Tuesday, December 12

Tearing Up The Weight Divisions: The Manny Pacquiao Phenomenon

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Manny Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO’s) is the world’s top boxer today. Eight years ago nobody would have even considered him among the ten pound-for-pound best boxers.

Certainly not Mexico’s beloved son Marco Antonio Barrera and his handlers, including Golden Boy Promotions’ top honcho Oscar dela Hoya. Barrera does not have a track record of avoiding tough opponents, but it is not far-fetched to think he would have reconsidered taking on Pacquiao in 2003 had he known beforehand the true calibre of Pacquiao especially since he would be making his debut as a Golden Boy-promoted fighter at the time.

Sure, Pacquiao before their milestone fight at featherweight, was making people sit up and take notice by viciously knocking out recognizable names at 122lbs. But he also struggled against dirty fighter Agapito Sanchez (†) to a technical draw and suffered knockdowns to journeyman Serikzham Yeshmagambetov and then-rising contender Nedal Hussein before eventually defeating both by knockout. Barrera’s handlers figured Pacquiao’s power would not be as effective at featherweight as it had been in the lower weights. Surely, they thought, a fighter who started boxing professionally at 106lbs would have difficulty denting Barrera, whose chin had been in against big punchers before. They were wrong, as most of the boxing world would be when it came to Pacquiao and his ascent up the weight classes.

What happened in the Barrera bout would catapult Pacquiao into boxing’s top echelons. There would be some bumps, such as a hotly debated draw with Mexican standout technician Juan Manuel Marquez and a noble loss to Erik “El Terrible” Morales, but never would he fall out of elite status since.

After the Barrera win and the Marquez draw, Pacquiao would knock out super bantamweight Fahsan “3K Battery” in an exhibition match for his last fight in the featherweight division. He would then climb up again another weight division, this time to the junior lightweight rank, to take on Morales three times, and Barrera and Marquez in rematches.

There were also tune-ups in between most of these tough fights, against journeyman Hector Velazquez, then-undefeated Jorge Solis and veteran Mexican warrior Oscar “Chololo” Larios. Pacquiao’s record at 130lbs against these opponents: 7-1-0 with 4 KO’s. In those three victories where he won via decision his opponents suffered three knockdowns in all. His power had apparently remained a game-changing factor in the fourth weight division that he had won a belt and/or a title in.

Pacquiao then literally went on a rampage, gobbling up further weight classes like his namesake PacMan the videogame gobbles up power pellets. It wasn’t so much his surprising success in yet higher divisions, it was the manner in which Pacquiao blew away everyone unfortunate enough to meet him in the ring at this point.

The Filipino firestorm made Oscar dela Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and David Diaz all look a tad below ordinary. He shrugged off their power punches like they were the ones coming up in weight and not him. If there was any doubt who the puncher was prior to each of those fights, there wasn’t any after Pacquiao’s Cleto Reyes gloves landed on their unwilling chins and bodies. There is something to be said about fighters being lucky on a given night and achieving an earth-shaking victory, but this guy has been doing it on a regular basis since his breakout Barrera win.

Before the dela Hoya fight, only a few felt it would even be competitive. They were absolutely right, but for all the wrong reasons.

There were still some serious doubts on Pacquiao’s capabilities in these higher weights before his showdown with “The Hitman” Hatton. The first round of their junior welterweight fight promptly put these doubts into manageable proportions with two knockdowns scored on the brave Mancunian brawler. The searing left hook that separated Hatton from his senses in the closing seconds of the following stanza finally convinced everyone that Pacquiao had truly brought his considerable punching power up from the lower weights.

If anything, the two Cotto knockdowns at welterweight hinted of the possibility that Pacquiao had further increased his game-changing power in both hands as he put on additional weight. What was even more surprising is how the PacMan has seemingly toughened his chin to the point that he was never wobbled or visibly hurt by the damaging bombs landed by the big punching Puerto Rican. Lest anybody forget, this fight was at welterweight where Cotto’s vaunted punching power netted him five of his seven victories via stoppages.

In an otherwise ordinary world, this does not happen. A fighter neither dramatically improves his boxing skills at the relatively late age of 30, nor does he further crank up his punching power and punch resistance the higher he goes in weight. Imagine indeed the ruckus created when a fighter tears up the weight divisions while being 30 AND climbing up in weight.

