Pacquiao-Thurman vs. Whyte-Rivas

So Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman are fighting each other Saturday, July 20, in Las Vegas' MGM Grand, and on pay-per-view in the U.S. and U.K., for the WBA Super World Welterweight Title, not to be confused with the WBA World Welterweight Title, or any other super, world, interim, national, franchise, or interstellar title. And I suspect that I am far from alone in being less than impressed by all this.

The winner of this fight, should we be graced with a clean and uncontroversial decision, will at best be viewed as the third best welterweight in the world -- a ranking already held by Thurman or Pacquiao in most rankings. No one has ranked them ahead of Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., and there appears to be nothing that either Thurman or Pacquiao could do in this fight to elevate himself past those two.

While the 30-year-old Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs) and 40-year-old Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) are accomplished fighters, with the latter a certain hall of fame inductee when he becomes eligible, an analysis of this fight has to focus on how much each of them has declined. That is not a particularly marketable selling point which would induce fans to spring for an expensive pay-per-view ($74.99 in the U.S. on a Fox pay-per-view and £12.95/€14.95 in the U.K. on ITV Box Office, where the main event starts somewhere around 4 AM BST on Sunday).

The obviously aging Pacquiao had his best performances a decade ago. In 2012, in his fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao was knocked out cold. In 2015, although the fight was a stinker, he was completely outboxed by Floyd Mayweather. In 2017, he was outboxed by the unheralded Jeff Horn and lost a somewhat controversial decision. The following year, Horn was totally dominated and lost by a ninth-round TKO to Terence Crawford.

Pacquiao has seemed more fluid in the ring in his last two fights, but there is a catch here. In 2018 he stopped veteran Lucas Matthysse in seven rounds, but this was Pacquiao's first stoppage win since defeating Miguel Cotto in 2009. This was also possibly Matthysse's last fight, as he announced his retirement a few weeks after the loss to Pacquiao.

As for Pacquiao's dominating points win this January over the overhyped and underachieving Adrien Broner, I reviewed this yawner and pay-per-view rip-off in "The Long Con: Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner". I wrote then: "The aging Pacquiao, known for his footwork, often looked awkward, off-balance, and sometimes stumbled, which was not because of Broner’s uber-defensiveness. And where was Pacquiao’s vaunted power? In 2013, Broner had been knocked down by Marcos Maidana. Here the fading Pacquiao outboxed and outfought the passive Broner for almost all of the twelve rounds, but he could not hurt him. The explosive power was gone with age." (https://hannibalboxing.com/the-long-con-manny-pacquiao-and-adrien-broner)

What kind of Pacquiao, then, can we expect against the younger and fresher Thurman? Or is Thurman indeed fresher?

Following a split decision win over Danny Garcia in March 2017, surgery on his right elbow, a hand injury, and recovering from these sidelined Thurman for almost two years. He returned in January of this year against journeymen Josesito Lopez, in what was supposed to be a tuneup fight. For the first six rounds Thurman moved and boxed well. But in round seven the ring rust showed, as Lopez came back and battered Thurman, almost dropping him. In the end Thurman did win a majority decision, but his performance in the second half of the fight only raised questions about what lasting damage he has suffered from those injuries, and whether or not he would ever be able to fight at the level he had previously, where his skills as a boxer-puncher had him ranked at or near the top of the welterweight division.

The story of Pacquiao-Thurman, then, is about who is the more damaged goods -- all for only $74.99, £12.95, or €14.95.

Pacquiao's last stoppage win, other than against Matthysse, was also on pay-per-view. The November 14, 2009, Pacquiao-Cotto fight on HBO pay-per-view -- remember them? -- reportedly had 1.25 million U.S. buys. Even then, there were many of us in the boxing world who warned of the deleterious effects of this pay-per-view model on boxing, how there were many easy ways to watch these fights online for free, and why the TV networks and promoters were the real pirates in these pay-per-view swindles. 

Some of boxing's overlords got so worried by what we were saying that they had me "suspended" by their puppets in the so-called Boxing Writers Association of America. Even when many people wrote to them objecting to this attempt at censorship, and this "suspension" was then shortened, I refused to rejoin this compromised body.

