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Taking down a legend was more than Thurman could handle. This time.

Clearwater’s Keith Thurman comes up a little short while fighting Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Manny Pacquiao, right, lands a punch against Keith Thurman in the 10th round of a welterweight title fight Saturday, July 20, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Manny Pacquiao, right, lands a punch against Keith Thurman in the 10th round of a welterweight title fight Saturday, July 20, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Published Jul. 21, 2019

If you had taken a snapshot of the spectators gathered around the ring, you’d see a mix of wild emotions.

Their eyes are wide and their mouths agape. They seem astounded, thrilled or horrified at the knockdown in the first round of the year’s biggest prizefight.

The lone exception is the man sitting on his rear in the middle of the ring.

Keith Thurman is smiling. He looks mildly bemused.

It was almost as if that was the one outcome he had never considered. And maybe that’s what happens when a quest for immortality runs into the real thing.

Clearwater’s Thurman survived the first-round knockdown by Manny Pacquiao Saturday night in Las Vegas, but he never quite solved the boxing legend’s speed, footwork and smarts.

The 40-year-old Pacquiao, a senator in the Philippines, went on to win a split decision (115-112, 115-112, 113-114) that will momentarily alter, but not necessarily derail, Thurman’s ascension in boxing lore.

Thurman was beaten, no doubt about that. He was dominated early in the fight, rallied in the middle rounds, but didn’t finish strongly enough to pull off the upset.

And he knew it, too. Thurman, 30, may have lifted his right arm above his head in a victory salute after the final bell, but he was gracious and complimentary once the judges’ cards were read.

And so, for now, Thurman is a boxer without a motto. He no longer gets to point to a zero – the symbol of a once unblemished 29-0 record – as the essential truth of his superiority.

“I’ve always said I’m not afraid to let my 0 go, if you can beat me – beat me,’’ Thurman later wrote on Twitter. “Manny Pacquiao beat me tonight. Hats off to the Senator on a great performance.’’

Was Thurman embarrassed by Pacquiao? Hardly. He landed more punches (210 to 195), more power punches (192 to 113) and a higher percentage of punches (37 to 28).

The problem is he never hurt Pacquiao. Or, if he did, Pacquiao never gave it away.

Showing uncommon quickness for a boxer with so much mileage (his record is now 67-7-2), Pacquiao moved in and out, and side to side to bloody Thurman’s nose and keep the younger man off balance.

The knockdown was a perfect example.

Thurman had been the aggressor in the first two minutes and was on his way to winning the opening round when Pacquiao got him moving backward with three rapid jabs. He followed with a left to the body and then a right cross that caught Thurman by surprise and put him on the canvas.

Take away that flurry and Thurman probably wins the round 10-9 instead of losing 10-8. It’s silly to think the fight would have gone exactly the same way but, to give an idea of how close it really was, that single difference would have changed those 115-112 scorecards to 114-114.

Thurman’s momentum in the middle rounds was also thwarted by a single punch. Pacquiao connected with a body shot in the 10th round that made Thurman wince and remove his mouth guard.

All in all, it was a learning experience for Thurman who was the favorite when betting lines opened earlier in the year but was an underdog by fight time. Pacquiao never gave the appearance of a man in trouble. He took his shots when available and made Thurman look as if he was unsure of himself.

Pacquiao will now probably fight the winner of the Errol Spence-Shawn Porter bout in September, or maybe even lure Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for another mega-fight.

Thurman will have to bide his time. He could use another fight or two to increase his sharpness after his injuries in 2017-18, and then wait for the right opportunity for another big-name challenger.

In the meantime, this fight set him up financially. The guaranteed purse was $10 million for Pacquiao and $2.5 million for Thurman, but Forbes reports that the final numbers will be closer to $20 million for Pacquiao and $8 million for Thurman.

He had spent the week taking digs at Pacquiao in a clear attempt to promote the fight, but when it was over Thurman was the portrait of grace while being interviewed by the pay per view broadcast team.

“I wish I had a little bit more output to go toe to toe. I felt like he was getting a little bit tired but he did have experience in the ring,’’ Thurman said. “My conditioning, my output, was just behind Manny Pacquiao. It was a great night of boxing. I would love the rematch. It is what it is, baby.

“You get blessings and lessons. Tonight was a blessing and a lesson. Thank you everybody, thank you Manny Pacquiao.’’

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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