With the news that Manny Pacquiao will probably retire in three years, it is safe to say that his boxing days are numbered. With his duties as a Filipino congressman beckoning and only one fight that the public is truly waiting for, his fight against Margarito may turn out to be one of his last fights ever. But was it really all that special?
What Pacquiao has done is unique and unprecedented. He is the one and only eight-division boxing world champion in history.
But what does that eighth title mean to his overall legacy in the sport of boxing?
Eight Time Champion
After concluding his trilogy by taking two out of three fights against Mexican legend Erik Morales in 2006, Pacquiao proceeded to knock out Jorge Solis and win a unanimous decision against Marco Antonio Barrera before winning a highly contentious split decision against Juan Manuel Marquez. To this day, Marquez still believes that he won that fight, and truthfully, it could have gone either way (I had Marquez winning by one round).
But that fight marked the beginning of Pacquiao's dominance against all of his opponents in increasingly heavier weight divisions.
As Pacquiao gained weight, packed on more muscle, and moved up in weight class, his fights become more and more one-sided, earning him more titles along the way.
In 2008, after his fight with Marquez, he won the WBC and The Ring Super Featherweight Titles against David Diaz, TKO-ing his supposedly bigger and stronger opponent in 9 rounds. Later that year, he moved up to welterweight to fight against a clearly past-his-prime Oscar De La Hoya and pounded him continuously for 8 rounds before the Golden Boy quit.
In 2009, he knocked Ricky Hatton out in splendid fashion in the second round of their Light Heavyweight fight, earning an IBO and The Ring titles in the process Later, he fought Miguel Cotto at Welterweight in his quest to win world titles in 7 different weight classes. That fight was over by the middle rounds and the proud Puerto Rican spent much of the rest of the fight avoiding Pacquiao so as to not get knocked out.
In 2010, Pacquiao started the year against overmatched Ghanaian Joshua Clottey in one of the most unwatchable fights of the year. Pacquiao hammered Clottey all night long, but the latter's rock-solid defense and lack of desire to attack ensured that there would be no knockout, even if the winner was clear early on.
The fight against Margarito two weeks ago, at Light Middleweight/Super Welterweight, was more of the same, as Pacquiao peppered his much larger opponent with three-to-five punch combinations that landed flush on the Tijuana Tornado's face. But after seeing Pacquiao demolish his previous opponents with such ease, this was to be expected. There was nothing new and nothing surprising about that fight.
It should have been a very special fight.
With Pacquiao chasing the chance to go down in history as the first (and possibly last) eight division champion in history, this fight had enormous implications.
But he took care of the fight early and soundly. And he did it while weighing only about 144 lbs. against Margarito, who was 150 lbs. (The Light Middleweight division limit is actually 154 lbs, but Pacquiao's camp negotiated for a fight at a catchweight of 150 lbs.). In fact, the difference in their size was amplified even further when both men weighed in for the actual fight, with Pacquiao at 148 and Margarito at 165—a 17 lbs difference.
Greatest of All Time?
In a list compiled in 2007 by ESPN ranking the 50 greatest boxers of all time, Pacquiao was nowhere to be found.
Suffice it to say, he has staked his claim on that list with his display these past few years and few unbiased journalists and boxing experts would argue his inclusion into a new list if and when it is made. There is no question that history will put him among the 50 greatest.
But more importantly, where does he rank among the greatest?
His achievements, especially in the past few years, have been impressive.
To this day, he is the only octuple champion, winning legitimate titles at Flyweight (112 lbs), Super Bantamweight (122 lbs), Super Featherweight (130 lbs), Lightweight (135 lbs), Welterweight (147 lbs), and Super Welterweight (154 lbs), and winning The Ring title at Featherweight (126 lbs), and The Ring and IBO titles at Light Welterweight (140 lbs). He started out at around 108 and is now hovering around 150.
He has beaten a who's who list of legitimate legends—with the notable exception of Floyd Mayweather Jr.—and appears to be unstoppable at the moment.
And many fans and pundits alike could legitimately put him in the top 10, top 5, or even the greatest boxer of all time. After all, he has created history before, and continues to create history with his boxing, leaving a trail of bruised and battered bodies in his wake.
But it's exactly history that will ultimately keep him from being the greatest, or the top 10 boxers of all time.
