Manny Pacquiao: The Top 10 All-Time Fighters He Couldn’t Beat
When a boxer reaches a certain plateau of greatness, comparisons with boxers from yesteryear fondly emerge.
For boxing writers, it gives us some sense of being. It helps to justify our place on the boxing landscape.
So, in this era, just as Jones Jr., Julio Cesar Chavez, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Muhammad Ali were once compared to their predecessors, it is Manny Pacquiao that now takes the mantle of the contemporary fighter that deserves comparison with the fighters from yesteryear and whose names we utter like those of old Viking gods.
I have scoured the annals of boxing history in an attempt to find 10 fighters that fought at their prime between 135lbs and 147lbs—where Manny has begun and continues in his prime—and are capable of defeating the Filipino.
In this slideshow I compare and contrast each fighter's skills and traits before giving my analysis on how the two combatants' fight would unravel.
1) Sugar Ray Robinson
Universally regarded as the greatest fighter that ever lived. For Manny to even be compared with such an icon of the sport is honor enough.
Historians regard Sugar Ray as nonpareil at welterweight. He had the ability to outbox the boxers (Sammy Angott) and out-punch the punchers (Artie Levine).
Manny can be both, and Ray often underestimated smaller fighters. When fighting 5'6 1/2" Basilio, he dismissed his diminutive challenger, stating, "How’s this little midget going to beat me?" Basilio utilised his jab to get inside and ultimately defeat Robinson.
Sugar would not take Pac’s skills for granted. Pac would already have clinched world titles in three weight classes, making it impossible for Robinson to dismiss him.
Unfortunately for Pac, he would be faced with a five-inch disadvantage in height and reach. Both fighters possess power and speed, but Robinson’s ring smarts and boxing IQ allow him to utilise his physical advantages to maximum effect.
Pacquiao vs. Robinson: Fight Analysis
The opening stanzas see a cagey Pac trying to get under Robinson's vastly superior reach. Occasionally being caught as he did so, would instill further trepidation.
Sugar Ray’s substantial points lead by the middle rounds implores Manny to commit himself more often. Whenever Manny gets inside, Sugar Ray utilises his perfect balance and foot-speed to maneuver himself out of the way of oncoming flurries.
Robinson is now forced to fight going backwards. This would not neutralise his power and, just as he did against Fullmer, he throws a crunching left hand on the back foot.
Manny rises but Robinson, sensing the end is nigh, becomes the pursuer in round six, putting combinations together before landing a left hook which knocks Manny to the canvas, securing a TKO.
Robinson vs. Fullmer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdROjwy34qU
2) Jose Napoles
Napoles may not have been quick in the conventional sense of the word as Manny is, but "Mantequilla" was nothing if not smooth.
There are many similarities between Pacquiao and Napoles. They are similar in height (small welters), followed similar career paths, and technically both are most effective at mid-range and move in and out effortlessly.
It becomes increasingly hard to separate the two when you consider that both are powerful, accurate punchers with great timing. There appears to be no discernable difference in the tangibles.
Both fighters' activity and skill makes for 12 rounds of pulsating action.
Pacquiao vs. Napoles: Fight Analysis
I see this fight as being action-packed from start to finish. Initial proceedings see the fight go back and forth, with both fighters attempting to execute at mid-range.
Napoles gets the better of the exchanges, owing to his four-inch reach advantage and his counter-punch timing, securing a lead as the fight enters its second half.
Napoles always seemed to be underexerting himself, but this was testament to his deceptive speed. Still, he was prone to cuts, and Manny’s slashing punches have exposed this by the ninth round.
With blood seeping into the eyes of Napoles, he becomes more reserved whilst Manny goes into a higher gear, hitting him with sharp one-twos.
The lead that Napoles accumulated in the first eight rounds proves insurmountable, and he secures a hard fought, close unanimous decision.
Napoles in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlpZ5-bw_GI
3) Alexis Arguello
The tale of the tape highlights the difference in stature. Arguello would be blessed with a 3 1/2" height advantage and a 5" reach advantage.
The "explosive thin man" would also boast the more powerful punch of the two fighters. No fighter that Manny has faced possessed the crushing power that lied within the right hand of Alexis Arguello.
