In his first pay-per-view headlining role, amid questions surrounding whether his killer instinct as a puncher is gone, unbeaten Keith “One Time” Thurman has seemingly made it his responsibility to sell Saturday’s welterweight title bout against 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao.
Each time a microphone has been placed in front of Thurman’s face in the buildup to the fight, set at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on 20 July (21 July, Phl time), like clockwork he has delivered.
“Manny Pacquiao is a legend and a great man,” Thurman told CBS Sports last month. “But with all due respect, I can’t wait to punch him in the mouth.”
Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) has also had little to no issue taking it upon himself to play the role of villain ahead of the fight—going as far as saying he will “crucify” the deeply religious Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs)—in a move that has been interpreted in vastly different ways.
To some, it was the 30-year-old Thurman inadvertently showing his inner fears as a way to drown out the questions facing him following a January comeback win after a two-year layoff that saw him nearly stopped by journeyman Josesito Lopez.
To others, it was simply a marketing move to overcompensate for Pacquiao’s shy nature.
From the perspective of Thurman, who overcame hand and elbow injuries that forced him out of the ring for 22 months, his verbal attack on Pacquiao seems to have been strategic from a tactical standpoint.
“I hope he comes to knock me out,” Thurman said. “I think Manny Pacquiao’s style is all about his offense. Against the right kind of fighter, that offense—even though it’s a strength—can also be a weakness because it’s all about timing him when he’s coming in. I’ve got to hit him before he hits me.
“I hope he’s offended, I hope he’s out of his game plan and I hope all that he’s thinking about is to come knock me out because I’m going to expose him.”