A decade later we can more clearly see who was really prescient about pay-per-view and the future of boxing. Last year, after successive years of budget cuts for boxing, HBO infamously dropped its boxing program altogether. Showtime, Fox, and ESPN in the U.S. have tried to exhume the pay-per-view model since December 2018, but their shows have all been duds, with Pacquiao's fight against the bad boy Broner reportedly having the most buys, at around 400,000, on a Showtime pay-per-view. At the same time, millions around the world find ways to watch these fights on pirate streams, with last December's Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder fight estimated to have been seen on these streams by 10 million people in the U.K. and 1.9 million in the U.S. (https://www.muso.com/magazine/inside-the-complex-world-of-illegal-sports-streaming and https://www.todayfm.com/sport/crackdown-illegal-premier-league-streaming-883028)

Now we are being pleaded with in big budget advertising to shell out more money to find out live how shot Pacquiao is, and/or how much Thurman has recovered from his injuries and the ring rust that had him almost lose to Lopez last time. And it can almost be guaranteed that within hours of this fight, someone will post the entire video on YouTube or DailyMotion, and for free. Perhaps then I will take the time to watch it.

That same day, July 20, another major card takes place. In London's O2 Arena, and on Sky Sports Box Office pay-per-view in the U.K. and on DAZN in the U.S. and several countries, a card will be headlined by top heavyweight contender, 31-year-old Dillian Whyte (25-1, 18 KOs), facing unbeaten 32-year-old Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs). Whyte, who has been sitting at the WBC number one contender spot for over 600 days now without getting a title shot, has to be the favorite, but it should be a competitive fight. The shorter Rivas's main claim to fame is a 12th-round TKO over Bryant Jennings in January of this year in a close fight, making him a fringe contender. The winner will likely make the case that he deserves a chance to compete in the topsy-turvy chase to be undisputed heavyweight champion, and to fight one or more of the quartet of Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz Jr., and Anthony Joshua. (It was just announced Wednesday that this fight would be for the "WBC Interim World Heavyweight Championship" with the winner being WBC champ Wilder's mandatory challenger, but this being boxing, we shall see what this all ends up meaning.)

This card will also see two likely entertaining heavyweight brawls, between U.K. fan favorites Dave Allen and David Price, and another bad boy, Dereck Chisora, facing Artur Szpilka. Fans should be advised to have their beverages and food at hand before both of these fights, because the lights could go out at any time in them. What has gotten less attention on this card, but might be a must-see fight, has two rising cruiserweights with identical records of 9-0 and 8 KOs,  Richard Riakporhe and Chris Billam-Smith, facing off for a regional belt.

The Whyte-Rivas card will be on pay-per-view in the U.K., and while many U.K. fans are not happy about this, the price there is about one-third of what it is in the U.S. Plus, it is already included in DAZN's regular subscription fees in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Brazil. What that does mean is that if the Pacquiao-Thurman pay-per-view gets in the range of, say, 250,000 or 300,000 buys in the U.S., just as many or even more viewers will have seen Whyte-Rivas in the U.S., where DAZN has been reported to have about 1.2 million subscribers. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-08/billionaire-blavatnik-wants-a-piece-of-america-s-biggest-sport)

Even if Pacquiao-Thurman defies expectations and ends up having its exciting moments on its own merits, the pay-per-view price for seeing these two fighters with enormous question marks hanging over them is ridiculous. One possibility is that this fight ends up being historic but for the wrong reasons, that is, if Pacquiao is once more dominated or even knocked out and this becomes his last major title fight or even his retirement fight. However it ends, though, since it is a PBC fight, the winner will likely next get IBF champ and PBC fighter Errol Spence Jr. But everyone outside boxing's ruling elite wants Spence to fight Top Rank-ESPN fighter Terence Crawford next anyway, which is a fight being held up by boxing's model of being segregated into warring quasi-leagues.

What does seem certain is that after Saturday's fights, where Dillian Whyte stands in the heavyweight division, or Oscar Rivas does if he upsets Whyte, will be a major topic of conversation everywhere in the boxing world. The big boys still have that special appeal, something even boxing's tricksters, hucksters, and parasites have yet to obliterate. 

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