Technically, Manny is quicker and more mobile. Arguello had a history of struggling against fleet of foot, unorthodox, and imaginative fighters such as Manny.
Essentially, Manny may have entered the bout as the favorite, with many giving Arguello a puncher’s chance. It would be that "puncher’s chance" that would prove to be the deciding element.
Pacquiao vs. Arguello: Fight Analysis
Arguello is left wanting in the first half of the fight, becoming too engrossed in landing a big right hand as Manny bounces in and out landing combinations, even scoring a knockdown as Arguello absorbed punishment.
The knockdown would necessitate a slightly different approach.
Arguello sits back more, taking advantage of Manny’s relentless forward motion. Arguello was most effective at mid-range. Standing off, he relies on his slick defensive skills and catches Manny with counter hooks.
By round 10, with Manny three to four rounds ahead, the Filipino continues with the aggression and walks onto an Arguello right cross. Two or three follow up hooks and lead rights send Manny down, but he valiantly rises.
Immediately Arguello pounces and, with that killer instinct, batters Pacquiao, and his size and power proves too much and he scores an 11th round KO.
Arguello's power: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGIUQ1mcZ_U
4) Sugar Ray Leonard
Manny is relatively new to the welterweight division. Sugar Ray Leonard, on the other hand, beat every 147 lb. fighter out there.
He defeated all styles—lanky, larger boxers, smaller fighters, sluggers, speedsters—because he was the master of improvisation and one of the most versatile boxers ever.
The Marvin Hagler fight was a microcosm of Leonard’s greatness. In that one fight he showed heart, the ability to deal with adversity, supreme boxing skills, a sturdy chin, and in-ring craftiness.
Manny’s awkward angles would prove troublesome, but Ray was too disciplined a fighter to fall into traps. Ray is also perhaps the only fighter on this list who could match the hand-speed of Manny Pacquiao.
Could a 5'6" fighter—even one as special as Manny—overcome a fighter of Ray’s calibre with a 4" height and 7" reach disparity? The answer is a resounding no.
Pacquiao vs. Leonard: Fight Analysis
Leonard is savvy enough to begin the fight boxing from the outside, utilising his reach and poking and prodding away at Manny’s defense, notching up five of the first six rounds.
Manny is not inclined to retreat from the cause and, as such, continues to pursue Leonard. Pac gains some fleeting success in the middle rounds when Leonard takes his foot off of the gas.
Ultimately though, Leonard becomes increasingly confident with his outside presence, landing combinations as he takes on an increased vigour. He consistently renders Manny ineffective as the Filipino is unable to land his vaunted speedy combinations.
The increased activity slows Ray down for the final quarter of the fight, allowing Manny to come on strong and get the better of a retreating Leonard. It’s all in vain, though, as the three judges see it the same way: a comfortable UD to Ray Leonard.
Leonard's brilliance in one fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVedGNJB9U4
5) Thomas Hearns
Hearns was a freakishly big welterweight. The 6'1" "Hitman" was an alarming combination of height, speed, and power, and the largest effective welterweight that ever lived.
On paper, the physical dimensions make for grim reading for Pac-Man. Hearns carries a staggering one-foot advantage in reach. The physical chasm would be astonishing as not only was Hearns tall, he was broad shouldered.
The perfect antidote for a reach disadvantage is speed. Manny has this in abundance, but the greatest counter for speed is a great jab. Hearns demonstrated this in the first half of his fight with the lightning-fast Leonard.
Manny really would be in over his head with "The Hitman." The physical discrepancies and Hearns' ferocious punch would mean a short night in the offing.
Pacquiao vs. Hearns: Fight Analysis
A la Hagler-Hearns, this is a three-round masterpiece.
Hearns comes looking to blow the Filipino out of the water. Manny spends the first round ducking and slipping Hearn’s straight rights. Hearns lands with glancing blows and Manny manages a couple of flurries inside.
The second round sees Manny continuing to limit Hearns’ space. He is cognisant of the fact that if he remains inside, he has a chance. Hearns adapts to Manny’s close proximity and now starts timing punches. Manny is more prolific, but Hearns is more accurate, landing a crushing shot to Pac’s ribs that sends him down.
