Pacquiao Isn’t the Greatest Yet; But He Could Be:
With Floyd Mayweather mired in legal troubles of his own making, the man he ducked has gone on from victory to victory. Putting Mayweather behind him as best he could, Manny Pacquiao has conquered the welterweight division in defeating Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. While Pacman hasn’t beaten Andre Berto or Shane Mosley, he would be the clear favorite in a clash with either man.That Manny Pacquiao has now eclipsed Mayweather as boxing’s biggest star and its pound-for-pound king is beyond question.
That success has raised the question of Pacquiao’s legacy: could he be the greatest fighter of all-time? Of course, in the minds of his legion of his rabid Filipino fans, Manny Pacquiao already is the greatest fighter of all-time. Leaving aside the emotions of Pacman’s countrymen, however, he certainly has a strong claim to being ranked among the all-time greats. Manny Pacquiao is the only man to have ever won world titles in eight separate weight classes, and he didn’t do that by fighting cream-puffs. Pacquiao has defeated tough, world class fighters from 112 lbs to 150 lbs. In addition to that laurel, he is also the only man to have held the lineal championships (“the man who beat the man”) in four weight classes. In an era of dubious championship belts and ridiculous title politics, those lineal championships count for a lot.
However, does all of that add up to being the greatest of all-time? In evaluating that claim, it is useful to look at the two men who have heretofore taken turns heading up the list of the all-time greats: Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Robinson was the dominant figure of the welterweight and middleweight divisions for 20 years, and at a time when the sport had only eight weight classes and one world championship. To put that into perspective, if Robinson were active today the man would have claimed championships in at least six weight classes and maybe more. Ali ruled the heavyweight division for two generations, the latter of which represented the heavyweight Golden Age and the most talent-deep period in the history of the big men.
Three factors contributed substantially to the greatness of Ali and Robinson: they fought everyone worth fighting; both dominated their eras; and the two fighters showed a rare longevity. So far, so good for Pacquiao. He won his first world title 12 years ago and should have at least three or four good years remaining in his career. If things go well, Manny Pacquiao will enjoy a run as an elite fighter for roughly the same length of time as Ali and Robinson. His quality of opposition is outstanding, so check that box off too.
Where Pacman stumbles is in the dominance factor. Manny Pacquiao has almost been the dominant top dog in his various weight classes throughout his career. One man has a good claim to having tied Pacquiao for that distinction at 126 and 130 lbs, and that man is Juan Manuel Marquez. “El Dinamita” and Pacman have an official record of 0-1-1, but plenty of journalists, experts and fight fans dispute those verdicts. The bottom line is that even Pacman won both fights, he cannot claim to have scored clean wins over Juan Manuel Marquez, and that plain fact places him a full step behind Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.
What made Ali and Robinson dominant fighters is that they were deadly rematch opponents. Ali lost to Joe Frazier in the first bout, but returned to defeat Smokin’ Joe easily in the rematch and triumph in the Thrilla in Manila. Ditto for Ken Norton and even the late career bouts with Leon Spinks. Robinson lost a few, but the only unavenged loss in his prime was the infamous “hot lights” fight with Joey Maxim for the Light Heavyweight Title. Even after that fight diminished his health, Robinson kept going and remained a deadly rematch fighter for a few more years. For Manny Pacquiao to have lived up to the standards of these two top all-time greats, he would have needed to score a decisive, clean victory over Juan Manuel Marquez in the rematch. He did not.
For Manny Pacquiao to earn a place contending with Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali for the top spot, he needs to do one of two things: either beat Marquez decisively while Marquez is still a top fighter or build his accomplishments up high enough to overshadow that sole blemish. The window to do the former is closing rapidly. Marquez still looks good, but he is six years older than Pacquiao and won’t last much longer. If the rubber match is to mean anything, it needs to happen soon. Pacquiao’s reputation will not be enhanced if the rubber match with Marquez happens only after Marquez’s prowess starts to fade.
The other route is to keep going in Pacman’s current direction and capture a title in a ninth weight class. That road runs through the middleweight division and Sergio Martinez. If Pacman can do that, he really will have driven the last nail into the coffin of Floyd Mayweather’s reputation (unless, of course, Pretty Boy can duplicate the feat) and established a record that will likely withstand the test of time. After all, while there are no seven-division champions* other than Pacquiao, boxing does have a handful of six-division champions. The idea that no one else will ever enter the seven- or eight-division title-holding class in the future is ludicrous, but nine divisions? That is most unlikely, and a record that can withstand the test of time is all-time greatest material.
The answer to whether Manny Pacquiao is already the greatest fighter in the history of the sport is “no.” Pacman has not done enough to rival the achievements of Ali or Robinson, although he is close. If he should either win a meaningful rubber match over Juan Manuel Marquez or capture the 160 lbs title from a real champion, Pacquiao will have joined the hallowed pair, making the greatest of all-time duo a trio. However, the real kicker is what if Manny Pacquiao actually manages to do both? If he should do that, the hurricane from the Philippines might very well come to be widely considered the greatest boxer of all-time.
*Hector Camacho has a dubious claim to being a seven-division champion, based on holding three widely recognized championships and four fringe championships.