Opening Bell: Pacquiao-Thurman is on
The great Manny Pacquiao is 40 and in the twilight of a legendary career in which he has won world titles in a record eight divisions, been in many epic fights and become a global star.
Who could blame him if he wanted to coast against some lesser opponents down the stretch of a career he seems to still enjoy? But that's not Pacquiao.
Perhaps he wasn't interested in facing Terence Crawford when he was still with Top Rank, but when Pacquiao signed with Premier Boxing Champions late last year, he said he wanted to take on top opponents in the welterweight division, and that's what he is doing.
He easily outpointed Adrien Broner in January to retain his secondary title and now is fulfilling his promise of another huge fight, this one against world titleholder Keith Thurman, a man 10 years his junior with serious power and ability.
The fight, announced Saturday night, will take place July 20 (Fox PPV), likely in Las Vegas, and should be a treat for fans. It's a fight that Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), 30, of Clearwater, Florida, has wanted.
Thurman returned in January from a 22-month layoff caused by injuries and had a tougher-than-expected time in a decision win over Josesito Lopez to retain his belt for the fifth time. Against Pacquiao, it will be interesting to see if Thurman was just shaking off the rust against Lopez or if the injuries and layoffs have truly taken their toll.
Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), whose main gig these days is working as a senator in the Philippines, looked great against Broner, but it was Broner, not the top opponent that Thurman is considered to be.
Thanks to Pacquiao's willingness to fight Thurman -- a likely $20 million or more guaranteed purse certainly helped convince him -- the red-hot welterweight division will remain that way for the time being. The Pacquiao-Thurman winner almost certainly will go on to face the winner of a unification fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter. That fight hasn't been announced yet but it is almost certainly going to happen in the late summer/early fall. There is also the prospect of another fascinating welterweight fight between former titlist Danny Garcia and Mikey Garcia -- no relation -- the latter of whom probably will remain at welterweight despite his lopsided loss to Spence in March.
These are all excellent fights, even if boxing fans aren't getting the one most want to see in the division: Crawford-Spence. Crawford is the only one of the top 147-pounders not with PBC. But at least Pacquiao-Thurman, Spence-Porter and even the possible Garcia-Garcia are outstanding alternatives to that mega fight not being made right now.
Fight of the weekend: Julian Williams-Jarrett Hurd
Thirteen months ago, Jarrett Hurd outslugged Erislandy Lara in a dramatic battle to unify two junior middleweight world titles in the 2018 fight of the year. On Saturday, Hurd was in what might go down as the 2019 fight of the year, but this time he lost a decision and his belts, too. His upset loss to Julian "J Rock" Williams in another fantastic battle was the Premier Boxing Champions main event at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
It was a homecoming fight for Hurd, who lives about a half hour away in Accokeek, Maryland. But Williams, in his second shot at a title after suffering a fifth-round knockout loss challenging Jermall Charlo in 2016, showed no fear of fighting on enemy turf and came away with a 116-111, 115-112, 115-112 decision.
Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs), 29, of Philadelphia, the mandatory challenger, dropped Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs), 28, with a clean left hook to the head in the second round, and they battled back and forth for virtually the entire fight. In the end it was Williams who had his hand raised, and he is now on top of the 154-pound division. Not bad, considering where he was after the loss to Charlo.
"I worked so hard," said the once-homeless Williams, who broke down in tears after the fight. "They told me I was done. They told me I had no chin. I just got basic."
The next step: Hurd has a rematch clause in his contract and said he will exercise it, so expect to see that fight this fall.
Repeats, no revenge
Junior lightweight world titlist Miguel Berchelt won his belt by taking it from Francisco Vargas by bloody 11th-round stoppage in January 2017, and junior featherweight world titlist Emanuel Navarrete claimed his belt by clear decision from Isaac Dogboe in December.
Both faced the men they won their titles from in rematches on the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday before 4,424 at Tucson Arena in Tucson, Arizona, and repeated their victories in even more impressive fashion than the first time.
Berchelt (36-1, 32 KOs), 27, of Mexico, made his fifth defense an easy one as he pounded the shopworn Vargas (25-2-2, 18 KOs), 34, of Mexico, for the entire action fight until trainer Joel Diaz compassionately threw in the towel after the sixth round.
Vargas was target practice as Berchelt landed 292 of 728 punches (40 percent), while Vargas landed 143 of 472 (30 percent), per CompuBox.
Navarrete (27-1, 23 KOs), 24, of Mexico, dropped Dogboe (20-2, 14 KOs), 24, of Ghana, with an uppercut in the sixth round and with a flurry in the 12th round as he laid a beating on him. Navarrete outlanded Dogboe in every round and landed 314 of 884 punches (36 percent), while Dogboe mustered 121 connects on 523 thrown (23 percent).
Navarrete was leading 109-99,109-99 and 109-98 going into the 12th round when Paul Dogboe, Isaac's father and trainer, threw in the towel following the knockdown, and referee Chris Flores stopped it at 2 minutes, 2 seconds.
