LAS VEGAS • Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao rolled back the years to become the oldest welterweight champion in boxing history with a thrilling split-decision victory over World Boxing Association (WBA) champion Keith Thurman on Saturday night.
The 40-year-old Pacquiao, 10 years older than the previously undefeated Thurman, delivered a vintage performance before a sell-out MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd of 14,356, who included retired boxing great Floyd Mayweather.
Pacquiao floored Thurman with an electrifying combination in the first round and remained on the front foot throughout a pulsating 12-round duel.
Although the bloodied Thurman rallied in the later rounds to narrow Pacquiao's lead, the judges scored it in the veteran's favour.
Two judges scored it 115-112 for Pacquiao, with the third scoring it 114-113 for Thurman.
"It was fun," he said afterwards. "My opponent is a good fighter and boxer. He was strong."
Thurman had riled Pacquiao in the build-up to the fight by vowing to "crucify" his deeply religious opponent, and later promising to send him into retirement.
However, Pacquiao, who improved to 62-7-2 with 39 knockouts, was gracious in victory.
Punches landed, out of 686 thrown by Manny Pacquiao, while Keith Thurman connected with 210 of 571.
"I'm not that kind of boxer who talks a lot; we were just promoting the fight," he said.
"I want to clap my opponent. He's very tough. He can fight. This guy is a warrior."
Pacquiao, who earned an estimated US$20 million (S$27.1 million) from Saturday's fight, is now a major player in the competitive welterweight division once again after capturing Thurman's WBA welterweight "super" champion belt.
The eight-division world champion added he would first return to the Philippines to resume his work as a senator before deciding on his next move inside the ring.
"I will fight next year," said Pacquiao. "I will go back to the Philippines and work and then decide."
And he will be sure to get a hero's welcome on his return to Manila, with the hashtag #StillA40rce trending on Twitter after the bout.
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo, hailed his victory, saying: "Our pound-for-pound king did not show any signs of intimidation as he embodied what a Filipino spirit is all about - a fight."
Thurman, meanwhile, had few complaints in defeat, embracing Pacquiao after the final bell in recognition of an epic contest.
"I knew it was too close," he said. "He got the knockdown so he had momentum in round one. This was a beautiful night of boxing. 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. I would love the rematch."
Official statistics showed Pacquiao landed 195 of 686 punches thrown, while Thurman connected with 210 of 571 and the American admitted his "numbers just weren't up to par to be victorious tonight".
He added: "The fight just flew by. I knew I had to do something big in the later rounds, but he was just too good."