Manny Pacquiao: A Fighter for all Seasons, Years, and Time

Manny PacquiaoBy Anthony Coleman - Ricky Hatton never saw it coming.

Fans never saw it coming and neither did members of the sports media. The only one who envisioned it was winner’s trainer, Freddie Roach, and even he was off by a round. The fact that Pacquiao stopped Ricky Hatton last night to capture the legitimate 140 pound title wasn’t too shocking (he was the favorite coming in and most picked him to win by the mid to late rounds), but very few saw him nearly taking him out in the first round and then finishing the job with an amazing left cross with one second remaining in the second round. Again just amazing stuff and that is why he has ascended to the realm of becoming the most popular fighter in the sport. Yet this victory is far more significant than any in his career. Now, it no longer is a question of putting him as the pound for pound number one fighter in the sport, because he has a lock on that top spot. No, it is time that we start to include Manny Pacquiao in the discussions of the greatest fighters of all time..

That might be difficult for some to digest, especially in this moment seeing that the sport does not have the same mass appeal that it had in previous decades, but all the evidence points to Pacquiao in fact being a truly once in a lifetime talent. He has defeated, in my opinion, three men who were in my top five pound for pound (Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez) a good and much bigger Lightweight in David Diaz, and took out a top 15 pound for pounder in Hatton. Add into the mix that he has reached the historic four world titles in four different weight classes plateau (at Flyweight, Jr. Featherweight, Jr. Featherweight, and Lightweight), but most impressively he has now become the only man in recent memory to defeat the legitimate world champion in four different weight classes (Barrera at Featheweight, Juan Manuel Marquez at Junior Lightweight, Gabriel Mira at Flyweight, and now Hatton at Jr. Welterweight). Hell you can make a case that in his time that he was the best fighter at the Flyweight, Jr. Featherweight, and Jr. Lightweight division. In terms of accomplishments neither Roy Jones Jr. nor Floyd Mayweather can touch that. The only active boxer to claim to even approach Pacquiao’s run of greatness is Bernard Hopkins, and Manny’s quality of opposition outpaces him too. I think it is clear to me that he is the best fighter of his generation. Yet comparing him to other past greats, in some categories he outpaces them as well.

The heads on his mantle is more prestigious than the scalps claimed by both Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker (though the divisions they too both won titles in multiple weight classes and were dominant in the divisions they settled into). His quality of opposition defeated is also greater than Thomas Hearns and Hagler’s and he has nearly matched the latter in sustained longevity. For comparisons sake the only fighters over the last thirty-five years who I believe were clearly better were Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran (and he is closing in on Leonard). In short Pacquiao ranks among the very best fighters in the modern era, and in the pre-multiple belts era he probably would rank even higher. Again this is from a guy that even though five years ago was a true future-Hall of Famer (and by the time of the draw with Juan Manuel Marquez he had earned his ticket to Canastota), nobody truly considered him to even be on the path of joining the super-elite fighters of all-time. The result of this can be traced to his hunger to be the best and his willingness to improve.

Again we have had too many fighters in recent memory who has claimed to be the best, had the talent, but when it was time to get down to business and face the best they often chose to take the road of least resistance in order to fatten their wallets. Yet Pacquiao is different. He loves the thrill of being the best and relishes open combat. In 2004, after his then career defining triumph over Marco Antonio Barrera, he could have easily taken the low road and asked for an easy HBO payday. Instead six months later he decided to take on Juan Manuel Marquez (who was avoided like a plague at the time), just for the glory of claiming to have him on his ledger (and to snatch his two featherweight belts). He wanted to be dominant and from that point on, except for 2007, he has continued the trend of fighting naturally bigger and elite level men. I know I sound like a broken record but I’ll say it again; this is the mark of a true all-time great. The other ingredient to his success has been his willingness to improve his technique.

He was once purely a physical freak, mixing outlandish power and speed while exhibiting mediocre to poor technique. However, by time of his rematch with Erik Morales that fighter was dying. He officially died in his one-sided beatdown of David Diaz last summer. Now he maintains balance when he punches, throws every punch in the book with power and in combinations, and his creativity is superb. Leading with right hooks instead of opening with the jab, going to the body with a hook followed by an uppercut, slipping punches with deft head movement then countering, and staying patient as he continues to batter his opponent Pacquiao is now a true ring technician, something I never though I’d say. All of this can be traced with his relationship with Freddie Roach.

It is fair to say that these two men have now joined the likes of Dundee-Ali and Thomas Hearns-Emmanuel Steward (and it must be said that Steward was calling Pacquiao a top ten pound-for-pounder as early as his fight with Emmanuel Lucero in 2003) among the pre-eminent boxer and trainer tag-teams. Freddie’s contribution to Pacquiao’s success should not be understated. We often give too little credit to a coach when a fighter wins or becomes successful, often claiming that they didn’t need them to be great when many times it is far from the truth. While it is ultimately the boxer’s job to go out and win the fight it is also their duty to be a student and for the trainer to be a teacher. It would be foolish for any of us reading this article to assume that Pacquiao’s complete turnaround in technical proficiency is a mere solo act and not the result of listening to Roach. As I said in my year end awards that in time Roach might join his mentor Eddie Futch at the seat at the table for the all-time great trainers, and while I’m not comfortable enough to make that case just yet, he is definitely in the room now. Without him we probably would not be calling Manny a true living legend.

As a boxing fan it has been a pleasure to see the maturation of the “Pac-Man,” and his reign is not over yet. Indeed it might not be over for sometime. At 30 years of age it looks as if Pacquiao is peaking and showing the ability to maintain his speed, strength and power he is a match to much bigger men. How far the elevator goes is beyond my vision. Could he fight the winner of Mayweather-Marquez? A rematch with Marquez would get boxing fans pumped, but a showdown with Mayweather would be the boxing event of the decade. Will he take on Miguel Cotto if he were to get past Joshua Clottey? How about a confrontation with the Shane Mosley? Either way from this point on it is no longer a question of if he ranks in the all-time best fighters in history, but what number will he be at when he retires. Right now we should all be happy that we are seeing an athlete who is performing at a historically high level.

Article posted on 05.05.2009

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