How would Manny Pacquiao fare against the greatest fighters in history? It’s a fun question and almost impossible to answer.
Do we judge him at featherweight or super featherweight, where he fought wars against the likes of Eric Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez?
Or, do we measure him as a welterweight where he’s won impressive fights against the likes of Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, and Miguel Cotto?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Manny will be best remembered, and measured, as a featherweight. He beat fighters at that weight, in their prime, who could be considered some of the best of their generation.
I’ve chosen 10 boxers who are considered some of the greatest in history. I would have absolutely loved to see Manny Pacquiao fight any of them as I think he would have given all of them a great fight.
The fighters I chose are:
Sugar Ray Robinson
Julio Cesar Chavez
Sugar Ray Leonard
I based most of the analysis of film via YouTube, boxing records, and analysis from other boxing historians. It’s very difficult to measure different generations of fighters.
For instance, fighters 50 years ago would fight every month, but often against subpar opponents. Styles and training methods improve over time. So, it’s a fun exercise and here’s what I came up with.
Henry Armstrong–Featherweight or Lightweight
141 (101 KO’s) – 21 (2 KO’s) – 10 draws. 180 total fights.
-Held world titles at three different weight divisions (featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight, and defeated 16 world champions.
Notable Victories: Midget Wolgast, Lew Feldman, Juan Zurita, Tippy Larkin, Billy Graham.
Perhaps the fighter that is closest to Pacquiao. Started out at as a featherweight and ended his career as a welterweight. In other words, he was fighting at around 123 lb during the start of the career and ended up at 146 lbs.
To all these idiots who think Manny must be ‘juiced,’ look no further than Armstrong.
Bert Sugar has Armstrong as the second greatest fighter of all-time. He fought a monstrous 180 times. Yes, he lost 21 times, but he was only knocked out twice.
How do you compare a modern fighter with that record? He literally fought every two weeks for months at a time. Amazing. A very strong fighter who reminds me a bit of Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a decision. I’m basing this decision mostly on film work. Armstrong didn’t have great footwork, and he had this bizarre habit at looking at his opponents feet the entire fight. I think Manny would have been too quick for him and stayed outside.
Willie Pep - Featherweight
229 (KO 65) – 11 (KO 6) – one draw.
Notable Victories: Sandy Saddler, Corky Gonzalez, Ray Famechon, Jackie Graves.
Again, Pep fought many of his fights at featherweight and moved up to lightweight later in his career. Generally regarded as the greatest featherweight champion of all-time.
Perhaps the greatest feet of all-time and one of the most elusive fighters I’ve ever seen. Went to the body extremely well with both hands.
Pep fought an unbelievable total of 241 times. I don’t know what they were feeding those guys back then.
He’s generally regarded as one of the top five greatest fighters of all-time. However, there are two glaring blemishes on his record.
The first is his surprising lack of power. He only had 65 knockouts out of 241 fights. Also, he was dominated by Sandy Sandler, who beat him in three out of their four matches.
Analysis: Pep in a decision. He would have given Pacquiao fits. He was so elusive and a great body puncher. And, I think Pep was the smarter fighter.
Sugar Ray Robinson - Welterweight
1921 – 1989
173 (108 KO) – 19 (1 KO) – six draws.
Notable Victories: Jake La Motta (five wins, including three within a period of four months), Kid Gavilan, Rocky Castillani, Rocky Graziano, Gene Fullmer, Henry Armstrong, Randy Turpin.
Widely considered the greatest fighter in history. Is it even fair to compare Pacquiao to Sugar Ray Robinson? After all, Robinson was best known as a middleweight while Pacquiao will most likely be remembered as a flyweight.
If they did fight, it probably would have been at welterweight where Sugar Ray started his career and Manny Pacquiao will more than likely end his career.
Again, a boxer that started out as a super featherweight and ended up as a middleweight. That’s over 30 pounds!
His record is even more impressive when you consider five of his losses came in his last 11 fights when he was in his forties.
Analysis: If they fight at welterweight, Sugar Ray Robinson in a ninth round knock out. Robinson would have been too strong, too tall, and too quick.
Sandy Saddler - Featherweight
1926 – 2001
144 (103 KO) – 16 (1 KO). two draws.
Notable Victories: Willie Pep, Joe Brown, Paddy DeMarco.
Considered by many to be the second greatest featherweight in history behind Willie Pep. A very impressive record, but didn’t fight too many world champions outside of Willie Pep.
However, he dominated Pep, winning three of their four outings. Sandler is known for the shear number of fights (162 by age 30) and his domination over Willie Pep. Eight of his losses came in his last 23 fights.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a 10th round KO. Sandler was quick and long, but didn’t have great defense and tied up too much. Manny might have knocked him out in an early round.
Roberto Duran - Lightweight
1951 – Present
103 (70 KO’s) – 16 (4 KO’s).
Mostly fought as a lightweight. Fifteen of his losses came in his last 45 fights. Prior to that, his record was a monstrous 73–1. He is known by many for his ‘no mas’ fight to Sugar Ray Leonard when he gave up in the eighth round.
What many people don’t know is that he beat Leonard in a 15-round decision only five months prior.
