Pacquiao becoming all-time great
Manny Pacquiao basks in the glow of his awe-inspiring knockout victory over Ricky Hatton on Saturday. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank
LAS VEGAS — Every time Manny Pacquiao fights these days something unforgettable happens.
Two fights ago, he destroyed rugged David Diaz in his first fight at 135 pounds. In his last fight, he embarrassed the biggest star in the sport, Oscar De La Hoya, at 147. And on Saturday ÔÇª well, how do you describe that?
Ricky Hatton is one of the toughest fighters on the planet, an accomplished champion who has proved his mettle over a full decade. And 140 pounds is his natural weight; he is strong and confident there.
And Pacquiao smashed him like a cheap glass vase.
The British fans who made the entire fight week so entertaining with their singing and enthusiasm, as well as their devotion to Hatton, had high hopes at the opening bell. Their man came out fierce and determined.
Then Pacquiao, a southpaw, landed a right. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then a final right hook slammed into Hatton’s chin and down he went to all fours. At that moment, eyes grew wide and you could hear a collective “Ohhhhhhhhh!” before the crowd erupted.
Hatton, wobbly but game, got up and took more punishment. With seconds to go in the round, he collapsed under a barrage of punches, the final one being a left. Suddenly, he was prey, not an opponent.
Pacquiao took his time in the second round, outworking a still-shaken Hatton but giving no indication of what was to come. Then, with seconds to go in the round, an overhand left for the ages crashed into Hatton’s chin and he was knocked out cold instantly, sending him to his back and prompting deafening cheers from the thousands of Filipino fans in the arena.
The fight was over. He lay on the canvas without moving for several minutes, pathetic evidence of Pacquiao’s greatness.
“I’m surprised this was so easy,” Pacquiao said immediately afterward. “We worked hard since the beginning of March, though. ÔÇª This is as big for me as the (Oscar) De La Hoya victory.”
Those who have followed Pacquiao’s career weren’t surprised that he knocked out Hatton. It was the way he did it.
The early knockdowns were so explosive, they drew gasps. And the knockout punch went far beyond that, like something no one in attendance had ever seen before. A punch so perfect, so immensely powerful that it should be revered.
Afterward, hardened boxing writers had looks of shock on their faces and looked to each other for explanations. How are we to interpret what we saw? Where does Pacquiao, certainly the best active fighter, rank among the all-time best?
Certainly, we must begin to think of Pacquiao as an all-time great but we must keep our heads.
He has risen to a new level of respect after his last three fights. However, none of his last three opponents were truly elite fighters, at least not when Pacquiao fought them. And that’s significant.
Diaz is a solid fighter but only a journeyman. De La Hoya was a near-great fighter at one time but was badly faded when he fought Pacquiao. And, again, while Hatton was an accomplished champion, he never approached greatness in his career.
That said, the manner in which he tore that trio apart is clear evidence that he has grown into a very special fighter. He left Diaz a bloody pulp. He made the proud De La Hoya quit. And the violence he inflicted on Hatton was utterly gripping, almost unworldly.
More important is his series against the Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, future Hall of Famers against whom he is a stunning 5-1-1. He proved against them he could beat exceptional fighters at or near their primes, which is the litmus test of greatness.
So where does Pacquiao land in the all-time rankings?
Well, he could be the best fighter since Sugar Ray Leonard, which is saying a lot. Leonard was followed by such greats as Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones Jr., Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield and a handful more.
However, none of the above combined explosive speed and power against the highest level of opposition over such a long period time like Pacquiao. And, obviously, he has won consistently: he’s 17-1-2 (14 knockouts) against some of the best fighters in the world since hiring Freddie Roach as his trainer in 2001.
His promoter, Bob Arum, who worked with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Leonard, thinks Pacquiao ranks among them.
“I think he may be the best,” said Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter. “He has the opportunity to be the best of all the fighters I’ve promoted. All the best fighters I promoted reached a certain level and they thought they knew everything. This kid keeps getting better and better. It’s amazing.”
Pacquiao could retire now and be remembered as one of the best fighters who ever laced up gloves. But he’s not finished. If he fights and beats the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley, he could walk away a legend.
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]
Homepage photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank