach, for when Thurman claimed that Pacquiao would be “getting crucified” on fight night.

“Manny wasn’t happy with that,” Roach quipped. “You don’t want a pissed-off Manny.” 

For a closer look at Pacquiao vs Thurman, check out our fight night page.

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