Opening Bell: Thurman back in business
NEW YORK -- After a 22-month layoff because of right elbow surgery followed by a left hand injury, welterweight world titlist Keith Thurman finally returned and is back in a business in a major way.
In a highly entertaining fight, Thurman retained his belt for the fifth time, winning a majority decision over tough-as-nails Josesito Lopez on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Thurman then said something that should have come as no surprise: He wants a fight with secondary titlist and living legend Manny Pacquiao, who kept his version of the 147-pound title one week earlier in a wipeout decision over Adrien Broner.
Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), the fighting senator from the Philippines, has vowed to keep facing top opponents and not look for soft touches. The fact that he is now aligned with Premier Boxing Champions, as is Thurman, means it would likely a relatively easy fight to make, especially if Pacquiao does not get the fight he really wants: a rematch with Floyd Mayweather should he come out of retirement for the bout, as Mayweather has said is possible.
Thurman is also interested in a rematch of a defense he had against Shawn Porter in 2016 because he would like to regain the belt he had to vacate during his injury layoff. Porter wound up winning the vacant belt last March.
Pacquiao-Thurman, however, is a much bigger fight, and Thurman knows it. Pacquiao, who is technically Thurman's mandatory challenger, is 40 and probably not going to be around for too much longer, meaning time is of the essence.
"Manny Pacquiao is not going to be here for the years to come. Just fighting a legend, I just feel like the clock is ticking," Thurman said during his postfight news conference. "Later this year, if that fight presents itself, I would definitely be open for negotiations, and I would love an opportunity to fight a legend.
"He's not the young Manny Pacquiao that he once was, but he still is a great, world-class fighter. If we get that fight, we'd be happy to do it for ourselves and the fans."
Dan Birmingham, Thurman's longtime trainer, also would like to see the fight with Pacman, calling him "a formidable challenge for anybody. We would love that fight. It's an exciting fight, and I think the fans would love it."
Pacquiao is also interested in the fight, according to Sean Gibbons of Pacquiao's MP Promotions. "Senator Pacquiao is looking at all good fights at 147 pounds," Gibbons told ESPN. "Keith Thurman is an undefeated world champion. He definitely warrants consideration to fight. Thurman holds wins over Danny Garcia and current WBC world champion Shawn Porter. It would be an exciting fight."
The prospect of that fight was almost washed away during the seventh round, in which Lopez nearly stopped Thurman, who survived and went on to win 117-109 and 115-111 on two scorecards, with the third judge surprisingly scoring it 113-113.
Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), 30, of Clearwater, Florida, definitely deserved the unanimous call. He scored a clean knockdown with a left hook in the second round, easily won the first five or six rounds and certainly won at least a couple of rounds in the second half of the fight. Also, per CompuBox data, he landed 130 more punches than Lopez (247-117).
However, Lopez was dominant in the seventh round and was rewarded with 10-8 scores from all three judges, even without a knockdown. Most viewed the fight as a mismatch on paper, with Lopez being hand-picked for Thurman's return because even though he's a hard worker and an entertaining fighter, he usually has failed against top opposition, including in knockout losses to Canelo Alvarez, Andre Berto and Marcos Maidana.
But Lopez (36-8, 19 KOs), 34, of Riverside, California, fought one of his best fights and, to his credit, didn't complain about the decision, even though he and trainer Robert Garcia felt the fight could have been stopped during Lopez's seventh-round onslaught.
"I felt like if the same would have happened to me when I hurt him, they would have stopped it in a heartbeat," Lopez said. "It sucks that I don't feel like I got a fair shake. But I'm OK with my performance. ... [Referee Steve Willis] could have easily stopped it, but maybe he was one punch away."
Said Garcia: "Josesito landed so many good punches that round that if the ref would have stopped it, I don't think there would have been too many complaining. Keith is a strong survivor. He did whatever he had to to survive that round."
Thurman gave it up to Lopez for his tenacity and go-for-it fight plan. "The straight right hand was snapping my head back. It wasn't rocking me over and over again, but my chin was not tucked well enough," Thurman said. "I was standing too straight up. He was really committed to lunging and taking risks.