Duran was a natural lightweight. He moved up to welterweight and middleweight later in his career but struggled at the higher weight classes, losing to Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Wilfred Benitez, Vinnie Pazienza, and Hector Camacho among others.
As a lightweight, he was virtually unbeatable and lost only once to Esteban De Jesus (whom he would later beat in two subsequent brawls).
Analysis: The fight I would have liked to see. Two warriors going at it. Still, at lightweight, I like Duran in a 10th round TKO.
Julio Cesar Chavez – Light Welterweight
1962 – Present
107 (86 KO) – 6 (4 KO) – two draws.
Notable Victories: Buck Smith, Meldrick Taylor, Frankie Randall, Greg Haugen, Hector Camacho, Alberto Cortes, Jose Ramirez.
Considered perhaps the most celebrated Mexican fighter in history. Chavez went an amazing 102-0 until losing to Frankie Randall. He started out as a bantamweight and ended up at light welterweight.
Again, a fighter who moved up several weight classes and continued his success. Chavez was the type of fighter who would take three hits to deliver one, and one of the most devastating body punchers in history.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a decision. Chavez, in his prime, was quick, strong, and could take a punch like no fighter I’ve ever seen.
But, he also lost to De La Hoya (twice), whom Pacquiao destroyed with an 8th round knock-out. Yes, critics say that Chavez wasn’t the same fighter when he faced De La Hoya and that De La Hoya wasn’t the same fighter when he faced Pacquiao.
Fair enough. I still like Pacquiao due to his quickness and footwork.
Out of every fighter named in this article, this is the fight I would have most wanted to witness.
Pernell Whitaker - LIghtweight
1964 – Present
40 (17 KO) – 4 (1 KO) – one draw.
Notable Victories: Wilfredo Rivera, Julio Cesar Vasquez, James (Buddy) McGirt, Greg Haugen.
An outstanding lightweight who fought one of the most memorable fights of the last 20 years with Julio Cesar Chavez in 1994.
‘Sweet Pea’ moved up from lightweight to welterweight towards the end of the career. As a lightweight, he only had one loss to Jose Luis Ramirez in a widely disputed split decision.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a decision. Whitaker was only knocked out once in his career, in his last fight. At lightweight, I think Pacquiao would have been too strong for him.
Benny Leonard - Lightweight
1896 – 1947
91 (71 KO) – 5 (4 KO) – one draw.
Notable Victories: Lew Tendler.
Widely considered one of the greatest lightweights in history, it’s extremely difficult to compare a boxer from the 1920’s to a modern day boxer like Pacquiao.
The film clips on Leonard are rare and of poor quality. He had the straight-up boxing style that would have exposed him to a variety of head shots.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a second-round KO.
Sugar Ray Leonard – Welterweight
1956 – Present
36 (25 KO) – 3 (1 KO) – 1 draw.
Notable Victories: Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez
One of the greatest welterweights of all-time, Sugar Ray fought wars with the likes of Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Thomas Hearns. He’s perhaps the most beloved fighter since Muhammad Ali.
Analysis: Leonard in a 11th round KO. He was too quick, too smart, and possessed the best ring generalship of any fighter I’ve ever seen. Also, his power was underestimated.
Salvador Sanchez – Featherweight
1958 – 1982
44 (32) – 1 – 1 draw.
Notable Victories: Danny Lopez, Wilfredo Gomez.
Died in a tragic car accident at the age of 26. An amazing brawler and widely considered one of the greatest featherweights in history. He had excellent head movement and amazing power with both hands. His footwork was extremely good.
Analysis: Pacquiao in a decision. Watch some video of this guy and you’ll see how great he was. He was unrelenting, very active, and extremely quick.
Some proclaim Juan Manuel Marquez the ‘poor man’s Salvador Sanchez.’ However, I think Pacquiao was stronger than him at featherweight and just as quick.
When it comes to the Featherweights, it’s legitimate to say that Manny Pacquiao might be the second best ever behind Willie Pep.
Certainly he’s the best in the last 50 years. I would have loved to see him fight Salvador Sanchez at this weight.
In the upper weight divisions, it gets a little more tricky. Pacquiao just hasn’t fought enough at the upper weights to have him beating the likes of Chavez, Robinson, Leonard, and Duran.
Now, if he were to fight, and beat, Mayweather Jr. at welterweight, I might have to change some of those predictions.
One of the great aspects of this project was research via video. It was a lot of fun to watch old fighters and analyze how they would have stacked up against Manny Pacquiao.
Below are some video links I highly recommend as well as a couple of great books.
Some of the Videos I Used:
Great Video of Willie Pep – Sandy Saddler in 1951.
Sugar Ray Robinson – Rocky Graziano. It’s in Japanese so turn down the volume. It shows why Ray Robinson is considered the greatest fighter of all-time. Amazing speed, footwork, and power.
Roberto Duran – Sugar Ray Leonard. 1980
Henry Armstrong – Lew Ambers.
The Best of Salvador Sanchez
Meldrick Taylor vs. Julio Cesar Chavez
Pernell Whittaker vs. Oscar De La Hoya
A Couple Great Books I Highly Recommend:
Sugar Ray. By Sugar Ray Robinson
Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran. By Christian Guidice