Pacquiao’s weight gain is hardly unique in boxing history

By Mike Burnell: Much debate has been stirred through Manny Pacquiao’s humble genesis from a small neighborhood kid in the impoverished city of Kibawe Bukidon Philippines to his improbable rise to World Champion in 8 weight classes. In 1995 Manny weighed 106lbs for his first professional fight vs. Edmund Enting Ignacio and 15 years later tipped the scales at 145 lbs vs. Joshua Clottey, a difference of 39 lbs.

From a little boy struggling for a scrap of food to the supreme pound for pound champion of the entire world; it’s a story of struggle and success that some believe simply transcends all logic. One that has created a fiery debate between those who insist it is impossible to attain such results naturally vs those who believe his success came from vastly improved diet and a superior conditioning regimen that would make a Spartan take a knee. This dispute will not ultimately be settled without a full submission by Manny to Floyd Mayweather’s demand for random blood testing up to the day before the fight. Debate between rather Pacquiao, who has never failed a mandatory pre/post fight drug test in his career, should comply Olympic Style Drug Testing as mandated by the Mayweather camp rages as fiercely as ever.

Championships in 8 weight classes is impressive to say the least but is also a sign of the times with four “major” alphabet soup titles in a bloated 17 weight classes. While certainly worthy of robust discussion Manny Pacquiao’s weight gain is hardly unique in boxing history.

Henry Armstrong turned professional in 1931 weighing a paltry 120lbs. As “Homicide” Hank’s weight grew, however, so did his stature in boxing history. Armstrong, in the golden era of 8 weight classes and 1 champion per class proudly reigned supreme over the Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight divisions, a fluctuation in weight limits of 21lbs……at the same time. Armstrong’s heaviest weight was 145lbs.

Billy Conn was another Golden Age Gladiator. Conn weighed in at 135lbs for his debut vs Johnny Lewis. Few would imagine that 11 years and 47lbs later the undersized, upset minded Irishman would one day challenge the great Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis in an epic battle. As fate would have it Conn, now 182lbs was stopped in the 13th round while leading handily on points. While losing the fight Billy won a moral victory that has gone into the annals of boxing history.

“The Cincinnati Cobra” Ezzard Charles is another example of a boxer from the 8 division era who decided that bigger is better. He is a fighter who grew into his potential, literally. Charles threw his first professional punch in 1940 at 157lbs, 3lbs under the Middleweight limit. He went on to win the Light Heavyweight Championship then the Heavyweight Championship vacated by Joe Louis but may be best remembered for his pair of bouts in 1954 vs undefeated Rocky Marciano. Their first bout was a titanic battle that saw both fighters give and take the best their opponent had to give with Charles, 192lbs, losing a 15 round decision. So dramatic was the fight that it was voted 1954 Fight of the Year. Not too shabby for a fighter who began his journey 35lbs lighter.
“The Ol’ Mongoose” Archie Moore met and defeated fighters of many shapes and sizes. In 1936 Moore, a svelte 148lbs, defeated Kid Pocahuntas. Moore continued his career over a number of years and weight classes finally winning the Light Heavyweight Championship in 1952, 4 days after his 39th birthday. Having been defeated by Floyd Patterson in 1956 the ever ambitious Moore dipped his toe back into the Heavyweight division four years later. The 58lbs he had gained since his early days apparently didn’t hinder him and at 206lbs he TKO’d veteran journeyman Willie Besmanoff.

“Ancient” Archie enjoyed a string of success against the Heavyweights until being defeated by his former pupil, a young Muhammad Ali.

A more modern example of “growing excellence” is the legendary Roberto Duran. Duran, rising from the absolute poverty in the city of El Chorrillo, Panama turned professional in 1968 weighing 119lbs. Widely considered one of the greatest fighters of all time Duran won titles in four weight divisions and is the only boxer in history to have notched wins in 5 separate decades, from the 60’s to 2000’s. Though weighing as much as 176lbs (57lbs north of debut) in a losing effort v Omar Eduardo Gonzalez in one of his last fights he also enjoyed great success far above his original weight. In 1983 Duran found himself a considerably underdog against young Light Middleweight champion Davey Moore. “Manos de Piedra” recorded a stunning 8th round TKO, once again becoming King. In one of his most exciting performances Duran took on two time Thomas Hearns conqueror Iran Barkley. Duran weighed 156, 37lbs heavier than his debut 21 years earlier. In an unforgettable12 round battle the split decision went to Roberto who wrested the WBC Middleweight Championship in the process.

Manny Pacquiao has unquestionably accomplished what few in this modern era have scarcely even dared to imagine attempting. He has unquestionably become the matinee idol of the decade and become the man to beat. What is questionable is rather he was able to attain his lofty position naturally as his legions of fans fervently believe or through crafty use of Performance Enhancing Drugs as argued with the same passion by his detractors. Is his career nothing more than a cleverly designed money making farce or are modern boxing fans truly witnessing a great fighter repeating history before our eyes?

This debate may or may not one day be resolved, time will tell…

Article posted on 09.01.2011

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