The next step: Berchelt, who earned $600,000 to Vargas' $150,000, plans to be ringside for the fight between junior lightweight titlist Masayuki Ito and Jamel Herring on May 25 in Orlando, Florida, and wants to fight the winner. It's a makeable bout given their Top Rank connections. Vargas might be at the end of the road given his age and the remarkable punishment he has absorbed in recent years.
As for Navarrete, who made $90,000 to Dogboe's $100,000, he'd like a unification fight with one of the other titleholders, Daniel Roman or Rey Vargas, though there is no clear path to either bout. Dogboe gave Navarrete credit for the victory and said he was having issues making 122 pounds and planned to go up to the 126-pound featherweight division.
Knockout of the weekend: Kevin Womack Jr.
Buried on the Hurd-Williams undercard, in the first bout of the show, junior middleweight Kevin Womack Jr. (9-17-4, 7 KOs), 30, of Baltimore, scored one of the single most devastating knockouts I have ever seen, a second-round destruction of Mark Duncan (3-2, 3 KOs), 32, of Clarksburg, Maryland.
Womack connected with an absolutely flush right hand to the chin that had Duncan out on his feet before he fell in what looked like slow motion. He hit the mat face first without breaking his fall because he was already unconscious. Referee Brent Bovel immediately called off the fight at 1:39 seconds as Duncan appeared to be having a seizure. Duncan received immediate medical attention and was taken out of the ring on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. He was cleared at a hospital and released later that night.
Few saw the knockout because the arena was fairly empty when the card started and the bout was not televised. But it was as sick a KO as you will ever see.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Tucson, Arizona
Junior welterweight Mykal Fox (20-1, 5 KOs) W10 Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (7-1, 4 KOs), scores: 96-92 (twice), 95-93.
The 6-foot-3½ Fox, 23, of Forestville, Maryland, used his massive height advantage to outpoint fellow southpaw Gaibnazarov, 27, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Uzbekistan, who is just 5-foot-6½, on the Berchelt-Vargas undercard. The fight figured to be Gaibnazarov's toughest test as a pro, and boy was it, as Fox used his towering size advantage, much longer arms and movement to peck his way past Gaibnazarov, who became the first 2016 Olympic gold medalist to lose in the pros. Fox bounced back from a decision loss to unbeaten prospect Shohjahon Ergashev on Feb. 15.
Friday at Corona, California
Featherweight Ruben Villa (16-0, 5 KOs) W10 Luis Alberto Lopez (17-2, 8 KOs), scores: 98-92, 97-93, 96-94.
Villa, 22, of Salinas, California, one of boxing's top prospects, who owns amateur wins over Devin Haney, Shakur Stevenson and Gary Russell, headlined for the first time on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation," and scored a solid victory over Lopez, of Mexico. Lopez, who suffered a cut over his left eye in the fourth round, had an awkward style, but Villa, who was in his first scheduled 10-round bout, adjusted and appeared to win more handily than the scores made it seem. Villa, a two-time National Golden Gloves champion in the amateurs, pounded Lopez to the body and controlled the fight with his jab.
Junior welterweight Michael Dutchover (13-0, 10 KOs) KO1 Rosekie Cristobal (15-4, 11 KOs).
Dutchover, 21, a quality prospect from Santa Fe Springs, California, blew out late replacement Rosekie Cristobal, 24, of the Philippines, who took the fight on a few days' notice when Ramon Mascarena Jr. (10-0, 5 KOs), of Chile, had visa issues and was unable to get into the United States for the fight. Cristobal had been training in Hollywood, California, and sparring with junior welterweight world titlist Ivan Baranchyk when he got the call. Dutchover, in his television debut, landed a pair of body shots that dropped Cristobal to his knees, and he was counted out by referee Zachary Young at 1:46 for his second straight knockout loss.
Bantamweight Saul Sanchez (12-0, 7 KOs) TKO8 Brandon Leon Benitez (14-2, 6 KOs).
Sanchez, 21, of North Hollywood, California, and Benitez (14-2, 6 KOs), 21, of Mexico, put on an entertaining action fight in the "ShoBox" opener. Benitez began to fade in the fourth round and was hurt late in the round when Sanchez nailed him with three shots. Sanchez caused damage over Benitez's right eye in the seventh round, and when Sanchez landed a hard right hand early in the eighth round, referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped it 18 seconds into the round. Sanchez outlanded Benitez 145-94, according to CompuBox statistics.
Friday at Springfield, Massachusetts
Junior lightweight Abraham Nova (15-0, 11 KOs) TKO2 Mario Ezequiel Sayal Lozano (18-3-1, 9 KOs).
Nova, 25, a prospect from Albany, New York, headlined the Murphys Boxing card on UFC Fight Pass and destroyed Lozano, 24, of Argentina, who lost his second in a row by knockout inside three rounds. After a slow first round, Nova blitzed Lozano, knocking him down twice in the second round and forcing referee Gene Del Bianco to stop the fight at 2:26.