What He Lacks
Though Pacquiao has been great at everything he's been doing lately, even showing bigger and stronger fighters that he can compete—and win—in higher weight classes, he is not the perfect fighter nor one who has achieved the most in his career though one could argue he is close in both regards.
In fact, when weighing his credentials to be the greatest of all time, It's no longer about what he did or didn't do, but about what everyone else did. And through no fault of his own, he will be compared and scrutinized against the greatest fighters in history, and on many levels, he just falls short.
He is not undefeated. Other great fighters, like Mayweather, Joe Calzaghe, or Rocky Marciano—still the only Heavyweight champion to retire undefeated—have that proud distinction. Pacquiao has suffered losses and has even been knocked out before albeit at a much lighter weight and early on in his career. In fact, he even lost to Erik Morales a few years ago, and many would argue that he should have lost the second Marquez fight.
When comparing him to other great boxers in history, his contributions to the sport, though great for Filipinos and other Asians, pales in comparison to the historic contributions to the sport of boxing and to human kind when compared to other greats like Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, or Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) who paved the way for others like them.
Whereas Johnson was the albeit reluctant face of African-American boxing during his time, and Ali was the face of civil disobedience and civil rights, Pacquiao has not shown himself to be an activist or visionary with long-term contributions to the world. At least not yet.
And unlike the boxers of the past, he has only fought professionally—from the age 16—a total of 57 times. Compared to fighters like 'Sugar' Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Roberto Duran, Henry Armstrong, and Archie Moore, who fought literally hundreds of fights during their careers, his fight resume looks pretty bare.
More importantly, and through no fault of his own, his style of fighting has made him so good that he hasn't experienced the kind of life or death battles that define fighters' careers. Like Mason "The Line" Dixon in Rocky Balboa, and to a point, the Klitschko brothers, his fights have been largely one-sided beatings and displays of his superior speed, strength and toughness, and really what he needs is to show that he can come out victorious in a slugging match, where both fighters are down to their last vestiges of stamina. The reduction of rounds from 15 to 12 may have something to do with that.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have a "Rumble in the Jungle" or "Thrilla in Manila" a la Ali, or wars against the likes of 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler, 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran in their primes.
He hasn't had to face the wars that say, Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez faced in their trilogy. And ironically, the closest he's been to these wars were in the lighter weight divisions, against Erik Morales, and later against Juan Manuel Marquez. He's never had to fight from the completely bleak jaws of defeat to come out victorious, something that Margarito does numerous times, much to his own detriment. Yet now it looks like there will never be a Pacquiao-Marquez III, and that will be a huge disappointment from a boxing history standpoint.
Moreover, to many observers, he's just been spoonfed washed up or broken fighters with big names—a la De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, and Margarito—just trying to stave off retirement and get that last big paycheck. And thanks to the intelligence of his advisers and promoters, he's been put in the best position to win, with Catchweights and stringent stipulations stacking the fight odds—whether it is needed or not—for him. Additionally, also thanks to his advisers and promoters, he will never have to take a fight he doesn't want to take, against an opponent that is in his prime and can match him in strength and speed.
There is no doubt that Pacquiao is one of, if not the greatest boxer of his generation, and to his legion of fans, possibly the greatest of all time.
But history will judge him not just on what he did or did not do. It will judge him by the quality of his opponents, the quality of boxing, and measure him against all those great fighters before him. And it will judge him an impressive ambassador of the sport of boxing. But probably not its best, and that's not really his fault.
When interviewed, he often says that he will fight anyone anytime, with the caveat that his job is just to fight and that it's his promoter's job to find fighters and fights for him. But if no one out there is up to the task of competing against and pushing him past his limits, does that make him a worse fighter?
So ultimately, what does this eighth title mean to his legacy?
Nothing much. He was a great fighter before he won it, and he will continue to be a great fighter until he retires. His place in boxing history was secured long before then, after his fight with De La Hoya, Hatton, and Cotto.
Yes, he had cemented his place in the boxing HOF, and as one of the top 50 greatest boxers with his domination of other future Hall of Famers, but his place is still squarely behind the greats like Ali and Robinson, though not too far behind.
At this point, the only way to even approach those great fighters is a life or death hard fought win against arguably the greatest defensive specialist in boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr. That fight would mean a lot more than his fight against Margarito. And the whole boxing world is waiting with baited breath and hoping that it happens.