How would Pacquaio fare versus five all-time greats?
Manny Pacquiao’s first fight with Erik Morales in March of 2005 was the last time the pound-for-pound king lost.
From then until now, Pacquiao has won nine consecutive bouts over a four-year span.
During this time he didn’t just emerge as an idol in his native Philippines and the best fighter in the world; he evolved from a first-ballot hall of famer to a bona fide all-time great.
There’s a difference, you know. Not sure what the difference is?
Muhammad Ali is an all-time great. Inegmar Johansson is a hall of famer.
Salvador Sanchez is an all-time great. Barry McGuigan is a hall of famer.
Good, let’s get to the fun.
On Saturday, Pacquiao challenges Ricky Hatton for the Brit’s world junior welterweight championship. Hatton is the biggest, strongest, and the most accomplished fighter who is still in his prime who Pacquiao has ever faced.
And yet, few are giving Hatton a shot to last the distance, much less win the darn fight.
The public’s lack of faith in Hatton is not a slight to the Manchester native, a long-reigning world champion who has defeated half a dozen belt holders and has only lost once (to Floyd Mayweather) in 46 pro outings.
Hatton is a future hall of famer. However, in Pacquiao, he is facing one whose talent and accomplishments go beyond the confines of Canastota, New York.
So how would “the Pac-man” fair against fellow “all-timers” in their prime?
Here’s my take on five mythical matchups between Pacquiao and my favorite great fighters in the four weight classes the Filipino idol has campaigned in this decade and the one he invades this Saturday:
Wilfredo Gomez at 122 pounds, Salvador Sanchez at 126, Alexis Arguello at 130 pounds, Roberto Duran at 135 and Aaron Pryor at 140 pounds.
These matchups are between the featured greats in their primes and Pacquiao at his best in those particular weight division.
Career record: 44-3-1 (42)
Record at junior featherweight, 122 pounds: 38-0-1 (38)
Best wins at 122 pounds: fellow great Carlos Zarate (TKO 5), hall of famer Lupe Pintor (TKO 14), crafty prospect (at the time) Albert Davila (TKO 9), hard-hitting contender Juan “Kid” Meza (TKO 6), and underrated titleholder Dong-Kyun Yum (TKO 12, won the WBC title).
Gomez is one of the top three greatest fighters ever produced by the boxing-proud island of Puerto Rico. The late 1970s/early 1980s star won titles at junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight, but he was at his best at 122 pounds where he posted a record 17 title defenses, all by knockout.
Pacquiao at 122 pounds
Record: 10-0-1, (10)
Best wins: Lehlo Ledwaba (TKO 6, won the IBF belt), then-undefeated contender Nedal Hussein (TKO 10), and former two-division titleholder Jorge Julio (TKO 2).
Pacquiao was just another faceless Asian former titleholder when he leapfrogged the 115- and 118-pound divisions to settle in at 122 pounds after he badly drained himself in an attempt to defend his WBC flyweight belt (still failing to make weight) and was knocked out by Medgoen Singsurat. His speed and power, which he lived and died by, were phenomenal in this weight class, where he remained for 3¾ years.
How they match up:
Gomez’s awesome record would suggest that he was a go-for-broke KO artist, but the stocky 5-foot-5 Puerto Rican was a complete boxer who was as comfortable counter punching or circling his opponents behind a jab as he was coming forward and throwing bombs. However he preferred stalking his foes because of his bone-crunching power.
Gomez didn’t blowout or immediately overwhelm his opponents as Pacquaio did at this weight; he set up his knockouts with excellent timing and debilitating body punching. When he hurt them (and he always did) he was a ruthless finisher, and he usually got the job done with his incredibly powerful right hand.
That’s bad news for the 122-pound version of Pacquiao, who even moderately-experienced fighters could nail with right hands with their eyes closed.
Pacquiao’s freakish speed, reflexes and in-and-out movement would have made this a competitive match in the early going. It’s not inconceivable that the Pac-man could have buzzed or even dropped Gomez while the Puerto Rican was still warming up in the first two or three rounds. Korea’s Yum, a quick-fisted and fleet footed boxer, dumped Gomez on the canvas with a left in the first round of their competitive title fight.
Yum kept the fight interesting until he was pounded into submission in the 12th round of their 1977 bout, but Pacquiao was a much more aggressive fighter at junior featherweight. He wouldn’t have lasted as long as Yum did with Gomez, but it would have been a hell of a fight. The toe-to-toe exchanges that would have no doubt occurred in the fourth and fifth rounds would have been thrilling but they would have favored Gomez, who was more accurate in close and also adept at roughing his opponents up on the inside.
