When RingTV.Com reported early last week that Bob Arum intended to meet with Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines this month to discuss a quartet of potential opponents, the reaction from boxing fans and writers was less than enthusiastic. None of the four names mentioned—Timothy Bradley, Lamont Peterson, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto—would seem to offer much to Pacquiao's legacy at this point.
It's true the hardcore observers would be impressed if he and trainer Freddy Roach could make some adjustments and beat Juan Manuel Marquez in a convincing fashion, especially those of us who don't think Pac deserved the win in at least one of their past two fights.
But ultimately a fourth Marquez fight is far more potentially dangerous for Pacquiao's legacy than it is potentially beneficial. I believe Marquez would be more likely to get unbiased judging in a fourth fight, and if he could emerge victorious, it will end up shading the entire classic series between these two.
Of the four, it's the fight I want. But I learned as a young boy better than to expect what I want.
A return fight with Miguel Cotto would be another case where Pacquiao would have little to gain (aside from a hefty paycheck). His November of 2009 destruction of Cotto was decisive. I love writing about both these guys, but I have no interest in writing about them fighting each other again.
Timothy Bradly could potentially give Pacquiao an ugly, tough-to-win fight. In my opinion, Pacquiao wins that fight but he doesn't dazzle in it and it could be less than healthy for his overall career luster.
I like Lamont Peterson a lot, even if I don't think he deserved to win against Amir Khan. I don't believe he is close to ready for Manny Pacquiao, and both he and the sport would be best served by a quick re-match with Amir Khan. A victory over Peterson, even a dramatic one, would do little to enhance Pacquiao's resume.
Of course, now Floyd Mayweather Jr. won't be going to jail until at least June, maybe a spring-time engagement between these two will be in the cards after all. I'm not holding my breath, but who knows?
One thing I do know is that only a victory over Mayweather would be sure to improve Pacquiao's boxing legacy at this point.
For the following list I have selected and ranked based on importance for establishing Manny Pacquiao's status as a boxing superstar and No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter. If it were a list based simply on his 10 most impressive performances, there would possibly be some differences, though still a lot of overlap.
When Manny Pacquiao won the WBC flyweight title in December of 1998 by KOing Chatchai Sasakul in the eighth round, he was little more than a blip on the radar for the most hardcore of American boxing fans. Nobody would have guessed that over a decade later he would be the greatest active boxing star in the world.
Sasakul had a great career in the lower weights. He is not one of the more recognizable names on Pacquiao's resume, but he is the first man that the legendary Filipino Congressman beat for a world title, so he merits mention here.
Jorge Solis was a still-undefeated rising star when he challenged Pacquiao for the WBC International super featherweight title in April of 2007. Pac-Man was his reality check, as the popular young Mexican star was thoroughly outclassed and knocked senseless.
Solis has continued to be a fairly high-level fighter, though he had a discouraging 2011, getting knocked out by Yuri Gamboa in March and Takashi Uchiyama on New Year's Eve.
This fight was Pacquiao's first in the lightweight division and it marked the start of his amazing climb through the weight classes. It is the last time he fought at a limit below 140 pounds.
Diaz was a gutsy but outclassed opponent. Pacquiao showed great overall boxing skills, and by Round 9, his explosive left had begun to find its mark with deadly consistency.
While this victory over Marquez was not entirely convincing, it is still crucial to Pacquiao's legacy.
In their first fight in 2004, Pacquiao knocked down Marquez three times in the first round. Marquez had then proceeded to run a boxing clinic on Pacquiao for most of the rest of the fight, climbing back from that first-round hole to earn a draw with Pacquiao on the score cards.
By the time of their first return bout four years later, Pacquiao had become a much more skilled all-around boxer and he fought a more consistent fight, winning on two of the three judges' cards. Marquez will go to his grave convinced he deserved to win, and many will agree with him—but Pacquiao fought well enough to win, and ultimately it stands in the record book as one more win for Pacquiao over a Hall of Fame opponent.
I have made no secret of the fact that I think Marquez won this fight, and I know a lot of people agree with me about it. For the short-term, victorious or not, this fight caused Pacquiao's stock to go down.
But ultimately it improved his record to 2-0-1 against his greatest rival. Probably at least as many fans think he deserved to win as think he deserved to lose, and since many more books and articles are going to be written about Pacquiao than Marquez, the future perception for most fans will probably be that Pac-Man ultimately deserved to win after all.
There will still be keyboard palookas like me around for a couple of more decades to disagree, but history is written by the victors.
