Sunday, March 26, 2023  |



Let’s hold off on declaring Pacquiao the best ever


We all admire what Manny Pacquiao has accomplished but we should hold off declaring him one of the to top few fighters ever. Photo / Naoki Fukuda

The hysteria over Manny Pacquiao is getting the better of us.

We all have tremendous respect for him as a fighter and a man, particularly after his spectacular victory over the relatively gigantic Antonio Margarito on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium.

We mustn’t get carried away, though. To say that Pacquiao is the greatest fighter ever – or even close at this point – is a gross overstatement and an injustice to those who came before him.

No one is to blame. We’re just in the moment, a place in which it’s impossible to see things as they really are.

“It happens fairly often in boxing,” said my colleague, Doug Fischer, “usually when a very special talent has three things going for him at the same time: the intoxicating mix of speed and power, recognition as the pound-for-pound best and popularity.”

Fischer pointed out that Roy Jones Jr. was hailed by some as the greatest ever after he beat John Ruiz to win a heavyweight title. Some believed Mike Tyson was better than Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis after he KO’d Michael Spinks. We know now that such notions were foolish.

We need to take a deep breath right about now, stand back and try to look at this as objectively as possible.

Pacquiao will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer; that’s certain. He and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are generally considered the best fighters of the current era, although the order is debatable. And both, most would agree, are among the better fighters who ever lived.

That’s as far as we can go, though. Exactly where Pacquiao will rank has yet to be determined.

Some boxing historians I respect don’t even like to speculate where an active fighter might end up on the all-time lists, which obviously will vary. And they have a good point.

Let’s say we anoint Pacquiao the No. 1 fighter ever or place him in the Top 10 and then he loses a one-sided decision to Mayweather, which is a possibility if they ever meet. What do we say then? Oops?

That’s why it might be best to call Pacquiao one of the better of all time and wait until his career is over before assessing him further. One problem, though: It’s fun to speculate where he is or might end up, which I admit I tend to do even for active fighters.

Pacquiao has a tremendous resume, as I’ve written more than once. His greatest work came against the Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales, against whom he is a combined 5-1-1 (with three knockouts).

And, even though the competition wasn’t as stiff, he evolved from great fighter to veritable legend with a series of dramatic victories over bigger men. That includes his predecessor as the biggest attraction in boxing, Oscar De La Hoya.

The run he is on certainly compares to any in recent memory.

That doesn’t necessarily make him Sugar Ray Robinson, though. Many fighters in history have built amazing resumes and had mind-boggling runs. For example, Robinson – generally considered the best ever – once had a record of 128-1-2.

And remember: Most of boxing’s legends competed at a time when the sport was more popular and the pool of talent much deeper, meaning they generally faced tougher opposition than today’s fighters.

These are things we must keep in mind before we recklessly declare that Pacquiao is better than the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, which promoter Bob Arum did at the post-fight news conference on Saturday.

Leonard had a marvelous career, with victories over such champions as Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. And, with time to reflect upon his accomplishments, we can see with clarity that he compares favorably with the best fighters in history.

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s straight-shooting trainer, acknowledged as much before Pacquiao fought Joshua Clottey in March. He said at the time that Leonard would’ve beaten his man.

“Sometimes when people ask me who was the greatest fighter ever, I say Sugar Ray Leonard,” Roach said.

Perhaps Pacquiao will fight Mayweather one day soon and beat him, which would be a monumental accomplishment and without question the defining victory his career.

Then perhaps one day someone as knowledgeable as Roach, after he looks back on Pacquiao’s stellar career, will say about the Filipino marvel what the world’s top trainer said about Leonard.

Until then, let's just enjoy one of the most-exciting athletes of our time.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]