The third round begins, and Hearns is eager to finish. The fighter’s instinct within Manny carries him forward where he walks onto a right cross that connects with a thud. KO Hearns, round four.
6) Roberto Duran
Duran was the best brawler that ever lived, but also had the ability to fight on the outside. Defensively, he was the master of pugilism’s subtleties with head/shoulder feints, excellent positioning, and arm locks whilst in the trenches.
There is evidence throughout his career of having overcome fighters that excelled in similar areas to Pacquiao. Manny possesses frighteningly quick hand-speed, but Duran had all the answers for Sugar Ray Leonard’s hand-speed in their first fight.
Pac has considerable power, but it’s hard to imagine him rocking Duran as the likes of Leonard and Hagler—big punchers and naturally much bigger than Duran—failed to hurt the Panamanian.
"Manos de Piedra" also had success against those with an awkward southpaw style. Duran outclassed and overpowered a great southpaw in Hector Camacho with lead rights counters over the jab.
Both fighters are offensively minded and love a dust up. Any fight fan that does not salivate at the prospect of these two combatants doing battle must have a seriously bland palate.
Pacquiao vs. Duran: Fight Analysis
Right from the first bell, Duran comes straight at the Filipino. Manny may have encountered this before with Ricky Hatton, but the English slugger doesn’t have an ounce of the dynamism that Duran had.
Manny’s foot speed and short punching carry him to initial success, but the punches that land are brushed off by Duran.
Duran’s combination of head butts, low blows, and clinches frustrate Manny. By the middle rounds, Manny’s willingness to oblige in toe-toe warfare lead to prolonged periods of ferocious in-fighting. Duran nullifies Pac’s mid-range, unorthodox style by being right on top of him.
By round eight, Duran seizes the advantage. His sustained lower body onslaught causes Manny to become more flat-footed.
The latter rounds see Duran catching Manny on the ropes. He unloads a staccato flurry of punches before finally landing an infamous right hand through Manny’s guard. Duran secures a KO victory in round 11.
Duran's greatest triumph: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIGEWFxhgGQ
7) Pernell Whitaker
Virginia’s "Sweet Pea" was a defensive master. Whitaker cleaned out the lightweight division whilst barely losing a round. He didn’t outright lose a fight until the age of 35 against Felix Trinidad.
Often his combination of foot speed, head movement, guile, and underrated jab would confuse and overwhelm opponents.
This is the classic offense vs. defense battle. Manny assumes the role of offensive juggernaut. Whitaker, on the other hand, would rely on his radar-like reflexes to nullify Pac’s attacks.
What’s clear is that Manny has never faced a fighter with the skill and calibre of Whitaker. The same can be said for "Sweet Pea." Pac’s continual pressing will make Whitaker fight more than ever before.
Pacquiao vs. Whitaker: Fight Analysis
Roach’s tactics have Manny ignoring the lure of chasing Whitaker round the ring. The first few rounds see little action, with sporadic inside combinations from Manny and stiff jabs from Whitaker.
By round four, Manny has still not managed to take Whitaker into the trenches. Whitaker remains on his bike, popping jabs with the occasional bodywork thrown in.
In the second half of the fight, Manny begins going to the body but, in doing so, Whitaker lands the more eye-catching punches. Manny now has no choice but to stalk, thus allowing Pea to utilise his great legs and much vaunted offense on the back foot.
Comfortable with his position, Whitaker becomes more willing to trade but gets caught with a blazing left, scoring a flask knockdown for Manny in the 11th.
The fight goes to the scorecards, and Whitaker’s supreme defense and versatility carries him to a split decision victory.
8) Felix Trinidad
Tito began his career at 147 lbs.—where this fight would take place—but went on to capture gold at 154 lbs. and 160 lbs. Trinidad ascended through the weight classes whilst retaining his power, much like Pacquiao.
The statistics bear this out. He knocked out 35 of the first 42 fighters he faced, and the seven who survived were master boxers like Whitaker and Hopkins.
As with many of these bouts, Manny would be faced with an overwhelming disadvantage in height and reach, but would have a definite advantage in speed.
