The Philippines’ finest turns 40 next birthday, and ahead of his fight with Lucas Matthysse, it’s surely time to evaluate his position among the pantheon of boxing gods.
Firstly, it’s imperative to distinguish between ‘best’ and ‘greatest’, for several post-war legends – Robinson, Leonard, Jones Jr, Mayweather Jr – would have been favoured to edge past ‘The Pac Man’ in a mythical P4P match-up, when all involved were operating at their absolute primes.
But any analysis of ‘greatness’ needs to account for other factors such as longevity, quality of competition encountered and conquered, entertainment quotient, crossover appeal and lasting impact on the sport...all areas where the Pinoy proved exceptional.
Though Muhammad Ali proclaimed himself ‘The Greatest’ – and there were few dissenting voices – he openly conceded that Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were both superior fighters.
Secondly, it is unrealistic to evaluate The Pac Man against the sport’s earliest icons who were confined to competition in the sport’s eight traditional weight divisions, each with a single undisputed World Champion.
While Manny boasts eight ‘Big Four’ World Title belts in six separate classifications, he never captured more than a quarter slice of the whole divisional pie, never came close to unifying at any weight. That’s not to suggest he was incapable of, simply that circumstances prevented.
If the Filipino phenom wasn’t the very best technician of the modern era, there is still so much to commend during a 23 ½ year pro career that commenced as a 16-year-old sub-Strawweight and peaked out at Super-Welter.
Remarkably, manic Manny – masterfully mentored by Freddie Roach in Hollywood – managed to sustain the speed of his fizzing fists and fleet feet across a dozen weight divisions. Regardless of category or calibre of opponent, he advanced with a ferocity utterly at odds to his meek manner on Civvy St, sustaining his sizzling, spiteful two-fisted salvos without let-up for the entire 36 minutes...if required.
For 38 of his 59 wins, it wasn’t. Pacquiao was blessed with rare but genuine ‘one shot’ takeout power and administered ‘10 count’ demolitions in title action against Chatchai Sasakul (fFly), Erik Morales (Super-Feather) and Ricky Hatton (Super-Lightweight). He is certainly a podium contender for consideration as the most thrilling fighter of the modern era and a strong rival to Hagler, Whittaker and Calzaghe as the finest Southpaw.
And the Asian icon’s career is as rich in achievement as aesthetics. What distinguishes him far above the competition is the 42lb gap that separates his World Title wins.
Since capturing the WBC Flyweight strap with a come from behind kayo over Sasakul in Thailand almost 20 years ago, Pac reigned on the IBF Super-Bantam, WBC Super-Feather, WBC Lightweight, WBO Welter (three times) and WBC Super-Welter thrones. Factor in Ring Magazine belts at Featherweight and Light-Welter and you end up with the sports only eight division World Champion, as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records.
Pacquiao’s track record confirms he is utterly fearless with regard to who and where he fights. The General Santos City resident has enjoyed home advantage just twice in World Title contests – and not since 2002. Whereas Mayweather Jr never left the US, Manny has seen action in Japan, Thailand, the US, Macau and Australia. On Saturday he ventures to Malaysia, to confront Argentina’s avoided WBA Welter king Lucas Matthysse, a man who with a 92% kayo ratio for his 39 wins.
And Pacquiao’s title horde wasn’t accumulated by slaloming the iron and hoovering up vacant titles. For seven of his title wins, he dethroned the reigning monarch and, for the eighth, he squared off with Mexican light-middle Antonio Margarito, a man 5 inches taller and 7 ½ inches longer!
Pacquiao has conceded on just four of the 22 occasions he has contested World Championships sanctioned by the four leading organisations and it should be noted that he also scalped fighters of the calibre of Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Erik Morales (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Tim Bradley in fights which weren’t!
22 of his wins were acquired against 18 different World Champions, five against men already domiciled in the Hall of Fame! Having mounted the scalps of Barrera, Morales, Marquez and Bradley, he never shied from fighting them again.
During the Noughties, it was Pacquiao – not Mayweather Jr who was active throughout – who copped the Fighter of the Decade accolade from HBO, the Boxing Writers Association of America plus the WBO and WBC.
And without attempting to tender excuses, perspective is required regarding the seven losses that stain Pacquiao’s 68 fight slate.
Third round stoppage losses to Rustico Torrecampo and Boonsai Sangurat occurred when he was a malnourished Flyweight and, following the latter, he re-surfaced 10lbs and three weight divisions north. Points losses to Tim Bradley (2012) and Jeff Horn (2017) could be filed in the Robbery of the Year cabinet.
During almost a quarter of a century operating in elite company, only Morales, Mayweather (both points) and Juan Manuel Marquez (co6) have beaten him decisively. All are bound for Canastota for the Hall of Fame.
And there is a certain purity about Pacquiao, both as a pugilist and as a person. Ferociously combative, he shies from ‘trash talk’ but always wages war – irrespective of size disparities – and appeases traditionalists by scrapping hard but clean.
In contrast to the ‘Money’ man, he has participated in several of this Millennium’s most thrilling scraps. Consequently, Pac punch-ups have resulted in 19.2million PPV take-ups – grossing $1.2billion in revenue!
Beyond the ropes, he just might be Ali’s closest rival in the manner in which he transcends the sport...albeit a distant second.
Like Muhammad, the ‘Born Again’ believer is far from perfect – guilty of excessive alcoholism, gambling, infidelity and a reluctance to pay his taxes on time – but the good far outweighs the bad. His ring earnings run well into the nine-figure bracket but have been heavily depleted by his commitment to philanthropic and charitable causes in the Philippines, where he serves the people as Senator and a high-ranking Army Reserve. Unsurprising then, that his homeland comes to a complete standstill, each time he performs. Now that’s greatness!
Undoubtedly others were more blessed but, post-Ali, I can’t think of any greater. Can you?!
Buy BoxNation to watch Manny Pacquiao v Lucas Matthysse on July 14th. Sky customers can use code FIGHTNIGHT for free registration (usually £8).