"At certain times, you don't know what a referee is going to do. And I was moving, and I felt like my movement was evidence that I was A-OK, because it was a tremendous amount of movement. And a lot of fighters that are not A-OK are gonna end up sitting on the ropes and are gonna end up taking those punches. And then, in that moment, even if the fighter doesn't go down, the ref has to really stay in there and think about it and most likely stop the fight. ... There was a moment, obviously, when it could've been one punch away maybe at least into a knockdown. If it was devastating enough, landed clean enough, it could've been a knockout."
It wasn't a knockout, however. Thurman won fair and square, and perhaps the reward will be a Pacquiao fight.
Munguia rolls on
When Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez talks about junior middleweight world titlist Jaime Munguia gaining experience before an inevitable fight with unified middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez, he is referring to fights like the one Munguia had with Takeshi Inoue on Saturday in Houston in the main event of the company's second card since moving to DAZN.
Munguia (32-0, 26 KOs), 22, of Mexico, made his third defense and got all he could handle in a slugfest with Japan's Inoue (13-1-1, 7 KOs), 29, who lost 120-108, 120-108 and 119-109 in a fight far more difficult than the wide scores indicated.
Inoue pushed Munguia hard the entire fight but could not overcome Munguia's activity, as he landed 311 of 998 punches (31 percent) compared to Inoue's connecting with 134 of 542 (25 percent), per CompuBox.
Munguia, in his first fight with trainer Robert Alcazar, landed numerous hard left hooks, but Inoue also landed a slew of right hands. Both men showed great chins and grit in a thoroughly entertaining bout.
The next step: Munguia's next fight likely will be a mandatory defense against Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7 KOs), 33, an Ireland native fighting out of Australia. Eventually, however, there will be a move up to middleweight. After Munguia's win, middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade, who is also with DAZN, tweeted to Munguia that he looked "forward to seeing you soon." Asked if he was interested in Andrade, Munguia was succinct: "Yes, of course. I accept the challenge."
Upset of the weekend: Xu Can-Jesus Rojas
In the Munguia-Inoue co-feature, Jesus Rojas came into the second defense of his secondary featherweight belt as the clear favorite against heretofore unknown Xu Can, even though Rojas was coming off a clear decision loss to Joseph Diaz Jr. in August. Rojas (26-3-2, 19 KOs), 32, of Puerto Rico, had kept the belt, however, because Diaz didn't make weight. Can (16-2, 2 KOs), 24, of China, was supposed to be fodder for him.
But that's why they fight the fight. Not only was it a surprisingly action-packed fight, but Can, in his second fight in a row in the United States, got the rightful call on the scorecards -- 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112 -- even if a couple of the scores might have been a tad wide.
They fought at a wild pace in which the two men threw a combined 2,574 punches, a huge total. Can landed 380 of 1,245 punches (31 percent), and Rojas connected with 388 of 1,329 (29 percent), according to CompuBox data.
This was a really good fight with an unexpected outcome.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Houston
Welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr. (12-0, 12 KOs) TKO5 Jesus Valdez (23-5-1, 12 KOs).
Ortiz, 20, of Dallas, is one boxing's elite prospects, and he shined on the Munguia-Inoue undercard. Valdez, 26, of Mexico, pushed Ortiz past three rounds for the first time in his career, but that is not a bad thing because the kid needs rounds.
Ortiz, a junior welterweight (though this fight was a few pounds over the 140-pound limit), wore down Valdez, who landed a few nice shots but was stopped for only the second time in his career. He took some heavy blows and suffered a cut over his left eye in the fourth round. With the cut getting worse and him taking many huge shots in the fifth round, the ringside doctor called for the fight to be stopped after the round.
Saturday at Uncasville, Connecticut
Welterweight Cletus Seldin (23-1, 19 KOs) KO1 Adam Mate (28-14, 21 KOs).
Long Island, New York's Seldin, known as "The Hebrew Hammer," smoked Mate in just 44 seconds for his second first-round knockout victory in a row. It follows a one-sided decision loss on HBO to Yves Ulysse Jr. in December 2017, then an 11-month layoff because of elbow surgery. Seldin attacked Mate, 28, of Hungary, from the outset and dropped him with a heavy right hand only about 20 seconds into the fight. Mate beat the count, but Seldin dropped him again moments later. Seldin, though he boxed here as a welterweight, has fought mainly as a junior welterweight and could be a possible challenger for world titlist Jose Ramirez later in the year.