Weekend Boxing preview: Pacquiao vs. Thurman, Plant vs. Lee

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July 18th, 2019

This Saturday brings a pivotal clash and the outcome will drastically alter the landscape of boxing's welterweight division and pound-for-pound ranks within the sport. Manny Pacquiao is not slowing down, even at an age where most fighters are falling apart, but standing in his way is the undefeated Keith Thurman, who is looking to re-establish his position as the best welterweight in the world and end the storied career of Pacquiao.

Also Saturday, Caleb Plant will make the first defense of his IBF super middleweight title against the undefeated Mike Lee, who is moving down from light heavyweight for a shot at championship glory.

Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) vs. Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs)

Boxing free pick: Pacquiao (-175)

The biggest fight of the year also happens to be too close to call. Thurman opened up as an early favorite over Pacquiao, but a shaky performance against Josesito Lopez in January, off of the heels of Pacquiao's domination of Adrien Broner has turned the tide, with Pacquiao now a -175 favorite.

Thurman's return against Lopez was his first fight in nearly two years, after he had to deal with nagging injuries to his elbow and right hand. While Lopez was handpicked by Thurman's team to make the returning champ look good, the challenger made it rough for Thurman and had him in deep trouble in the seventh round.

The performance was enough for Pacquiao to reach out to Thurman, as the former eight-division champion eyes one last run at a major world title and inches closer to the end of his legendary career.

If it wasn't for the long layoff and the tepid showing against Lopez, it is hard to imagine the 40-year-old former champion would be willing to face Thurman at 100%. Because of that, it is no surprise  that Pacquiao has jumped to favoritism.

When Thurman was active, his defense was average at best and showed vulnerabilities Pacquiao can exploit. Against other southpaw opponents in Robert Guerrero and Luis Collazo, Thurman struggled and was hurt to the head and body in each of those fights. There are also questions surrounding Thurman's stamina, especially late in competitive fights, but a knockout from either fighter is highly unlikely.

Pacquiao is going to make it seem he's fighting Thurman's fight early but will do so with hopes that Thurman squanders his energy. The idea will be for Pacquiao to use his speed and angles of his shots to strafe Thurman and discourage any return fire. As the fight progresses Pacquiao will take more chances as Thurman hesitates to pull the trigger.

Though Thurman boasts advantages in age and power, he needs to keep Pacquiao on the outside, behind a hard jab, and reserve his power punching for body shots. Slowing Pacquiao down and restricting his movement is critical for Thurman, but he is going to have to be ready to implement that game plan without fail from bell to bell.

This looks like a fight that will be decided in the championship rounds, when Pacquiao's experience and Thurman's ring rust will come into play. A fatigued Thurman will only have enough energy to defend himself or engage, and Pacquiao will have about enough to cross the finishing line.

Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs) vs. Mike Lee (21-0, 11 KOs)

In January, Caleb Plant turned in the performance of his career when he dropped Jose Uzcategui twice to secure the IBF super middleweight title. While Plant turned in an effort indicative of his championship caliber, the same can't be said about Mike Lee, who is best known for his Subway commercials than his pugilistic prowess.

Despite scoring critical knockdowns in his title-winning effort, Plant should not be confused for a power puncher. The skilled champ is a mover and works behind a solid fundamental base. He doesn't do anything extraordinarily well, but he's decent enough to compete at the top tier of the division.

Lee, however, has somehow found himself fighting for a world title despite no major wins to speak of. He is coming down in weight, though, with the hopes that carrying a size advantage can close the gap against the more experienced Plant.

Unless Lee has been hiding his true skills all along and is meandering in the pro ranks for his own enjoyment, his chances of victory are remote. The big question is if Plant will carry Lee the whole 12 rounds or press him for a stoppage.

Plant is the -1925 favorite to win this bout, and there just isn't too much to like with Lee at +700 to spring the upset.

These aren't the only pro fights this weekend. Check out the full slate at BetAmerica!