Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., are helping reinvigorate boxing to its highest levels of popularity in perhaps decades, and their potential fight might be the richest ever. But how good are
they, really, in the scheme of the sport’s history?
Discovering a new favorite boxer can be a little like falling in love: To the smitten, there’s never been anybody better.
But just like there are no boxing historians who think Mike Tyson is the greatest who ever lived, despite what the infatuated thought in the 1980s… just like there are no boxing historians who think Roy
Jones, Jr. is the greatest who ever lived, despite what the swooning masses proclaimed in the 1990s… the historians also disagree with those who declare that either Mayweather, Jr. or Pacquiao is the
finest boxer the planet Earth has ever produced.
That’s not to say anyone thinks they’re slouches.
I interviewed four pugilistic observers who take the long view about where Mayweather and Pacquiao might rank, all-time.
None ranked Pacquiao higher than the top 20, nor Mayweather higher than in the 30s. All of them gave Pacquiao a significant edge in the race, given his superior competition. And all of them think
Pacquiao-Mayweather would be the biggest fight to happen in boxing in a long, long time.
Bert Sugar, author of over 70 books including “Boxing’s 100 Greatest Fighters Of All Time” in 1988 and “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters” in 2006, said of Pacquiao: “I haven’t quite figured where he is, because
I tend to want to gauge a fighter at his peak. But I can’t figure out where his peak is. I’m sure as hell not going to write another book
Based on where Pacquiao is now, though, Sugar rates him the best southpaw of all time – keeping in mind southpaws long ago were usually converted to an orthodox stance – and the best Asian fighter of all
time. And if he had to estimate, Sugar would place Pacquiao in the top 25 boxers ever, in large measure because of his Henry Armstrong-like seven titles in seven weight divisions.
Mayweather ranks as one of the best defensive fighters of all time, up there with Willie Pep and Pernell Whitaker, Sugar said. But Mayweather ranks, at the highest, in the 70s, according to the fedora’d and
cigar-toting one. “Part of your greatness is meeting and beating other greats,” Sugar said, and Mayweather hasn’t done as much of that as
If they fight each other, he said, it would be the biggest fight since Ray Leonard-Tommy Hearns in 1981. But it would be tough for them to climb too high on the historical list, because fighters no longer
fight as often. Armstrong won 27 times in 1937. “Who the hell fights 27 times – even with a wife – today?” Sugar said.
Cliff Rold has been chronicling who’s best in each division, historically, at BoxingScene.com. Overall, Rold puts Pacquiao somewhere in the 20 to 50 range, with Mayweather more like 50 to 70.
“I think what Pacquiao's doing hasn't been seen since [Tony] Canzoneri and [Jimmy] McLarnin,” Rold said.
“I think Floyd is second only, all-time, to [Alexis] Arguello at 130 but beyond 135 has a so-so resume with the [Ricky] Hatton win most impressing me since [Jose Luis] Castillo II,” he said.
That, really, is the difference between the two men to Rold.
“For me, it's a matter of dominance in one's time and willingness to challenge one's self and strength of schedule so to speak,” he said.
A fight between the two would shatter pay-per-view records, Rold said, and would be the most anticipated bout since Leonard-Marvin Hagler in 1987 – although maybe Tyson-Evander Holyfield II in 1997 was bigger,
if one doesn’t have a separate category for heavyweight fights like Rold does.
Mike Silver is the author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise And Decline of the Sweet Science.” Silver argues that boxers of the last 20 to 30 years lack the seasoning and training of fighters from previous eras –
particularly the 1920s to the 1950s.
“I have to say I have the utmost respect for Manny Pacquiao. He’s one of the few fighters of today I really enjoy watching,” Silver said. “With his attitude and work ethic, he’s something of a throwback.”
Still, Pacquiao doesn’t compare well to fighters of the sport’s “golden age,” when there were three times as many active boxers, fewer weight classes, one champion per division and bouts every few weeks,
Silver said. Pacquiao might have ranked among the top 10 fighters in his division during that age, which is a high compliment from Silver, but the “mediocrity” of Pacquiao’s competition today makes it hard for
him to crack the list of all-time greats.
Pacquiao would rank among the top-10 smaller fighters of the last 30 years, however, according to Silver.
Mayweather, he said, is “one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen box.” But Pacquiao has a better claim to greatness.
If Pacquiao and Mayweather were to fight, Silver might reassess the historical standing of both. But as of now, neither Pacquiao nor Mayweather would crack his top 100.
Al Berstein is a boxing writer and analyst since the 1970s who works for Showtime and has his own site on ibnsports.com.
Berstein gives Pacquiao huge credit for coming out on top in the four-man gauntlet between himself, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. Against that trio of “absolute Hall of
Famers,” Pacquiao went 5-1-1.
“Those four fighters created an era just as good as the Hearns-Leonard-[Roberto] Duran-Hagler era,” Bernstein said. And since, Bernstein added, “he’s added to it immeasurably.”
Mayweather? “In terms of skill and ability, I think he is equal to almost anyone who has laced on a pair of gloves,” he said.
Mayweather’s defeats of Diego Corrales at junior lightweight and Jose Luis Castillo at lightweight are big wins. What holds Mayweather back, Bernstein said, is that his resume is missing some of the big names at
welterweight during his time, like Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito. Mayweather might have beaten them all, by Bernstein’s estimate, but he didn’t fight them.
That leaves Pacquiao in the ballpark of the top 20 and Mayweather closer to the top 30, all-time, according to Bernstein.
He said he hopes Pacquiao and Mayweather meet. Boxing has “built up so much good momentum” by making the best match-ups. Pacquiao-Mayweather would be the “ultimate example” of that, he said.
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