I really see this being a seesaw battle, with both fighters enjoying periods of dominance and neither fighter backing down, and certain knockdowns along the way.
Manny would be in for a long night as Trinidad had an impeccable work rate, great resolve, and often out-dueled opponents.
Pacquiao vs. Trinidad: Fight Analysis
Pacquiao’s power and Trinidad’s questionable chin lead to Trinidad visiting the canvas early. Tito’s great recuperative powers and heart means he remains undeterred.
Every bit of success Manny has, so does Trinidad—often with less exertion. Trinidad punched above 147 lb., so whilst Manny puts combinations together to score a knockdown, Trinidad only has to find the mark once to unhinge the Filipino.
The latter rounds descend into a war as both fighters, aware of the evenly balanced scorecards, attempt to impress the judges.
In order for Pac to win, he would need to fight a perfect fight. At this frenetic pace, that’s a tall order. Trinidad lands the more telling blows in the final rounds with his excellent timing and devastating left hook.
Despite giving Tito ample trouble throughout the bout, the judges declare Trinidad the victor in a close unanimous decision.
9) Julio Cesar Chavez
Chavez was unbeaten in his first 90 fights. In his prime, he was pound-for-pound the best around. The great Angelo Dundee called Chavez the toughest fighter he had seen, bar none.
While his opponents were sometimes more flashy, harder punching, and slicker, none of them were able to beat Chavez until he was well past his prime.
Known especially for murderous body punches, Chavez could cut off the ring with great movement. He was frighteningly accurate and had the ability to slip and roll with punches.
Chavez could also cope with speedier fighters like Manny. Against Taylor, despite dealing with adversity, he stuck to his task, ultimately wearing down his quicker adversary.
Manny’s stance, style, and power would mean Chavez would absorb punishment. Still, his power wouldn’t offset the cast iron chin of Chavez, who was only stopped three times in his career, well past his prime.
Pacquiao vs. Chavez: Fight Analysis
Chavez adopts the role of the pressure fighter whilst Pacquiao is in and out, throwing speedy three-four punch combinations. Pac dominates the first half of the fight, with Chavez making futile attempts to stalk his opponent down.
Chavez was often a slow starter and begins to have success around rounds four and five. Whilst Manny is landing the eye-catching blows, Chavez invests in the long-term with crushing body shots; blows the like of which Manny has never seen before.
By round eight, Chavez is still way down on cards, but his workmanlike approach means Manny is not quite as nimble as before and can’t attack with his previous flair. Chavez now successfully cuts the ring off and pushes Manny into the ropes, landing the famed Mexican liver punch and straight rights to the jaw.
Chavez’s constant aggression leads to a continuation for the next two rounds. By round 11, Manny has visibly severe facial lacerations, leading the referee to stop the fight.
Must-see viewing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFQ2oJ3asaM
10) Paul Williams
The top pound-for-pound fighter in the world against the most avoided fighter on the boxing landscape is a tantalising prospect, but in actuality, it would be a great disappointment.
The length and activity of "The Punisher" would make this a mismatch in my opinion.
Much like the Tommy Hearns matchup, Williams' lanky frame and long arms imposes an almost impossible challenge for Manny.
His 81" inch reach would be a stylistic nightmare for any fighter, let alone the diminutive Pacquiao.
Pacquiao vs. Williams: Fight Analysis
I see this fight as being reminiscent of the Duran-Hearns fight, with Duran trying to get under the jab to get inside but, in due course, being caught with a crunching right hand.
Manny would be less brazen than Duran, meaning the fight would last four or five rounds instead of two. The initial rounds would be devoid of much action, and with Pac-Man apprehensive to commit himself, Williams would collect points as he lands hits sporadically.
Eventually though, Manny would have to attempt to venture inside, only to be punished with a straight right that would signal the beginning of the end. Williams by TKO in round five.
Manny’s already embedded himself in the pantheon of greatness.
Admittedly, many of the defeats he receives in these fantasy matchups can be attributed to his small stature and his fledgling welterweight career.
His resume continues to grow, and his sustained success as a welterweight will surely make one reconsider some of these predictions.
Who knows, maybe next year I will be constructing an article entitled "Manny Pacquiao: The Top Five Fighters He Couldn't Beat''