Henry Armstrong was born December 12, 1912 by the name Henry Melody Jackson Jr. Manny Pacquiao was born December 17, 1978 by the birthname of Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao. Armstrong stood 5'5.5" with a 67" reach. Pacquiao is 5'6.5" also with a 67" reach.
Both fighters had to make big moves to be great. Armstrong moved from Mississippi to Saint Louis. Pacquiao moved a little farther from the streets of the Philippines to the Wild Card Gym of West Hollywood.
Henry Armstrong was rated the second-greatest fighter of all time in both the 1984 and 2004 list of the 100 greatest boxers of all time according to boxing historian Bert Sugar. He also placed second in Ring Magazine's list of the 80 greatest fighters of the last eighty years. Both times, only Sugar Ray Robinson topped Armstrong.
Unlike the 5'11" Sugar Ray Robinson, who had a 72.5" reach, Armstrong is a relatively small man who became a weight climber, having won championships in three weight divisions back when there were only eight. Robinson won world titles in only two weight divisions.
Manny Pacquiao has won world titles in eight weight divisions, but the total number of weight divisions in Pacquiao's years of boxing has risen to 17. Many of the current divisions are separated by five to seven pounds, whereas Armstrong's divisions were separated by nine to 12 pounds.
As the current pound-for-pound king of boxing, Pacquiao has held on to the title for quite some time. His reign has included knockouts of Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya and a pugilistic facial reconstruction of Antonio Margarito's face. When one reigns as king of a particular realm so long, many begin to compare the current king's reign to those who reigned before.
Usually, these comparisons begin with the absolute best. Naturally, that would be Sugar Ray Robinson, who won world titles at Welterweight (147 pounds) and Middleweight (160 pounds). However, because of the similarities in Armstrong's and Pacquiao's size and ability to fight at three or more weight classes, the comparison between the two fighters is by far more intriguing than a comparison with Robinson.
Another reason not to compare to Robinson is the fact he went on a 40 fight win streak before losing. This fact makes him more comparable to modern Welterweight great Floyd Mayweather Jr. than Manny Pacquiao, who lost his 12th fight and 28th fight, both by knockout. Armstrong lost his first-ever professional fight. Both got off to humble starts before moving up to beat bigger competition.
Pound for pound is a term to describe who would beat who in the same weight class if weight wasn't an issue. Naturally some fighters are bigger or smaller than others, but when a fighter begins to conquer multiple weight divisions, they help increase the validity of whatever argument they have for being the better pound-for-pound fighter.
Even though Sugar Ray Robinson may be the best fighter in the world, it is arguable that Henry Armstrong is a better pound-for-pound boxer. Armstrong became the first boxer to hold world titles in three weight divisions at the same time, Featherweight (126 pounds), Lightweight (135 pounds) and Welterweight.
He moved up and down weight from fight to fight to defend the collection of world titles. Manny Pacquiao currently has two world titles in two weight divisions, Welterweight and Light Middleweight (154 pounds). He plans to move back down to Welterweight to defend the world title he won in late 2009.
So how does one compare Pacquiao to Armstrong? First, point out the differences. Armstrong fought over a 100 fights (180 to be exact). If Manny Pacquiao adopts the current plan that has been stated in the media as of late to retire after three more years and if his current trend of fighting two times a year persists, Manny will only have six more fights to add to his current total of 57 fights.
One way to compare them is to see how far Armstrong got in 57 fights. By that point in Armstrong's career, he garnered 40 wins, 10 losses and seven draws and not even one world championship. Manny Pacquiao has had 52 wins, three losses and two draws and world championships in eight weight divisions.
One unfortunate stumbling block in this comparison is that there were less sanctioning bodies back then handing out championships, so a fighter usually had to fight longer to get a championship. Today, there are four major sanctioning bodies and fighters get title shots much faster than before. This makes comparing them in this way far difficult.
The next big difference to notice between Armstrong and Pacquiao is how many pounds have they had to overcome. Pacquiao won his first world title at the Flyweight division (112 pounds) and won his last title at Junior Middleweight, which is 154 pounds.
Who's the greater pound for pound fighter?
