I like to reflect on the great fighters who get to the end of their careers on here and have done it for several other fighters. I waited to post this after the dust settled from the T-Mobile Arena a Saturday ago when Manny Pacquiao lost to Yordenis Ugas for the WBA Welterweight Title. Much has been said in the wake of the defeat but all agree that Manny is a legend and one of the best to ever do it. I am not a list fan when it comes to boxing in the way that others do in making pound for pound rankings and all time rankings. This post is not here to say Pacquiao is the ___ ranked fighter of all time! I find it very subjective and the sport’s rich history in my view makes it hard to compare eras. What I will do is just touch on my experience with Pacquiao who was a dominant force during my time as a boxing fan.
As a child of the HBO era I came of age as a boxing fan listening to Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant call fights on Saturday night amid the big time production on premium cable. One of the first big fights I can remember really well is the Marco Antonio Barrera vs Naseem Hamed title fight. I remember the build up, I remember the fight and I remember the aftermath pretty clearly. I was impressed with Barrera who would go down as one of the many great Mexican fighters. My first exposure to Pacquiao was on the undercard of Mike Tyson against Lennox Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee on a big seller of a pay-per-view event. Manny Pacquiao with his “no fear” shorts and explosive style blitzed out Jorge Elicer Julio in destructive fashion and made me an instant fan. A clash with Barrera was set for the featherweight championship and again the quick and destructive Filipino puncher was way too much for Barrera. He overwhelmed the Mexican great and stopped him in a massive victory. Pacquiao who solidified his greatness in his move to welterweight did his best work in that 2001 to 2008 span. There he defeated Barrera twice, Barrera’s great rival Erik Morales in two out of exciting fights and won and drew with Juan Manuel Marquez in two phenomenal and controversial wars. That performance against the great Mexican trio solidified Pacquiao’s legacy without any shadow of a doubt.
As a young American kid I did not get a chance to see Pacquiao’s run of championships and accomplishments prior to coming on HBO. He was already a very good fighter outside of the US radar of boxing. His fight with Oscar De La Hoya in 2008 was the major breaking point in his status. Oscar was at the twilight of his career and hunting for that one last victory to cement his legacy and having failed against Floyd Mayweather Jr he looked to Pacquiao for that victory. Many laughed this fight off as a sham and circus match up pitting the WBC lightweight champion with little fighting at that weight class to jump two divisions to face De La Hoya who had been fighting at a higher weight. To make matters even more interesting was Oscar bringing in a dream team of coaches including the great Angelo Dundee and Nacho Berestein to aid in his training process. I grew up on De La Hoya but taking on such a smaller opponent and recruiting this super team of coaches to do it felt shameful. I did not give Manny much of a chance and neither did many other observers both fans and journalists/pundits. Pacquiao befuddled and pounded the larger De La Hoya into quitting on his stool and went on an incredible run defeating Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, Tim Bradley, Shane Moseley and was a dominant force at 147 well beyond his best years and well above his best weight division.
What I will remember Pacquiao for is a combination of things. His style and intensity in the ring is a ferocity rarely seen in fighters and is reminiscent of a lighter weight Tyson. He shifts his weight effortlessly as he covers ground and shocks his larger opponents with speed and explosive combinations. His unorthodox attacks come at all angles and he often ambushes his opponents and escapes before they can get reprisals. Even the men who did defeat him like Morales and Marquez often were bloodied, hit the canvas and paid a heavy toll to get their victories. Manny climbed weights like few in history have and while his eight titles in eight divisions is a little misleading he won five lineal titles which has never been done. Other great weight climbers like Henry Armstrong, Alexis Arguello, Sugar Ray Leonard, and even rival Floyd Mayweather Jr could not accomplish that feat and it is not likely to be done soon. Besides weight climbing is his unbelievable longevity in the ring stands out as well. He is the oldest fighter to ever win a welterweight championship and the only fighter to hold a title in four different decades. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that he engaged in so many wars and has a style that is based on explosive offense and frenetic movement. A fighter like Mayweather or Bernard Hopkins can fight forever due to lack of wars and being a patient defensive fighter, I guess their reflexes could wane but they can win by killing the pace. Manny did not do that, he went after his opponents in a non compromising aggression. Couple the mileage and weight climb with his incredibly young start that saw him turn pro at fifteen years-old and win his first title before he entered his twenties. A lot of great fighters start young and fight until they are old but none of them are successful for this long. In addition, Manny never went on a bum tour beating on nobodies to stay victorious on paydays but suffer in irrelevance. Nor did he go on a victim tour where young guns used him up as a stepping stone to build their name.
Pacquiao has stated he has interest in fighting Ugas again in January but his legacy is sealed no matter what. This is how I remember Manny Pacquiao: