Now it gets real tough. The lightweight division is one of the deepest in the game’s history. A long-celebrated division, 135 pounds has been home to many all-time greats. Manny only had one fight at lightweight, a memorable stoppage over game but limited David Diaz. It is therefore difficult to really capture what Manny was about as a lightweight.
Manny seemed to really turn the corner in the Diaz fight. He was showing the two-handed fury and geometrical awareness that have become trademarks of his ascent to the top of the sport. All of a sudden, he was hurting guys with his right hand. His head seldom was in position where his opponent could get a good shot on him. This is where Manny went from a great fighter and future HOF’er to probably the fighter of his generation and a fighter capable of making a run towards the top five of all-time.
In this analysis Manny will be facing off with guys who made their bones at 135. He will also be squaring off with some of the best fighters ever at their best weight. After fighting only once in this weight class, a little poetic license is taken. The Manny who fought Hatton and De La Hoya could have probably still made 135. Is it right to include that into the analysis since he wasn’t at 135 in those fights? Or do we just go off of the Diaz fight? Let’s do something of a hybrid, taking the Diaz fight and his general improvement around this time into account.
Let’s see how Manny does against the best ever lightweights.
World Lightweight Champion (1917-1925)
91-5-1 (71 KOs)
Analysis: Benny Leonard, alongside Roberto Duran, is considered the greatest ever lightweight. The “Ghetto Wizard” was always two steps ahead of his opponents. He was a genius in the ring, so ahead of the competition that he would chat away to his opponents during fights. Even with 71 KOs, he was known more for his brain. His approach to boxing was very scientific and he was unparalleled at his weight for many years. He eventually retired after wiping out the division.
This is a difficult fight to analyze. If you go off who more thoroughly dominated their opposition, Benny would prevail. Imagine Manny’s dominance over his last four fights projected over a decade against the best in the sport. That’s what Benny Leonard did, albeit in a more scientific, less athletically impressive manner.
I think Leonard’s skills mesh well with Manny’s. Benny Leonard’s prime was 90 years ago, but his ring education and execution were so advanced, it wouldn’t matter. It’s not as if he was one of those old time fighters with his arms extended, palms facing skyward, while moving his hands in a circular motion. Be that as it may, I think Manny’s athleticism would be something new for Benny. The battle lines would be drawn: Benny’s science against Manny’s speed and power. The version of Pacquiao who fought Marquez would have no chance whatsoever against Leonard, who would toy with Manny.
But the version of Pacquiao we have now would be a handful for even Benny Leonard. Manny would come out and startle Leonard with his whirlwind style. Benny would be dropped in the second round and be in considerable peril. But nobody, and I repeat nobody ever out-thought Benny Leonard in the ring. He’d get his bearings back and begin working his stuff on Manny. You don’t fight a prime Benny Leonard and not get outboxed at some point, and probably for long stretches. No way.
Manny would remain solid in his resolve and keep pressing. Around the 12th round, Leonard would begin to show signs of fatigue having been forced to call on all his powers to keep Manny at bay for all those rounds. I think the 15 round distance would actually favor Pacman more than the man accustomed to that distance. Manny’s fierceness would come back into play, as Leonard would call not only on all his tremendous skill, but his heart as well. Manny could conceivably stop a floundering Leonard in the last round or two, but something tells me Leonard would have enough to get to the final bell.
Result: Leonard by Unanimous Decision
NBA/World Lightweight Champion (1945-1951)
125-24-5 (60 KOs)
Analysis: If you could design a lightweight, you might come up with something similar to Ike Williams. He was tall with a sinewy physique that generated tremendous fury and mayhem. Ike fought with a hungry style, including a busy, fast, and strong offensive output. He was capable of stringing together deadly 15-20 punch combinations and if you weren’t on your game, Ike would run you out of the ring. He was one of the best lightweights ever with a long line of tremendous wins over big-time opponents.
Manny would use his versatility to keep Williams guessing. Darting in and out with rapid, strong combinations, Manny would never let Williams get rolling. After finding his mark for several rounds, Manny would begin zeroing in with strong shots that would rattle Williams. But wait! With the fight slipping away in the 9th round, Ike would come alive with a blistering display of doggedness, unleashing a string of combinations that would eventually send Manny to the mat. A distressed Pacquiao would stagger back to his corner at the end of the round.
Freddie Roach would tell Manny to stay on his bike, and Manny would listen, winning the next few rounds going away. With Ike’s reservoir of resources running dry, he would begin to wilt. Manny would pounce, dropping the gallant Williams three times for the stoppage.
Result: Manny Pacquiao by 14th round TKO.
World Lightweight Champion (1962-1965, 1965-1968)
61-7-1 (30 KOs)
Analysis: Carlos Ortiz was and is a hardcore fan’s delight. He was a rare specimen of a truly complete fighter who had it all. His respect seems to grow over time as fans realize the true mastery of this expert boxer-puncher. During an extremely difficult lightweight era in the 1960’s, Ortiz used his craft, smarts, chin, counter-punching wizardry, and power to become the best of that period.
Ortiz would have enough weapons at his disposal to trouble Manny and then some. If Marquez’ skills gave Manny problems, Ortiz could also. Manny was better at 135 than when he fought Marquez, but Ortiz was also a little better than Marquez. Whatever the case, Ortiz would use his savvy and counter-punching to stay in the fight. After ten rounds of a fast-paced, more scientific encounter, Pacquiao and Ortiz would be knotted up. The more-flashy Pacquiao’s style would mesh with Ortiz’ purer boxing to make for a fascinating fight.
As usual, Manny would possess an athletic advantage over Ortiz and would begin to achieve some separation in the later rounds. Manny would shift into a barely perceptible higher gear and begin to increasingly bother Ortiz with movement and blinding combinations. While never completely distancing himself from Ortiz, he would begin to nose ahead. To do so, he would be forced to draw from his reservoir of talent like never before. In a tightly contested fight that would call on all his strength and passion, he would win by a nose at the wire.
Result: Pacquiao by unanimous decision.
World Lightweight Champion (1972-1978)
103-16 (70 KOs)
Analysis: This fight might almost be too much of a good thing. This would potentially make some fan’s heads explode. It really is a dream match. You have two fighters with incredible mystique, will to win, and once-in-a-generation type talent. Some may imagine a prime Duran as a brawler. While certainly aggressive, there was more science to him than he is given credit for. He had the best feet in the game and knew how to position himself as well as any fighter in history. Sometimes only stick-and-move boxers receive accolades for their more scientific exploits. Duran was a master not only in terms of disaster, but the finer points too.
Manny would have a speed advantage and he would need it. While a KO threat in his own right, Manny would not want to test the power of the man who would later trouble the best middleweights in the world. I’m not sure he would have a choice. One would have to imagine both fighters would be mentally as pumped-up for this fight as possible. When Duran was in the right mindset and in his prime, he was unstoppable.
Before his rematch with Leonard, Duran was 72-1. He defeated a great welterweight in Leonard and fought all-time great middleweight Marvin Hagler to a virtual standstill. He punched like a ton of bricks at 135 and was almost impossible to dissuade. Combine that with an almost superhuman confidence and brutality, and you’re looking at one of the best fighters of all time.
Roberto would pounce on Manny who would attempt to move and throw fast combinations. But Duran was smart enough to know Manny needs a little room to work his magic and would be right on top of him. Roberto’s expert footwork would enable him to stay fastened to Manny and rough him up on the inside. Manny would be able to catch Duran coming in with authoritative shots, but nothing that would put a serious dent in Duran’s resolve.
The pace would be frenetic with both men trying to gain a foothold. Respectful of Pacquiao, Duran would keep the gas pedal floored, knowing that just following him around the ring is like leading a piece of lumber into a wood-chipper. Manny’s tremendous athleticism and legs would keep him in the fight for the first seven or eight rounds with his tremendous pride refusing to acknowledge the level of hurt being put on him by Duran. Manny is not the type of fighter to crumble under pressure, but the amount of heat Duran would bring might exceed what any fighter is capable of withstanding.
At some point, Manny would be forced to go toe-to-toe with “manos de piedra” and that is where the fight would end. Duran, moderately banged-up himself, would throw a series of straight shots and hooks on a visibly beleaguered and suddenly dilapidated Pacquiao whose legs would begin to betray him. The onslaught would continue and Duran would pound Manny like a nail being driven into a piece of wood. It would be a savage ending to a savage bout that would exact a toll on both men, especially Manny.
Result: Roberto Duran by 10th round knockout.
Fight # 5
WBC Lightweight Champion
82-8 (65 KOs)
Analysis: Having split their first two bouts at 126 and 130, these men would square off for their rubber match at lightweight. Alexis at 135 was great, but his best days were already behind him. He may not have been what you could call “over the hill,” but he was definitely nearing the end of his plateau. Nevertheless, he was still an ultra-formidable lightweight who could still wield his right hand with wrecking-ball effect.
Manny, conversely, upped his game at the time he hit the lightweight division. It may be a misnomer to call this a fight of two guys heading in opposite directions, but that might not be too far off either. Alexis would begin the fight by trying to set up Pacquiao for the blockbuster right hand. Manny would be a little too slick and quick, jumping out to an early lead.
Intoxicated by his own success, Manny would catch a colossal right hand in the 8th round that would resoundingly send him to the canvas. Arguello would pursue in an effort to finish him, but Manny would get to the bell. This crisis would re-focus Manny and renew his respect for the freakish punching power of the great Nicaraguan. Over the duration of the fight, Manny would use his mobility to peck away at Alexis and cruise to the final bell.
Result: Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision
Fight # 6
World Lightweight Champion (1989-1991)
41-4-1 (17 KOs)
Analysis: I think as the years go by, the appreciation for Whitaker will grow. At lightweight, he was peerless. No one could really get much of anything accomplished against him during this period of his career. A swift southpaw, Whitaker had radar-like reflexes that enabled him to emerge from all his lightweight encounters unscathed. He seemed to move up in weight more out of boredom than anything else. There was no one in the division who could lay a glove on him.
Whitaker never faced anyone at lightweight like Manny Pacquiao. The same can be said for Manny, however. Manny may have been a bit more experienced at this point in each of their careers, but Whitaker was no greenhorn. He was exhibiting some of the most advanced defensive technique ever witnessed in the ring. He could also work the body with authority and crack a bit in the right situation.
This may be the worst style match-up for Manny yet in this whole series. Whitaker would try to stink out the joint by focusing more on nullifying Pacquiao than actually hitting him. Manny would not be able to rattle off consecutive blows on Whitaker as is his wont today. When you picture him nailing Diaz, Hatton, De La Hoya, and Cotto, it becomes easy to think that works on everyone. Whitaker was a completely different breed of cat. At his best, you couldn’t hit him with a handful of sand. He would be keenly aware of Manny’s lethality and train extra hard to thwart the attacks of the slashing Filipino legend.
Over 12 rounds, Whitaker would be on a state of high alert. Pacquiao would struggle to get Pernell in any vulnerable situations. He would win the first few rounds by virtue of his activity, but as Pernell became more comfortable in the eye of the storm, he would begin to get his own offense going. Pernell would use his world-class legs to keep Pacquiao at bay, as well as using the middle of the ring and relying on his head movement, cunning, and guile to befuddle Pacquiao at closer range. It would depend on what tactic Pacquiao employed. Whitaker was the master of taking whatever his opponents did and turning it against them.
Manny is no dummy in the ring. Often lost in all his athletic brilliance is a thinking fighter’s mind that is formidable in its own right. Who’s to say Manny can’t flip the script and make Pernell come to him by using a moving style? Maybe he could walk Pernell into some shots. I doubt it. I picture a scenario where Manny abandons the head and begins going to the body, leaving himself open for eye-catching counterpunches. He begins to fall into the pattern of following Whitaker around the ring. His bodypunches would trouble Whitaker, but Pernell’s ring generalship and skills would win the day.
Result: Pernell Whitaker by unanimous decision.
At lightweight Manny elevated himself to a rare strata of greatness not shared by many fighters. Unfortunately for him in the purposes of this article, the lightweight division is home to two guys (Leonard and Duran) who are mainstays in the top ten all-time list, and another (Whitaker) who isn’t far behind. He still fares awfully well heads-up against some truly great lightweights.
Coming soon: Manny (the version who almost took Ricky Hatton’s head off) tackles the greatest junior welterweights of all time. The Manny Pacquiao vs. The Greats series from ProBoxing-Fans.com is more of the nonstop buildup for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao that we’ll be providing on the site. So whether you are interested in Pacquiao vs. Mayweather predictions, or columns and fantasy fights like these, check back in often.
Image Credit: Frederick Manligas Nacino / Creative Commons 3.0 License