Armstrong won his first title at 126 pounds and won his last title at 147 pounds. He tried to win a title at Middleweight (160 pounds), but the fight was ruled a draw. Bert Sugar has stated that he felt Armstrong should have been judged the winner of the fight, but the official record says otherwise. By this comparison, Pacquiao went through 42 pounds of weight. Armstrong went through 21 pounds of weight.
Now before declaring Pacquiao a winner of this race, one must ask what opposition both fighters faced. One must also ask how long each fighter defended their title. Armstrong defended his Welterweight title a record 18 times, more than any other Welterweight in the history of the sport. Pacquiao has never defended a championship over 10 times.
His current Welterweight belt has only been defended once. Pacquiao's opposition includes Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales at the Featherweight and Super Featherweight weight divisions. Once Pacquiao stepped up to the Lightweight division, he never fought more than three fights at a weight division.
In the case of the Lightweight (135 pounds), Jr. Welterweight (140 pounds) and Light-Middleweight divisions, he's only fought once. He challenged a world champ at a weight division, beat that champ for his title and left the division. Henry Armstrong defended all of his championships multiple times, many times moving up and down in weight to defend them across weight divisions.
Armstrong's list of opponents include a list of who's who in boxing at the time including Featherweight great Chalky White, Welterweight great Barney Ross and future Middleweight great as well as Filipino boxing legend Ceferino Garcia.
Pacquiao's list of opponents after Super Featherweight have been mildly inspired at best. Defeating Antonio Margarito at Light Middleweight, Oscar De La Hoya, Joshua Clottey and Miguel Cotto at Welterweight, Ricky Hatton at Jr Welterweight and David Diaz at Lightweight is enough to become a star in today's boxing world, but is not enough to dethrone Henry Armstrong or even Barney Ross, Tommy Hearns and countless others who moved up in weight.
Pacquiao is on the cusps of 32 years old and whether he retires in three years or not, he as at the end of his career. He doesn't have much time to improve his pound-for-pound rankings, but the good news is that he can.
Pacquiao has an argument for being better than Armstrong. That argument lies in Pacquiao's ability to keep steadily winning as he moves up in weight. That argument also lies in Floyd Mayweather Jr, the other great boxer of Pacquiao's generation. Mayweather is the equivalent of Sugar Ray Robinson in today's world of boxing. Mayweather is undefeated with a record of 41 wins and no losses.
Mayweather is also taller than Pacquiao standing at 5'8" with a 72" reach. Armstrong's fight against a slick boxer in Sugar Ray Robinson didn't go favorably for Armstrong. He lost by unanimous decision to Robinson. If Pacquiao can beat Mayweather, he has his own Robinson-sized victory to compare to Armstrong's Robinson-sized loss.
Another aspect of Pacquiao's career that Pacquiao can stress in his favor is his ability to move up in weight. Yes, Pacquiao is fighting less and defending his title less than Armstrong, but he's moving up in weight class more. In doing so, he's fighting fighters twenty pounds over themselves.
Margarito stacked on the pounds to weigh in at around 170 on fight night to accentuate his size advantage over the 144-pound Pacquiao. Sergio Martinez is a current Middleweight title holder. Martinez is big and fast. Most of Pacquiao's bigger foes have been big and slow. If Pacquiao can beat Martinez for the Middleweight world championship of the world, he'll extend his record to having world titles in nine weight divisions.
That's three times as many world titles as Armstrong managed to grab before he retired. This will further separate Pacquiao's achievements from Armstrong's. This will help solidify Pacquiao's argument for all-time pound-for-pound greatness.
Overall, Pacquiao's career has been fun, but realistically, taking on Armstrong's legacy is a handful. Just being able to be compared to Armstrong is a victory in and of itself because it guarantees Pacquiao must be in the top 100 (maybe even 50) boxers of all time. But without victories over Mayweather Jr. and Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, Armstrong's legacy is just too far to try to touch at this point.
Maybe the current crop of weaker opposition is to blame for why it is hard for Pacquiao to dethrone Armstrong. Maybe the desire for riches and elite competition (except in the case of a Mayweather fight) makes choosing between a fight against a man with a big following and lesser skills, and a man with little following and a great amount of skill, a very difficult decision.
In the end, Pacquiao will be considered great, but it's up to him over the next three years or whatever is left of his career to see how far he can go up the ladder of greatness.