The recent achievements by Pacquiao have inspired so much awe that comparisons have been made with the great Henry Armstrong. It couldn’t be avoided either that some boxing personalities with an eye on their own place in boxing history would feel blown off and relegated to the sidelines with all the hoopla focused on the Filipino.

This perceived slight on the part of former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. prompted several press statements lamenting the double-standards out of which he gets the raw deal. Common opponents were considered selective matchmaking for him while the same were trumpeted as confirmation of Pacquiao’s greatness. As if to rub salt to his wounded pride, Pacquiao trumped him in the manner by which he disposed of their common opposition and oh, how the boxing world embraced these exploits. It is then no mystery why Floyd Junior and Senior have subsequently gone on a media tirade lambasting Pacquiao and debasing his accomplishments with unfounded accusations of steroid and performance enhancing drug use.

With their recent respective wins, it would seem that a portion of the boxing media has given Floyd the recognition he feels he deserves. His dominant victory over Shane Mosley has enabled him to overtake Pacquiao in Yahoo’s pound-for-pound rankings, although this has been met with lukewarm and at times condescending ridicule from fans and boxing writers alike. Ring magazine and ESPN’s own pound-for-pound lists have maintained status quo, perhaps rightfully so. Until Pacquiao loses or retires, there is actually no valid argument to dislodge him from the top.

But even the small measure of success Floyd has achieved against the looming shadow of the fire-breathing Filipino with his recent Yahoo coronation is mitigated once again by the Filipino’s surprising performance, this time outside of the ring. Manny Pacquiao has won by a landslide a congressional seat in the May elections of the Philippine Republic.

For sure the megafight that is Pacquiao-Mayweather should happen in this lifetime. It is best offense meets best defense, two all-time great opposites clashing in the ring. Experts and fans are split in their predictions for the fight as expected when two supreme masters of the pugilistic science engage each other. Some are awed by the defensive perfection and ring mastery of the brash American, while the others are mesmerized by the ungodly mix of speed and power displayed by the Filipino phenom.

Even outside the ring the two foremost fighters of today display opposing personas. While Mayweather is more known to flaunt his wealth and let it rain with C-notes in bars Pacquiao gets credit for building schools and donating his own money to the poor. It is therefore not a mystery that while Floyd is usually despised by the general public, Pacquiao exudes the kind of universal charisma that only a few in boxing history ever had.

It is therefore a minor surprise when after his victory over Shane Floyd Mayweather Junior expounded on his ability to perform at the biggest stage and not freeze up and basically just seize the moment, alleging this was exactly what happened to Shane Mosley in their last fight. With demand for his proposed fight with Pacquiao appearing to garner even more intensity after his domination of the 38-year old Mosley, such a statement may be construed as aimed directly at his great Filipino rival.

Just like his camp’s allegations of PED use of Pacquiao, this just shows how much thought he put into commenting about the Filipino’s mettle under extreme pressure. If there ever was someone between Floyd and Manny who harbors the possibility of cracking under the klieg lights and attention of the whole world in what would probably be the biggest fight in 20 years, it wouldn’t be the Filipino sensation. Prizefighting in a foreign land an ocean away with your whole country’s aspirations hinging on your victory may sound a tad over the top, but that is actually what Pacquiao carries on his shoulders every time he fights. Citizens of his country actually idolize him, and the fact that everyone he meets wishes him well just adds to the unbelievable pressure on him. Being idolized by an entire nation is most probably an alien concept to Floyd Mayweather Junior, but maybe a situation he secretly wishes for himself.

Pacquiao has surmounted unbelievable odds from the time he packed his bags for Manila to pursue a boxing dream, to his first fight with Barrera, to the dela Hoya and Hatton fights, and his battles outside the ring. No, Pacquiao has seen hell and stormed himself through, snorting smoke and breathing fire along the way. Floyd has never even been thru the kind of pressure where Manny not only survived but excelled in.

One can see glimpses of Floyd’s fragile psyche when he broke down in tears at the Baldomir post-fight press conference after feeling unappreciated by everyone who witnessed his dominant performance.

If there is anything we can infer from everything that Manny Pacquiao has shown us, it is that if there is one fighter who may crack under the immense pressure a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight will generate, it is most likely Mayweather and not Pacquiao.

Bring on the superfight.

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