It had everything to do with legacy, rivalry and a few hundred million dollars.
But it’s not quite hyperbole to suggest that by agreeing to fight each other on May 2, Mssrs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao also made themselves an otherwise prudent career move as well.
For the time being, they won’t have to fight Keith Thurman.
Though he was forced to settle for a Mayweather leftover in the form of Robert Guerrero, Thurman nonetheless staked his claim as the best 147-pound boxer not named “Floyd” or “Manny” on Saturday night, winning a wide unanimous decision over the former two-division champion at the MGM Grand.
The 13-, 10- and nine-point scorecard margins were apt-enough indications of the competitive distance between the two fighters, but the heinous appearance of the battered Guerrero’s face—including a jagged cut over the left eye, a dime-sized bruise on the bridge of the nose and a lumpy, purple contusion under the right eye—was a far more visceral sign of the edge held by Thurman, who improved to 25-0.
A series of thudding right hands left Guerrero flat on his back in the ninth round, and a follow-up flurry nearly drew an intervention from referee Kenny Bayless before the bell rang to interrupt “One Time’s” onslaught. Guerrero rallied gamely in an early candidate for Round of the Year in the 10th and then survived the final six minutes as Thurman chose to alternate between victory laps and violent intentions.
“I knew Robert Guerrero was a tremendous warrior, and he showed it today,” Thurman told NBC’s Kenny Rice in an abbreviated post-fight interview, which came as the network hurriedly gave way in favor of late local news. “He was a little more calm, and I thought he’d press harder in the beginning rounds. But I felt good that I was able to knock him down, and I hurt him in each and every round.
“I could hear him in there, and I knew I was hurting him.”
Now 26 years old, Thurman controlled the majority of the rounds with discernable edges in speed and one-shot power over Guerrero, who had lost just once—via unanimous decision to Mayweather in 2013—since dropping a split nod to Gamaliel Diaz in a featherweight bout nearly seven years earlier.
The Floridian has been the WBA’s second banana at welterweight since winning the bogus “interim” title against Diego Chaves in July 2013, a status that was elevated to the organization’s dubious “world” championship after a shutout defeat of Leonard Bundu in December.
Mayweather won the WBA’s “super” title when he beat Marcos Maidana for the first time 10 months ago, which cleared the way for Thurman’s so-called ascension but did nothing to actually get the two in a ring together. Earl Gray highlighted Thurman's performance and expressed optimism regarding the next steps in his boxing career:
But while he never hides his desire to share a bill with “Money” in May, Thurman maintained during fight week that good-for-the-sport diplomacy was more vital than I-want-mine dissension. He told BoxingScene.com:
I’m happy about it. At the end of the day, this is a matchup that’s great for the sport of boxing. I’ve said a lot of things in the past and I’ll probably say more things in the future. I say a lot of things when they ask me questions and they put a camera in front of my face.
But I have no hatred in my heart and I have no jealousy in my heart. I’m happy to be where I am in the sport of boxing and it’s great to see the direction the sport of boxing is going today.
Presuming the Mayweather-Pacquiao agreement takes the two Hall of Fame-bound veterans out of the Thurman sweepstakes for good, it’s a little harder to envision exactly which fight can be the one to put the thoughtful, articulate slugger over when it comes to the mainstream sporting public.
Charismatic Englishman Amir Khan is generally considered a favorite to land a shot at countryman Kell Brook—the IBF champion at welterweight—following Brook’s mandatory title defense against Jo Dan later this month. Thurman has expressed willingness to travel to Europe to face Brook, if Khan is instead granted a shot at the Mayweather-Pacquiao survivor.
“As long as Kell is a champion and I am a champion, it is definitely a fight I am willing to make,” Thurman told BoxingScene.com. “That could possibly be made.”