KEITH THURMAN is in the final stages of preparing for his July 20 clash with Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Their WBA welterweight will be broadcast on Fox Sports pay-per-view in America and ITV Box Office in the UK.

For Thurman this will be his defining fight. “I wanted to fight Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather six years ago at the age of 24. I was never presented with the opportunity at that time. I’m presented with the opportunity today. So the opportunity’s not coming tomorrow, it’s here today. I’ve got to take full advantage of it,” he told Boxing News. “Every welterweight in the welterweight division wanted this fight. They can say whatever they say want to say about this fight but everybody wanted this fight. Errol Spence, Shawn Porter even Terence Crawford would take this fight. Everybody wanted this fight, as long as Manny Pacquiao still wanted to be an active fighter and he wanted to make more exciting fights for the fight fans. I just think this is one of the best match ups of the year and I definitely believe it could be one of the best fights of the year once we start trading.”

Until January though Thurman had had two years out of the sport, hampered by injury. That hiatus stalled the momentum he’d built after unifying the WBC and WBA world titles with his 2017 victory over Danny Garcia. The Florida man returned to beat Josesito Lopez only in January and insists that now he is ready for Pacquiao. “I felt a little sluggish [then], not truly myself. A little lack of confidence when it came to being in the ring. But this time we’re just preparing in a better way. I’m a big fan [of saying] and I believe that preparation for a fight is what gets you through a fight. Of course you’ve got to have skills and you’ve got to have talent. If you have skills and talent but lack preparation, you’re not going to get the results that you’re really looking for. Luckily for me I knew I could rely on my movement and boxing ability to get through the Josesito Lopez fight. I knew he was a flat-footed, move forward fighter. And so we did that and now we’ve got Manny Pacquiao and I’m just making sure I have more of an offence, working even more on my defence. Though I think it’s not going to be easy for Pacquiao with those short arms of his. I think standing on the outside is really beneficial for me. He’s 40 years old and I want to mix it up with a legend a little bit in there and see who touches who first and who makes who back up,” Thurman said.

Keith Thurman has been training hard to recapture his best form Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions

“I’ve been doing things different for myself. Pacquiao’s going to get the results of me being in some of the best shape that I’ve been in in a long time. I had a good performance against Shawn Porter, I think I had a more dominating performance against Danny Garcia. Then it’s two years since the world saw me again [until] Josesito Lopez. I know it wasn’t my best performance, it wasn’t my best outcome. I was brushing off a lot of dust. Training camp wasn’t easy but now I’m fighting again, the second time of the year, which I haven’t done for five years. It’s really big for me and I’m definitely taking the momentum of the first training camp into the second training camp. I have two strength and conditioning coaches that I’m co-ordinating with in preparation for this fight. We’ going to be ready. I really just want to do my best to present to the world and to the boxing fans and all the fight fans what Keith Thurman truly looks like in his prime. We don’t know, this still might not be the best Keith Thurman. But you best believe I’m coming to give a top performance because I’ve been putting in tremendous effort and it should show on fight night.”

Thurman hopes victory in Vegas will catapult him to a new level of acclaim. “I think it’s a build up to superstardom at all times. There was a build up for Floyd, there was a build up for Manny and I’ve had my own build up. And as I was building up to my superstardom, when I unified the WBA and WBC titles, being only the unified welterweight world champion. What I think this fight really does for me is it just proves that Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman has the best resume in the welterweight division amongst my peers. So I look forward to holding that status once again. Even with my two years of inactivity I still don’t think that Terence Crawford and Errol Spence have defeated my credentials at 147lbs. I don’t think they surpassed it, even when I was inactive. I’m really proud of that and I know one day we will most likely share the ring together, there’s definitely still time. This year is really all about me getting back into the ring and here I am, back in the ring and once again it’s your boy Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman bringing you some of the most exciting fights in the welterweight division. I’ve done it in the past and I’m doing it again and I’m just proud to be living out my dream and bringing such great entertainment to the sport that I love,” he said.

The well-spoken American has relished confronting Pacquiao in the build up to the fight, even if he hasn’t got much of rise out of the Filipino great. “It’s my one and only opportunity to talk junk to Manny Pacquiao. It’s been fun for me. I don’t care. I’ve made him laugh, I’ve gotten under skin a little bit [even] if he comes back at the face-to-face and says, ‘No it doesn’t really bother me, they’re just words. I’m going to fight and I’m going to fight to win,’” Thurman reflected.

Manny Pacquiao
Thurman has tried to rattle Pacquiao Stephanie Trapp/TGB Promotions

“And I get it. [But] you don’t have to be scared to get knocked out. Fear has nothing to do with getting knocked out. Having fear doesn’t help you. Not having fear, if I’m the better fighter, you just get knocked out anyway. So it is what it is. Words don’t really go far. Actions speak louder than word and all the action happens at the MGM July 20,” he declared.

“If I didn’t know anything about Manny Pacquiao I definitely wouldn’t be able to say that he’s 40 years old. He’s got that baby face look on him, he still looks young, he exudes confidence. He’s a legend, he’s fought everybody in the world, he’s fought bigger guys where it’s like David versus Goliath. He’s fought some of the best fighters in the world, some of the best boxers, like Floyd Mayweather. He’s seen it all. I understand where his confidence comes from. But at the end of the day he’s never been in the ring with me. I know Freddie Roach is pumping his head up with a lot of lies and he’s going to find out the truth on July 20.”

Pacquiao fought in January too, unanimously outpointed Adrien Broner. “He did look good last time out,” Thurman conceded, but added, “He didn’t get punched and he showed patience and then he started dominating the later rounds. I’m going to be a lot more active from the beginning rounds. He’s not going to be able to coast into taking his time and waiting until the seventh round until he starts letting his punches go. It’s going to be a fight from the start of the bell and then we’ll see if his age happens to show or not. He’s always in tremendous shape. He’s a great athlete but ultimately I’m not convinced that Manny Pacquiao belongs at the top of the welterweight division in today’s generation.”

Manny Pacquiao
Thurman is convinced he can outbox Pacquiao from range Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions

Thurman maintained that a drug testing regimen is in place for the contest. “At the end of the day, whatever they make me do, I do. There will be drug testing, there’s always drug testing,” he said. “I was trying to be an Olympian back in the day, I’ve been tested since I was an amateur. I fight clean and I test clean every single time. I would say no [further] comment on that.

“I’m too focused on the fight.”