Manny Pacquiao's Milestone

manny pacquiao16.03.07 – By Mark Law: There are numerous exclusive clubs in boxing. For example, there’s one for boxers who have been convincingly beaten by Jermain Taylor in a world title fight, which currently boasts only one member (Kassim Ouma). And there’s one for prime-time world class heavyweights who have been beaten by Nicolay Valuev, which is so exclusive it actually has no members (please don’t mention John Ruiz). However, the one I’m gonna highlight here is the most exclusive club of all: boxers who have won a legitimate world championship in three of the original eight weight divisions. This club has just two members; Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong.

Fitzsimmons, sometimes known as “Ruby Robert," took the world middleweight crown from “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey in 1891 with a 13th round KO. In 1897, he beat Jim Corbett for the heavyweight championship, landing his famous solar plexus punch in the 14th round. At the time, there was no light heavyweight boxing class; this was not established until 1903. Fitzsimmons became the third champion in the 175 lb division when he outpointed George Gardner over 20 rounds, thereby completing his hat-trick.

In 1937, Henry Armstrong became the universally-recognized featherweight champ when he stopped Petey Sarron in six rounds. The following year, he battered Barney Ross for 15 rounds to win the world welterweight title (could you imagine a featherweight today taking on a welterweight? It would be like Juan Manuel Marquez jumping up to challenge Floyd Mayweather!). Later in 1938, Armstrong got a decision over Lou Ambers to win the lightweight crown and remarkably, he held all three world boxing championships at the same time!

Few have come close to matching the exceptional achievement of Fitzsimmons and Armstrong. One who did was the awesome Sugar Ray Robinson. Having already been world champ at welterweight and middleweight, he challenged light heavyweight boxing title-holder Joey Maxim in 1952. Unfortunately, intense heat got the better of him and despite being ahead on points, he was too exhausted to come out for the 14th round.

Of course, with the introduction of additional weight classes and, more significantly, the ever-growing multitude of alphabet titles, the accomplishment of becoming a two or three division champion has become much easier. It’s got to the stage now in which just about anyone can do it. Heck, even someone like Joey Gamache can claim to have won “world titles” in two divisions! What a nightmare! In essence, boxers today simply gain a collection of alphabet belts and the opponents they beat count more for their legacy than whatever “title” they hold.

However, for those boxing fans who follow and recognize lineal world championships, there is a fighter out there right now who has the potential to join Fitzsimmons’ and Armstrong’s exclusive club. It’s Manny Pacquiao. Recently, Oscar De La Hoya had a chance too. In 1995, De La Hoya could claim to be the true world lightweight champ when he beat Rafael Ruelas in May that year. It certainly gave him the strongest claim at the time and “Boxing Illustrated” magazine, who was naming one proper world champion per division, recognized him as such. In 1997, he outpointed Pernell Whitaker, albeit controversially, to gain the linear welterweight title and in 2004 he challenged Bernard Hopkins, who the entire universe acknowledged as the world middleweight boxing champion. De La Hoya was stopped for the first time in his career, but had he won, he could have claimed genuine world titles in three of the original eight weight classes.

Now Pacquiao has the opportunity. In 1998, he knocked out Chartchai Sasakul in eight rounds in Bangkok, Thailand. Sasakul was regarded as the linear world flyweight champ and his claim could be traced all the way back to Miguel Canto. In fact, today, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam reigns as the linear flyweight champ but “The Ring” magazine, which lists one genuine titleholder per division, does not recognize him. This is because when they introduced their new championship policy in 2002, they did not take into account linear championships, instead they basically started from scratch. Anyway, back to Pacqiuao, who, in 2003, beat Marco Antonio Barrera for the featherweight crown. Barrera was universally accepted as the true champ at 126 lbs and that gave Pacqiuao two world titles in two of the original eight weight classes.

Currently, Joel Casamayor can claim to be the legitimate world champion at lightweight. He certainly has the strongest entitlement and “The Ring” identifies him with that designation. So if Pacquiao takes on Casamayor and wins, he should be able to rank himself alongside Fitzsimmons and Armstrong!

Is a Casamayor-Pacquiao showdown possible? Who the hell knows in this era of politics, money squabbles and bickering between camps and promoters? Anything can happen…..though too often doesn’t. Size wise, Casamayor stands 5’ 7 and Pacqiuao is listed as 5’ 6 and a half, so they match up pretty well. It would be a nice payday for Casamayor who, at the age of 35, should be looking for big money bouts while he can. And of course, Pacqiuao fears no one and this has as much chance as any potential fight in becoming a reality.

For some, this may not mean much, and records can be easily lost in the bottomless quagmire of alphabet belts. Plus, it’s not always easy to determine a true boxing champion. But for those who love their history and prefer to follow universally-recognized world titles, Pacquiao has a real chance to reach a plateau that only two men have reached before. In this age, with boxing in the state it’s in, it’s about the nearest we can get to such a milestone.

Article posted on 17.03.2007

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