That’s more bad news for Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s only non-win at 122 pounds was a six-round technical draw with the late Agapito Sanchez, a 5-foot-3 Dominican who employed dirty tactics to thoroughly frustrate and bust up the face of the better-talented fighter. The cuts (caused by headbutts) that Pacquiao sustained ended the fight prematurely, but many ringsiders felt Sanchez was pulling ahead at that point with the sneaky use of right hands and forearms.
Pacquiao’s risk-taking mentality would have raked up points — perhaps even a points lead going into the middle rounds of the bout — before Gomez timed him with a left to the body or an overhand right, but once the hammer was dropped it would spell the beginning of the end for Pacquiao, whose fighting instincts would only hasten his knockout at the heavy hands of “Bazooka”.
Gomez wins by middle-to-late rounds knockout.
Career record: 44-1-1 (32)
Record at featherweight14-0 (7)
Best wins at 126 pounds: fellow great Wilfredo Gomez (TKO 8), KO artist titleholder Danny “Little Red” Lopez (TKO 13, won the WBC title, TKO 14), and future titleholders Juan LaPorte (W 15) and unheralded (at the time) Azumah Nelson (TKO 15)
Sanchez turned pro in Mexico at bantamweight in 1975. He was an aggressive prospect known for his punching power, but a 12-round loss to Antonio Becerra for the national 118-pound title in 1977 was the starting point for his gradual development into a superbly conditioned, well-rounded featherweight boxer. By the time he challenged Lopez for the WBC title in 1980 (at age 21), he was one of the most efficient and unflappable fighting machines the sport had ever seen.
Pacquiao at 126 pounds:
Record: 3-0-1 (3)
Best wins: Marco Antonio Barrera (TKO 11)
Towards the end of his 122-pound title reign Pacquiao took a non-title featherweight bout in the Philippines that produced a scare when a journeyman from Kazakhstan (Serikzhan Yeshmagambetov) dropped him in the fourth round of their 2003 bout that the PacMan ended in the fifth. His second featherweight bout was much more productive as he trounced pound-for-pound player Marco Antonio Barrera until the Mexican master’s corner saved him in the 11th round. The victory launched Pacquiao into stardom but his 12-round draw with titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez in his very next bout let the world know that he was still a work in progress.
How they match up:
Pacquiao will probably always have trouble with patient counter-punching technicians (what boxer doesn’t?), but Sanchez would have been a nightmare for the 126-pound version of the Filipino hero.
Sanchez was always poised and cool under fire. He fought just as effectively backing up as he did when he circled or stalked his opponents. He wasn’t terribly fast, but he had good timing and he was very accurate. He was also good at slipping punches while he advanced (a trait Pacquiao wouldn’t develop until he moved to lightweight).
Pacquiao’s aggressiveness and punching power wouldn’t have fazed Sanchez, but his hand and foot speed would have enabled him to land his share of clean shots on the Mexican, at least early in the bout.
Here’s Pacquiao’s problem: it’s doubtful that even his best shot — the straight left — would have dented Sanchez’s chin.
On top of being a technically sharp and seemingly tireless 15-round boxer-puncher, Sanchez’s whiskers were other-worldly. He took flush shots from Danny Lopez that would have paralyzed anyone else.
However, while Pacquiao didn’t have the power to stop or even slow down Sanchez, the Mexican technician didn’t possess the killer instinct to hunt down a powerful ball of energy like the PacMan, thus their fight would have been a brisk distance encounter.
Think of Marquez-Pacquiao I only without the first-round knockdowns and more exchanges, since Sanchez was more aggressive and much busier than Marquez was at featherweight. Pacquiao would still win the first few rounds (remember, Sanchez was a 15-round fighter and paced himself accordingly) but the Mexico City native would have gradually taken control by the fifth or sixth round and carried it through to the final bell.
Sanchez wins by competitive but unanimous decision.
Career record: 82-8 (65)
Record at 130 pounds: 10-0 (9)
Best wins at 130 pounds: underrated titleholder Alfredo Escalera (TKO 13, won the WBC title, KO 13), future 130-pound beltholders Rafael “Bazooka” Limon (TKO 11) and Bobby Chacon (TKO 7), and undefeated (46-0) contender Ruben Castillo (TKO 11)
The classy Nicaraguan is one of boxing’s most celebrated three-division champs, but his prime was probably his two-year WBC 130-pound title reign from January of 1979 to January of 1980. Arguello was a classic stand-up boxer-puncher who was at his best when jabbing his opponents from the outside and landing his laser-straight right hand, which could instantly change the complexion of a fight. At 130 pounds, Arguello possessed physical strength and durability he didn’t have at featherweight, plus the power to KO anyone with a single punch.
