It is never good for boxing when a high-profile star gets handed a controversial loss. More eyeballs than normal were watching the Sweet Science this weekend when Manny Pacquiao defended his WBO welterweight belt against Jeff Horn. Many of them were left with a bad taste in their mouthes.
But Pacquiao’s loss has provided suddenly clarity to the welterweight division. Prior to last weekend, he would have needed to factor into any bout to establish a new, clear-cut world champion at 147 pounds. I had him still placed at No. 1 in the division, on the strength of his resume and last year’s victories over Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas. The other two belt holders in the division, Keith Thurman and Errol Spence, were vying for second place.
All that has changed now. Even if you think Pacquiao was robbed, you can’t with any credibility argue that he is the same fighter he was even a year ago. The version of Pacquiao that fought Horn last weekend was a pale shadow of his former self.
I would still rank him in the top 10. And I’ll provisionally move Horn into the top 10, on the strength of a physical and gutsy, if sloppy, performance.
But the top of the division is now clear. Thurman and Spence must now be universally recognized as one and two.
Thurman’s past two wins were both huge ones. In June 2016 he defeated the always tough Shawn Porter. Last March he handled Danny Garcia, to unify the WBA and WBC belts. Spence captured the IBF title in May when he knocked out Kell Brook, a top three welterweight heading into the clash.
Spence and Thurman are both undefeated belt holders in their prime. Both are looking to become true, pound-for-pound superstars. And the road for other leads directly to the other.
Thurman had elbow surgery following his win over Garcia but has vowed to return this year. If he returns to fight Spence, like he should, then it will end the boxing year with a bang.