This victory over the Mexican legend Barrera must be viewed as the true start of Pacquiao's ascent to superstar status. By 2003, Pac-Man was very much a fighter to watch—an explosive puncher with a non-stop exciting style. But he had only fought a couple of times in North America and had never fought anybody like the great Barrera, a multiple-time world champion who came into the bout with a 57-3 professional record.
Pacquiao's one-sided victory changed the boxing landscape. Prior to it, I don't think many fans or writers seriously considered Pacquiao as a potential superstar. This first victory over Barrera put Pacquiao on the fast track to becoming the greatest boxing icon of his generation.
When we look back on this era from the future, Pacquiao's thrilling TKO victory over Cotto in November of 2009 just might rank as the peak moment of the Pac-Man phenomena. Pacquiao's complete annihilation of the talented and popular Cotto was a fight that landed firmly on the radar of even the most casual boxing fans.
Cotto had just one professional loss coming into the bout, a technical knockout suffered against Antonio Margarito in 2008. By November of 2009, the "hand-wraps controversy" already hung over this sole loss, making Cotto still an undefeated fighter in many of his fans' minds.
Cotto rebounded from this brutal loss and has since notched three straight impressive performances. His TKO of Yuri Foreman in Yankee Stadium won him the WBA 154-pound title in June of 2010 . He TKO'd Ricardo Mayorga in 12 in March of last year, and of course ended 2011 by punching Antonio Margarito's eye shut in Madison Square Garden last December 3.
Cotto has been one of the sport's biggest stars this century, particularly in the essential New York market. It's great to see him on top again. But I think everybody should remember exactly what went down in November of 2009 before they start clamoring too loudly for a Cotto-Pacquiao return bout.
Manny Pacquiao's only loss during this century occurred in March of 2005 against multiple-division world champion, Erik Morales. Ten months later, in January of '06, he avenged the loss with an exclamation point, handing Morales the first stoppage of his legendary career.
Pacquiao's loss to Morales had come less than a year after his draw against Marquez in their first bout. After Pac-Man's first fights against these two Mexican greats, it did seem as if he had been somewhat exposed as a very exciting fighter with an extremely dangerous left hand, but with holes throughout his game that could be exploited by the most elite of technical boxers.
This 2006 rematch demonstrated just how quickly Pacquiao was developing into a solid, two-fisted boxer. Later in the year, in November, he erased any lingering doubts by TKOing Morales in three. These remain the only two stoppages of Morales' career.
Pacquiao's dominance in the half a decade since had been close to total.
Ricky Hatton is probably not even one of the 10 best fighters Manny Pacquiao has beaten. But he is a former multiple-time world champion with a 45(32)-2(2) professional record, and Pac-Man's second-round destruction of him in February of 2009 just might have been the most brutally impressive performance of his career.
Indeed, it already has to be regarded as among the most iconic one-punch knockouts in boxing history. After suffering through a punishing 10-7 first round, Hatton came out game for Round 2. The gutsy son of Manchester, England stayed active and looking to engage until the very end.
But when that end came, it was electrifying.
The victory also gave Pacquiao denizens ammunition for their endless debate over who would win between Mayweather and Pacquiao. Mayweather only TKO'd Hatton in 10, and to this day you can still find internet commentators complaining about his tactics in that fight.
Pacquiao, by contrast, got it over with quickly, and left no room for anybody to say a word.
I would not rank this as Pacquiao's most impressive victory, but I do think it has to be viewed as his biggest win overall. In stopping De La Hoya on his stool in eight, Pacquiao notched a thorough and convincing victory over one of the sport's few mainstream stars.
A year-and-a-half after dropping a split decision against Floyd Mayweather Jr., De La Hoya was unable to make his bout with Pacquiao even remotely competitive. The much smaller and quicker Pacquiao was able to hit the aging Golden Boy nearly at will.
This victory has been highly denigrated in the years since by commentators who have dismissed Oscar De La Hoya as "over-the-hill" and "washed up." There may be a little bit to this but, in my opinion, De La Hoya aged years that night in the ring due to the brutal beating he was taking.
There was little talk in the lead-up to the fight about De La Hoya being too old for Pacquiao. Most of the pre-fight writing focused on the extreme size difference, and about how the former flyweight champion Pacquiao had never fought above 135 pounds.
Pieces like this one from the New Jersey Star-Ledger were typical, complaining that beating the tiny Pacquiao would be a relatively meaningless accomplishment for De La Hoya.
This story by ESPN's Tom Hauser even quotes Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams predicting that Pacquiao will be unable to hurt De La Hoya with his punches.
Pacquiao's domination of the much larger superstar came as a revelation to fans and most writers. Pac-Man Fever as a phenomena in the U.S. media was officially underway.