Pacquiao at 130 pounds
Record: 7-1 (4)
Best wins: future hall of famers (and arguably great) Juan Manuel Marquez (SD 12, won the WBC title), Erik Morales (TKO 10, TKO 3), and Marco Antonio Barrera (W 12); and former two-division titleholder Oscar Larios (W 12)
Pacquiao’s campaign at junior lightweight division didn’t begin well as he lost his first 130-pound fight, a thrilling, razor-thin unanimous decision to Morales. However, that loss may have been the best thing to happen to Pacquiao’s boxing career as it was the impetus to the evolution of his skills. Pacquiao finally realized that he couldn’t rely solely on his conditioning and natural talent at the highest level of the sport.
How they match up:
Because of his height (5-foot-10), reach, sharp technique and one-punch knockout power, Arguello is the most dangerous of the five “all-timers” for Pacquiao. However, in terms of style, the settled-down 130-pound version of Pacquiao had the ability to defeat “The Explosive Thinman”.
If Arguello had an Achilles Heel, it was slow feet. He was troubled by stick-and-move fighters with fast hands. Ruben Olivares was close to out-pointing him using hit-and-run tactics in their featherweight match before the younger fighter finally caught the veteran cold in the 13th round. Even the stronger, more-experienced 130-pound version of Arguello had his hands full with crafty and mobile Ruben Castillo before his jab and timing caught the contender in the 11th round of their 1980 title fight. Arguello was out-pointed over 10 rounds by slick mover Vilomar Fernandez in a non-title lightweight bout during his 130-pound reign.
The 122- and 126-pound Pacquiao would have been too headstrong to stick to an in-out-and-step-around strategy against a fighter as smart and experienced as Arguello, but 130-pound PacMan that boxed disciplined matches against both Barrera and Marquez could have pulled it off.
The lack of sustained action would have irked fans, but by working his jab, maintaining his head-and-upper-body movement and working his feet a little more than his hands, Pacquiao could force the methodical and slow-footed Arguello to constantly turn and reset with his lethal one-two combinations.
Arguello would land the occasional jab that jolts Pacquiao’s head back, but he wouldn’t be able to land the right-hand finisher. Pacquaio would get in and land a few hard body punches, but he wouldn’t dare stay in close for long for fear of catching of the Thinman’s short hooks or uppercuts.
The biggest surprise of the matchup is not that Pacquiao has the ability to out-point a master boxer like Arguello, but that neither fighter seriously hurts the other or scores a knockdown.
In a mainly tactical match, Pacquiao wins by close, but unanimous decision.
Career record: 103-16 (70)
Record at 135 pounds: 22-0 (18)
Best wins at 135 pounds: Hall of famer Ken Buchanan (TKO 13, won WBA title), underrated titleholder Esteban Dejesus (KO 11, TKO 12, unifies WBC and WBA titles for world recognition), and contender Guts Ishimatsu (TKO 10).
Duran, who turned pro at bantamweight in Panama in 1968, grew into a lightweight with such fearsome intensity that fans often overlooked his skill and technique. He was billed as a mauling brawler when he first fought in the States, but he had more than punching power and incredible physical strength. He possessed excellent balance, and accurate counter-punching ability that was enhanced by an uncanny ability to slip and block incoming punches.
Pacquiao at 135 pounds
Record: 1-0 (1)
Best win: David Diaz (TKO 9, won WBC title)
Pacquiao put all the years of instruction from trainer Freddie Roach together in his first and only fight at lightweight, putting forth a near-perfect performance against the limited but naturally bigger and extremely durable titleholder. Pacquiao boxed a disciplined fight and still brutally battered Diaz before knocking him out in chilling fashion.
How they match up:
The 135-pound version of Pacquiao was almost as fast as the 122-pound version, but a complete fighter with a complete arsenal — jab, right hook, straight left, uppercuts from both hands, and body shots. He also possessed head movement and footwork that made him untouchable — against Diaz.
Versus Duran, he would be facing a fighter that even old-timers who had seen Benny Leonard fight conceded was the greatest lightweight ever. Duran at his best was also a complete fighter, and as crafty as they come.
Pacquiao would need a complete game just to compete with the Panamanian. And he probably would. Duran’s only loss during his lightweight title reign was a 10-round decision to DeJesus in a non-title junior welterweight bout. DeJesus caught and dropped Duran with a left hook in the opening seconds of the opening round of that bout, and did it again in the first round of their 135-pound rematch.
It’s conceivable that Pacquiao could catch Duran with his vaunted left in the early rounds of their bout. However, Duran may have been dropped by DeJesus — who he punished in their two return matches — but he was never seriously hurt at lightweight.
Pacquiao’s footwork, head movement and quick hands would keep him in the fight over the first half of the bout, but Duran’s steady but intelligent pressure and counter-punching (especially with his monster right hand) would wear the Filipino down by the late rounds.
Duran would only get stronger as the bout continued and unfortunately for Pacquiao, he didn’t have many glaring technical flaws for him to exploit. Duran would not rush in on Pacquiao. He would make use of a pawing, educated jab and feints, hoping to lure Pacquiao in, and like Pacquiao’s nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez, Duran wouldn’t drop his right and would always be in position to fire that punch.
