Manny’s Legacy Minus Mayweather
Regardless of how Pacquiao-Mayweather ends (should the fight ever be made), the outcome would have little impact on Pacquiao’s overall legacy…
Since his untimely death, reflections on Joe Frazier have emphasized, correctly, that his boxing legacy is not exclusively about his rivalry with Muhammad Ali. The death of Joe Frazier provides fertile ground to ask a basic question about rivalries in boxing: is it possible to appreciate the fighters that comprise a great rivalry as individuals?
On Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, Manny Pacquiao takes on Juan Manuel Marquez in the third installment of a trilogy that dates back to 2004. True fans of the sport are curious to see if Marquez can utilize his great ring generalship to outbox Pacquiao. Marquez is, after all, the last fighter to give Pacquiao a competitive fight. Most fans, however, will be watching Pacquiao-Marquez III with their mind on what Pacquiao’s performance tells us about how he might fare against Floyd “Money” Mayweather. While Pacquiao and Mayweather cannot be considered rivals in the classic sense, the fact that they haven’t fought doesn’t mean their modern legacies aren’t attached at the hip.
That their legacies are so linked is unfortunate because many of the events that define their respective greatness aren’t recent and have little to do with each other. Because Mayweather’s enigmatic career has been examined recently, we’ll focus on the exploits of Manny Pacquiao. We will do so in three different areas: technical skills, boxing accomplishments (emphasis on the pre-welterweight era) and overall legacy.
Pacquiao is most often described as a “pressure fighter.” Because pressure is a nebulous concept in boxing and applies to a widely divergent set of approaches, it is mostly unhelpful in any detailed discussion of fighting styles. Pacquiao’s success, for example, is not solely about a random, non-specific pressure, but rather, how he applies a very specific kind of pressure.
Pacquiao has evolved into a devastating puncher because his physical tools and footwork facilitate forceful combination punching from any angle, with little recoil, regardless of how his body is contorted or where he is the ring. To use a basketball analogy, Pacquiao seems to always be in “triple-threat-position,” ready to throw any punch with either hand. Unlike most fighters, he doesn’t need full body extension to generate power. He doesn’t forecast his punches, doesn’t telegraph his movements and is, consequently, almost impossible to time and predict.
In addition, Pacquiao has magically turned counterpunching on its head, mastering the art of the second-order counterpunch: he uses offense to bait an opponent to counterpunch, only to exploit their counterpunching to launch an assault. It’s as if Manny Pacquiao takes advantage of fighters who think they are smarter than they are—fighters think that patience and timing can disarm Pacquiao, when Pacquiao’s barrage is actually the more calculated approach.
Manny Pacquiao became well known in boxing circles after his 2003 TKO victory over Marco Antonio Barrera. At the time, Barrera sat very high on boxing’s pound-for-pound lists after a great run of victories: a clinical deconstruction of “Prince” Naseem Hamed (2001), a decision win against Erik Morales (2002, avenging a 2000 loss) and victories over Johnny Tapia (2002) and Kevin Kelley (2003, by TKO).
On the night of Nov. 15, 2003 Barrera was expected to outclass Pacquiao, who had recently moved up from the super bantamweight division and figured to be in over his head. Instead, Barrera ran into an offensive buzzsaw, suffering a TKO loss in round 11.
This was no random TKO—Barrera was thoroughly dominated and was behind on every scorecard by a wide margin at the time of the TKO. A star was born in Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s only loss since defeating Barrera in 2003 is a decision loss to Erik Morales in 2005, which he convincingly avenged twice in 2006 (first by TKO then by KO). He then knocked out an undefeated Jorge Solis (2007) and defeated Barrera again by decision (2008) before facing Juan Manuel Marquez again in 2008 (a controversial split-decision victory for Pacquiao).
To put his accomplishments in perspective: between 1998 and 2008, Pacquiao effectively defeated most of the elite fighters in the flyweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight divisions, none of which could be called talent-poor by any standards.
What strikes us about Pacquiao’s decade-long run is his lack of regard for odds or expectations: he has never been shy about moving up in weight and immediately challenging the best at higher weight classes. In addition, when fighting opponents for a second or third time, Pacquiao always learns from his past experiences and comes back better prepared. He is one of the great sponges for boxing knowledge that the sport has ever seen: even after he was a world champion and among the ten best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Pacquiao continued to improve as a pure boxer.
Were Pacquiao’s career to have ended before his move to welterweight, he would have been considered a shoe-in Hall of Famer and one of the five best southpaws to ever live. His dominance at the welterweight division, however, has been so thorough, complete and awe-inspiring that it’s forced us to reconsider his boxing legacy in its entirety. Pacquiao is no longer merely a Hall of Famer, but must soon be considered among the all-time pound-for-pound greats.
Make no mistake, however—we want to see Manny Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather for all the reasons that it would be a dream matchup: the clash of styles, the drama and the inevitable trash talk from all sides. The truth, however, is that regardless of how Pacquiao-Mayweather ends (should the fight ever be made), the outcome would have little impact on Pacquiao’s overall legacy—he’s an all-time great (the same can probably be said for Mayweather).
It is for this reason that we should be careful about how much we allow talk of Pacquiao-Mayweather to dictate how we think about Manny Pacquiao. Instead, let’s appreciate greatness for what it is, while it exists. Boxing is, after all, the “hurt business,” a dangerous game where nothing, and no one, should be taken for granted.