For whatever reason, fight fans have a hard time being objective about Manny Pacquiao.
For the most ardent fans of the Filipino phenom, he’s a demigod. His straight left vaporizes his foes, his smile calms crying babies, and his sweat cures the gout.
For his most vocal detractors, Pacquiao is an overrated one-two puncher who’s conned his way to the perception of greatness. To them, he’s always one fight away from being exposed for what he is.
There just isn’t much middle ground in this argument.
Perhaps, then, this attempt to take an honest, unbiased look at the Pac-Man is doomed before it starts. Pacquiao’s supporters will think I’m underselling their man’s abilities. On the other side of the coin, the haters will probably think any praise offered is simply from another zealot worshipping at the feet of Saint Manny.
Still, somebody needs to be the voice of reason. With that in mind, and with another Manny superfight just days away, it seems an appropriate time to size up his strengths and weaknesses.
After annihilating Ricky Hatton in highlight-reel fashion and turning Oscar De La Hoya’s face into corned beef hash, the temptation is to view Manny Pacquiao as a fire-breathing monster ready to decimate anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. As impressive as those victories were, they were also misleading. Hatton was more used up than any of us knew going into the fight. The same goes for De La Hoya, who was clearly a nothing more than a spent shell casing the night he faced Pacquiao.
Probably more representative of Pacquiao’s power is the performance which preceded his two most high-profile victories: his stoppage of David Diaz.
David Diaz was Pacquiao’s first (and only) opponent at 135 pounds, and going into the fight, many were interested to see how Pacquiao would fare against a naturally bigger, albeit outclassed, foe. From the opening bell, Pacquiao chopped Diaz down with ruthless efficiency, pounding out a brave, but bloodied and beaten, Diaz in the ninth round.
Against larger opponents, Pacquiao’s main weapon is in the profusion of his punches rather than the potency of any one punch. The Hatton fight aside, the days of Manny blasting out his opponents with a single shot appear to be over. Like a school of piranhas or a swarm of bees, Pacquiao’s greatest asset is in the volume and ferocity of his assault.
Pacquiao is unlikely to hurt most welterweights with one punch, but he’s certainly no slapper. The fact that there is even a discussion of whether this former flyweight champion can hurt a welterweight is a testimony to how special he is. At featherweight, his punching power would’ve garnered an easy A+. However, against the best 140 and 147-pounders in the world, Manny’s power is just above average.
Power Grade: B+
The name of Pacquiao’s game is, and always has been, speed. This is the key ingredient to his success in his quick ascent to welterweight. Pacquiao’s speed is especially pesky because of the unique way he utilizes it.
Pacquiao is not the type of fighter to throw flashy shoeshine combinations. Nor is he the type to use his reflexes to stand back, potshot, and counterpunch. He uses his speed, athleticism, and explosiveness to throw four or five slashing punches in succession, exit, reset, and repeat. Meanwhile, his opponents are helpless to do much in return, especially bigger, slower fighters.
For Pacquiao to have continued success at 140 and 147 pounds, he will need to maximize his speed advantage. As mentioned in discussing his power, his greatest advantage will not come from one shot, but from the fact that there will usually be several more immediately following it.
Speed Grade: A+
Much has been made of Pacquiao’s much-improved proficiency as a boxer under the tutelage of Freddy Roach. For most of Pacquiao’s career, he was strictly a one-two puncher, with his right hand serving little function other than setting up his booming straight left.
At 126 pounds and below, his power was more than enough to get the job done, giving him little incentive to modify his game and improve his versatility as a fighter. However, as he’s moved up in weight and challenged more skilled opponents, Pacquiao has learned the hard lesson that his limited skill set wouldn’t work forever. In his first fight with Marquez as well as his first encounter with Morales, it looked like the Pacquiao express train was quickly running out of track.
So give him credit for reassessing his style and adding more to his repertoire. His extensively improved right hand has opened a whole new depth to his arsenal. Complementing his still dangerous straight left are his equally dangerous right hook and right uppercut. Like a football team whose run game opens up their pass game, Pacquiao’s right has given his opponents more to think about, in turn creating more opportunities for his left to land.
That being said, no one will ever confuse Manny Pacquiao with Pernell Whitaker. With all his improvements, Pacquiao has really just become a much more effective one-dimensional fighter. He still does what he’s always done, only he’s doing it much better than he was before. We still haven’t seen him rely on pure boxing skills to pull him through a clutch situation. We don’t know if he can win a fight with only a jab, his legs, and a lot of guile. Maybe this is just illustrative of his effectiveness, but the feeling here is that if Manny’s buzzsaw routine ever fails him, he’ll be in some trouble.
Boxing Ability Grade: B
Looking at Pacquiao’s increasingly impressive list of accomplishments, it’s hard not to notice the two blemishes early in his career that stain his otherwise majestic achievements: knockout losses to the anonymous likes of Rustico Torrecampo and Medgoen Singsurat. Taking into account that these losses came in flyweight days, it would seem to raise red flags about Pacquiao’s beard.
A closer examination of those knockouts shows that they have more to do with youthful carelessness than a shaky chin. Demonstrating the hubris that only a young puncher can possess, Pacquiao ran into blows he never saw coming, and was short-circuited by them.
As he’s matured during his career, Pacquiao has gotten better about taking calculated risks, and has therefore avoided repeats of the two costly lessons learned earlier in his prizefighting career. He’s also proved that he has a pretty durable mandible as well. He was buzzed against Oscar Larios, and was in trouble in the second Marquez fight, but has shown nothing that would indicate he is susceptible to a big punch. After all, you can’t fight the caliber of opponents he’s fought without taking a good shot.
He probably won’t want to put that chin to the test against the best welters in the world, but, all things considered, he’s got a decent set of whiskers.
Chin Grade: A-
Regardless of whether you’re a Pac-Fan or Pac-Hater, one thing that really cannot be questioned is Pacquiao’s heart. In the ring, he’s a throwback to another era. He’s no nonsense, shows up to fight, and brings everything with him.
Sure, Pacquiao hits hard, he’s fast, and he’s got pretty good all-around skills, but the feeling you get when watching him is that he just wants it more than the other guy. The reason that Pacquiao’s appeal resonates with so many fans is the obvious desire he brings to his fights. He understands that the fight game is about giving and taking, and to capture the hearts of the fans, a fighter must be willing to do both. At the most elite level of the sport, sometimes skill and intelligence aren’t enough; it is at these times that heart is the deciding factor.
If ever there was a willing fighter, it is Pacquiao. Against some of his most formidable adversaries, he’d take a punch, pump his fists in the air, and wade back in with an assault of his own. Watching him, you get the feeling the only way to get Pacquiao to stay out of your face is to put him on his back.
Fighting isn’t just something he does. It’s not just business. It’s who Manny Pacquiao is. You’ve got to love that.
Heart Grade: A+
Pacquiao finds himself on the cusp of yet another career-defining moment on Saturday night, when he faces possibly the most dangerous challenge in Miguel Cotto. The high marks earned here are certainly no guarantee of success, especially in a sport when intangibles can lay all certainties to waste.
One thing is certain, however. Regardless of the outcome, Pacquiao will be in the fray, giving everything, until the dust settles. Fan or hater, you have to respect him for that.