Duran would eventually do to Pacquiao what many fans and media thought De La Hoya would; or what Marquez would have done if he were significantly bigger and stronger than the PacMan. Sooner or later (probably later) the careful pressure and counter punching would overwhelm Pacquiao.
Duran wins by late stoppage
Career record: 39-1 (35)
Record at 140 pounds: 33-0 (31)
Best wins at 140 pounds: Fellow all-timers Antonio Cervantes (KO 4, won WBA title) and Alexis Arguello (TKO 14, KO 10), and top-10 contenders Lennox Blackmore (TKO 2) and DuJuan Johnson (TKO 7).
I’ve saved the craziest for last. Pryor was an amazing talent who developed his own two-fisted whirlwind style of fighting while still a top U.S. amateur who won national titles and enjoyed success overseas. If you combine Henry Armstrong with Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master character from Kung-Fu flicks you’ll get an idea of how Pryor looked if you never had the pleasure of watching him fight. Or how about this: imagine Emanuel Augustus with even more speed and fluidity but also with KO power in both hands. That was the “Hawk”.
Pacquiao at 140 pounds
Technically, Pacquiao’s never fought at junior welterweight, but he weighed in very close to the limit, 142 pounds, for the Oscar De La Hoya fight and looked every bit as quick and effective as he did at 130 and 135 pounds.
How they match up:
This has fight of the year written all over it.
Although Pryor made use of constant head and upper-body movement as he attacked his opponents, his chin was seldom tucked and he was often caught clean and dropped on his butt (Cervantes, Johnson and unheralded Japanese contender Akio Kameda put him down in the early rounds of their fights).
If Kameda, a speedy southpaw (although much taller than Pacquiao) could hit Pryor as often as he did, there’s no doubt that Pacquiao would tee off on the Cincinnati, Ohio native in the early rounds of their battle. However, Pryor was as tough as he was vulnerable; and his ability to almost instantly recuperate from punishment was inhuman.
Pryor was an intense ring warrior who seemed to enjoy getting caught hard or dropped, and he always got up from his knockdowns with even more vigor. There would be many heated exchanges in the early rounds of the bout and Pacquiao would get the better of the Pryor by landing straight shots as the bigger man charged in before stepping around him.
However, Pryor’s constant, swarming pressure would begin to smother Pacquiao at times by the middle rounds, causing the southpaw to fight back harder and more vehemently that he should against such an awkward opponent.
Pryor would maul and outmuscle Pacquiao on the inside, and the unpredictable angles he would lob his right hands from would enable him to catch the more technically sound fighter on the outside.
Pryor’s weird mix of machismo and that herky-jerky 1970s ghetto style of his would be extremely difficult for Pacquiao to figure out and time, especially as fatigue began to set in.
The combatants would be even on the scorecards going into the late rounds of the bout, but while a tiring and flustered Pacquiao would sport marks of a fierce ring battle on his face, Pryor would seem fresh as a daisy (perhaps because of the special bottle he would drink from between certain rounds, you know, the one his trainer Panama Lewis “mixed”).
Pryor would have one more edge going into the final rounds of the bout, his tendency to showboat. This showmanship could throw Pacquiao off, or worse, encourage the playful Pinoy to try and showoff in retaliation, thus further separating him from his focus and gameplan. As for Pryor, nobody fought as effectively while hotdogging as he did.
Pacquiao’s maturity and footwork would enable him to go the distance with Pryor in an entertaining contest. His early rounds success (which would likely include knockdowns) would make the bout close on the scorecard, but in the end it would be “Hawk Time”.
Pryor wins a split decision
So there you have it. Pacquiao goes 1-4 against the all-time greats of my picking. He wins a decision, drops two and gets worn down to late stoppages in the other two fights.
If you’re an old-timer or wanna-be historian you probably think I’m being too generous to Pacquiao by envisioning that he would have been competitive to some degree with all five. Deal with it, you old farts. Pacquiao has proven himself against at least three fighters who may eventually be considered all-time greats. He could have hung with the best of all time.
If you’re a Pacquiao fan you think probably I’m the world’s biggest PacMan hater. However, before you send me that nasty email, I ask that you actually watch some footage of Gomez, Sanchez, Arguello, Duran and Pryor when they were in their primes.
Try to score some tapes or DVDs of the fights I mentioned among their “best wins”. (I’m sure you can at least find highlights on YouTube.com). You’ll see that they were the real deal, as I believe Pacquiao is.
If he beats Hatton the way you think he will, perhaps some of these mythical matchups can be revisited.
Or better yet, how about a new five?
How do you like Oscar De La Hoya or Julio Cesar Chavez at 140 pounds? Or Pernell Whitaker or Floyd Mayweather Jr. at 135 pounds?
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]