Take your advantage
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2019 - 12:00am

The WBA World Welterweight Championship fight between Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman was another excellent example of giving yourself an advantage in a prize fight. The Filipino champion’s camp has become adept at picking opponents with vulnerability that plays to his strong suits. In this case, Pacquiao has gotten stronger as Thurman seems ro be slowing down. After all, match-making is what matters in boxing.

As they did with Lucas Matthysse and Adrian Broner, Team Pacquiao found an opponent with an exploitable weakness. Sounds like what Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been doing most of his career. Matthysse never recovered from the savage knockout he suffered at the hands of the undefeated Viktor Postol in May of 2015. Fighting for the vacant WBC world super lightweight title, Matthysse was flattened by Postol in the 10th round, suffering a shattered orbital socket in the process. But more significant, Matthysse’s convalescence let him stew in his loss, and he developed a psychological trauma about it. This surfaced when he fought Pacquiao, who went after the previously afflicted eye. At the abbreviated end of their bout, Matthysse went down after a weak love-tap, and didn’t get up. He subsequently retired.

Broner had other distractions, in the form of legal battles. Prior to facing Pacquiao, the WBA world welterweight champion lost via decision to Mikey Garcia, and registered a weak majority draw with Jessie Vargas. Pacquiao had handily beaten Vargas less than two years prior. Broner was picked up by the authorities in the midst of training for Pacquiao for non-appearance in court. Needless to say, he embarrassed himself by running away from Pacman, even throwing only two punches in the final round.

For Thurman, the big issue was ring rust. The Clearwater, Florida native was a fearsome puncher (22 knockouts in 29 wins without a loss). “Was” may be the operative term. After forcing Luis Collazo to not answer the bell for the eighth round in July of 2015, Thurman has not put anyone away. He also started fighting less frequently, three times in four years. His longest hiatus was 22 months , between March 2017 (a split decision win over Danny Garcia), and a majority decision win over Josesito Lopez in January of this year. That long a layoff affects your timing, speed and endurance. Any boxer will tell you that there is no substitute for being in the ring. More crucially, it takes time to get back your form. For a knockout artist like Thurman, this is crucial.

A left to the body set up a right across Thurman’s chin, and he went down in the last half-minute of Round 1. Thurman’s face reflected shock. After that, Pacquiao kept circling clockwise, and the American couldn’t land his jab to set up any combinations. Thurman was clearly frustrated, and the rust had shaved just enough of his edge to keep him off point.

Thurman came at Pacquiao hard in the middle of the fifth, and looked like he would win a round. But a hard right by Pacquiao, quickly followed by a furious flurry, swung things around again. Thurman staggered back to his corner at the next bell. Round 6 was probably the first round that he won. Thurman changed tactics in Round 7, and landed a bunch if substantial blows.

Thurman finally connected with his thundering right midway through Round 9, and we briefly saw Pacquiao’s age. Pacquiao recovered, but conceded the round. Pacman came back in the next round, hammering the champion in the midsection with his left, causing Thurman to fold up and almost collapse. But all other talk aside, it was a great, action-packed fight.

At fight’s end, Thurman, surrendered his belt, had a stain on his record, ate his words, and swallowed his pride.

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Over the years, this writer has been approached by various young adults seeking to become collegiate and commercial basketball players. Many of them are Fil-foreign athletes, sons of Filipina nurses, caregivers, domestic helpers and others from the exodus of the 1980’s onwards. There may be as many as tens of thousands of them around the world, some unaware perhaps of the big opportunities to get an education and make a living playing basketball in their motherland.

But there is also a segment of Filipino-foreign youth living in the Philippines. These are grandchildren of US servicemen, and children of American and European tourists and immigrants who have been left to be raised by single parents. In previous data from the Pearl S. Buck Foundation (PSBF) Philippines, there could have been as many as 300,000 Amerasian kids left here from World War I and II until the US bases were removed in 1992. Many of their offspring may be the largest untapped market of Philippine athletes. They are concentrated in places like Manila, Pampanga and Zambales, among others. There is no structure for finding these mixed-race Filipinos and turning them towards sports.

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