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Manny Pacquiao is already counted among the very best fighters of his generation.
By Kelsey McCarson , Bleacher Report
Most would argue he and his May 2 opponent, Floyd Mayweather, are the two very best fighters of their era. But while Pacquiao is considered one of the true greats of his time, would a win over Mayweather make him among the very elite fighters in boxing history?
Would a win over Mayweather make Pacquiao an all-time great, one of the very best fighters of all-time?
According to a press release distributed by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a win over Mayweather would put Pacquiao in some pretty exclusive company. While he and Mayweather remain the only two fighters who have ever, according to TBRB historians, won lineal championships in four different divisions, Pacquiao has a chance to be the first and only man to claim five, as well as simultaneously become only the third man in boxing history to capture three lineal titles in one of boxing’s original eight weight classes.
That club currently has two members. The first is New Zealand’s Bob Fitzsimmons, who took the middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight crowns between 1891 and 1903. Fitzsimmons was followed by American Henry Armstrong, who successfully stormed the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight divisions in seven months between 1937 and 1938 and held all three simultaneously for exactly twenty-eight days.
A Pacquiao win would cement him among the best ever. But would it be enough for him to become an all-time great?
Award-winning boxing writer Springs Toledo, co-founder of the TBRB, believes so.
“If Manny beats Floyd, especially if he beats him decisively, I believe he would have a solid case for all-time top 20,” said Toledo.
In addition to being an expert prose maker, Toledo is one of the more astute boxing historians in the world today. His 2014 collection of boxing essays, The Gods of War, includes an homage to the very best fighters the sport has ever seen. It is a carefully crafted, obsessively studied glimpse at the very best fighters in boxing history, the true all-time greats.
Alongside a couple other notable historical vignettes, Toledo chronicles for readers the 10 best fighters who have ever lived, giving each the honor of bestowing upon them their very own essay. The list includes stalwarts from the past such as “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran and Archie Moore.
Among the two men whom Pacquiao would join as the only three-glamour division titlists in history, only Armstrong makes the list. But that’s because Toledo only ranks pugilists from what he, and most other historians, consider the modern era of boxing, post-1920.
Toledo believes Pacquiao’s greatest work as a fighter thus far was going toe-to-toe with some of the fiercest featherweights in boxing history.
“I think Pacquiao’s historical legacy began rumbling earlier [than his move up to welterweight], when he went after the three best Mexican fighters since [Julio Cesar] Chavez — Marco Antonio Barrera, Eric Morales, and of course, Juan Manuel Marquez. He dove into that internecine rivalry and became the super fly in their soup.”
Pacquiao’s record against the three fighters was 6-2-1. Toledo lauds Pacquiao’s old-school mentality.
“The fact that he fought them nine times was old school, like Archie Moore wading into Murderers’ Row in the 40s. And whether we’re talking about Pacquiao or Moore, it was that period of their careers that made them great—the wins and the losses. Incidentally, Mayweather’s career lacks that kind of over-the-brink experience. Losses on a record are like Cindy Crawford’s mole or Cary Grant’s cleft chin. They add character.”
If there were any time that character was tested, it was Pacquiao’s knockout loss to Marquez in 2012. It was the fourth fight of their fantastic rivalry, one that saw the two men trade knockdowns before Pacquiao was obliterated in Round 6 by one of the most well-timed counterpunches in boxing history.
Toledo believes some might demote Pacquiao’s potential placement among all-time greats because of it.
“Some might say the knockout by the middle-aged Marquez glares a bit. It does. Pacquiao made a somewhat amateurish mistake against one of the best counterpunchers in the sport. In fact, when you take a good hard look at their rivalry, it isn’t a stretch to say that Marquez rightfully deserved the win in two of the fights that went to Pacquiao.”
Still, he rose again quite admirably afterward, claiming three sharp-looking wins, including a dominant decision over pound-for-pound stalwart Timothy Bradley last year. Moreover, Pacquiao’s record fighting above 140 pounds is something that simply cannot be overlooked considering the diminutive Filipino won his very first world title as a flyweight.
Pacquiao is 10-2 fighting above 140 pounds, and his 2012 decision loss to Bradley in their first fight was highly controversial.
“Pacquiao is 5’6″ with his shoes on. He has been built up to compete at welterweight, but he’s probably a natural featherweight. Like Henry Armstrong, he’s in over his head but doing very well.”
Toledo’s book includes the scoring system he used to rank fighters historically. A win over Mayweather would bolster Pacquiao’s chance of making future lists. While Toledo only provides essays for each man in the top 10, the ranking of all-time greats in the book stretches to 30 and includes each man’s score in every category.
“Pacquiao’s record already has one Hall of Famer on it in Oscar De La Hoya. About seven more will probably be inducted eventually, and he’ll have beaten all of them. A win over Mayweather would also prove the viability of Pacquiao’s Matrix style of fighting (hand/foot speed, rapidly changing and odd angles, power in both hands). It’s a difficult style to defeat. De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley are on record describing its complexity and power. So his ‘quality of opposition’ and ‘ring generalship’ scores would be high, as would his score in the ‘performance against larger opponents’ category.”
So does Toledo believe Pacquiao could enter into the discussion as an all-time great with a win over Mayweather?
“Pacquiao is already a great fighter, but I don’t think he’s near guys like Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson, Armstrong, Ezzard Charles, or Moore. He is, however, the first four-division champion in boxing history (Mayweather is the second) and if he defeats Mayweather he becomes the first five-division champion in boxing history. This is about true championships (“crowns”) of course, not trick titles. His accomplishment loses its luster a bit when you consider that he has a couple of Junior division crowns giving him a boost that golden era champs didn’t have.”
Yet Toledo agrees Pacquiao’s potential accomplishment would be remarkable.
“But then you really have to pause when you consider that the welterweight crown would launch him into the company of Bob Fitzsimmons and Armstrong as only the third fighter in history to won three major division crowns. If he wins on May 2, he’ll have three major division crowns in a 35-pound span. I don’t see that happening again anytime soon, if ever.”
Toledo believes Pacquiao could compete in any era.
“Since 1920, certainly. However, greatness in terms of accomplishments is a different question from greatness in terms of head-to-head hypotheticals. Does Pacquiao defeat Sandy Saddler at featherweight, Roberto Duran at lightweight, Robinson at welterweight, or Armstrong at any of those three weights? I doubt it, though seeing him try is on my bucket list for the hereafter.”
If he defeats Mayweather on May 2, mythical all-time great matchups for perhaps the world’s most popular fighter will probably be on other folks’ hereafter bucket lists, too.
Count me among them. Pacquiao is already great. A win over Mayweather would make him even greater.