Monday, May 29, 2023  |



Great debate: The case for Pacquiao

Fighters Network

I stated in my Top 10 list on Monday that Manny Pacquiao – not Floyd Mayweather Jr. – is the best fighter of this decade.

Some readers agreed. Many didn’t. One guy was so incensed that he vowed to get all his friends to boycott me, which I think might’ve been going overboard. This isn’t life or death, after all; it’s supposed to be fun.

The reactions got me thinking: OK, what is the overriding reason I believe Pacquiao is better than Mayeather, as well as Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe, Winky Wright and a few others who might have credentials?

The answer finally became clear: Because Pacquiao moves me, as does Marquez to a lesser extent. The others don’t.

I acknowledge that a strong case can be made that Mayweather is the best fighter of the 2000s. He is the most naturally gifted of these fighters and has a perfect record (39-0, 25 knockouts). He has what it takes to win and does so, plain and simple.

If that’s how you define the best fighter, then he’s your man. God bless you.

That’s not my definition, though. To me, skills and winning are only part of the equation.

I admire the sublime ability, speed and athleticism of Mayweather, as I did Pernell Whitaker. They are virtuoso boxers, master technicians, certainly among the best of their eras. At the same time, there’s something missing with both of them, in my opinion. I call it the “thrill factor.”

To me, the greatest fighters aren’t just admirable; they’re part technician and all warrior. They, too, have exceptional skills and win consistently but also take risks, both in terms of who they fight and in the ring. They seek out the best possible opponents and then go to war, putting both their record and well being on the line.

That’s what fans pay to see – fights, not dance contests. They want those thrills, the kind that Pacquiao provided in a heaping dose with his one-punch knockout of Ricky Hatton on May 2.

“The great matchmaker-promoter Teddy Brenner once said, ‘There’s no room for perfection in boxing,'” said television analyst Larry Merchant. “What he was saying is that fans don’t come for a clinic. And I think, unlike other games, fans count. ÔǪ I generally give a close round to the fighter who is making the fight, the aggressor, the guy throwing the most punches. Ultimately, I think that’s also how we judge who the best pound-for-pound fighter is if it’s close.

“When I look at the phantom list of greats, I see guys who sought out challenges. Robinson fighting LaMotta six times, Leonard fighting Duran three times and Hearns twice and then moving up to fight Hagler. That’s greatness. They didn’t always win but so what? ÔǪ

“When I look at Pacquiao,” Merchant continued, “I see that he fought Morales three times, Barrera twice, Marquez twice and then moved up to fight the top guys at 140 and 147 pounds at whatever status they had at the time. That to me says a lot. I think Pacquiao is better than Mayweather. That doesn’t mean he would beat him because Mayweather is naturally the bigger man.

“If you look back at the record, though, I think it shows that Pacquiao is better. I want someone willing to take risks, someone who moves me.”

I feel I could build a very strong case for Pacquiao against Mayweather based strictly on accomplishments.

Pacquiao has faced better opposition, most notably fighting the three future hall of famers from Mexico — Morales, Barrera and Marquez — a total of seven times (going 5-1-1). Mayweather also has faced some elite fighters — Genaro Hernandez, Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales, among others — but has been extremely selective.

Pacquiao won three major titles in three weight classes (WBC junior lightweight, WBC lightweight and THE RING junior welterweight) and beat Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight within a span of 14 months, a feat that has drawn comparisons to the great Henry Armstrong.

Under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach, Pacquiao has evolved from a one-handed brawler into a complete boxer-puncher who seems to be improving at a rapid rate 14 years into his professional career. I’m not sure people realize how rare that is.

Pacquiao and Mayweather have two common opponents, De La Hoya and Hatton. Pacquiao dismantled both while Mayweather barely beat De La Hoya and took much longer to stop Hatton, although De La Hoya had weight issues against Pacquiao.

“Let’s just look at the two fights against Hatton,” said Mike Silver, an historian and author of The Arc of Boxing. “Mayweather calls Hatton ‘the toughest fighter I ever faced’ and Pacquiao utterly destroyed him. C’mon, if Mayweather has the skills he professes to have, he should’ve dominated a club fighter like Hatton.

“And a prime De La Hoya beats Mayweather. Every time (De La Hoya) threw the left jab, Mayweather had no answer. A great fighter doesn’t react that way to a left jab.”

I acknowledge again that Mayweather’s proponents could come back with their own arguments. He’s a better boxer, he’s unbeaten, he usually wins easily, he’s won more major titles than Pacquiao. They probably have more on their list.

And they'll mention the fact that too much has been made of Pacquiao's last three victories, against tough, but limited David Diaz, a depleted De La Hoya and Hatton.

However, when you add the “thrill factor” into the equation, I feel that puts Pacquiao over the top.

Pacquiao and Mayweather probably will meet in the ring if the latter beats Marquez on July 18, which illustrates the spirit of the two fighters: Pacquiao would be the one taking the risk by fighting a bigger man.

That’s what Pacquiao is all about. And why I believe he’s the greater fighter.

Note: What's your opinion? Who's the fighter of the 2000s: Pacquiao or Mayweather? Or do you think another fighter is more deserving? Email me with your pick and include one short paragraph giving your reasons. Also include your first name and the city, state and country you live in. Your responses will be posted over the coming weekend. Hostile emials will be deleted.

Michael Rosenthal’s column appears Wednesday’s. He can be reached at [email protected]