He's a greater pound-for-pound fighter than Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb and Henry Armstrong. He would've defeated Roberto Duran and both Benny and Sugar Ray Leonard. He'll win titles up to super-middleweight for a total of 10 weight divisions before he retires from boxing. He'll destroy Mayweather when they fight. He can't be hurt and can solve any fighter's boxing style. Those are just some of the things that were echoed by some fans and writers about superstar Manny Pacquiao over the last couple years before his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Back then Pacquiao wasn't thought to be human.
Now that welterweight title holders Floyd Mayweather 42-0 (26) and Manny Pacquiao 54-3-2 (38) have once again managed to side step each other, let the hype begin for their upcoming bouts with Miguel Cotto 37-2 (30) and Timothy Bradley 28-0 (12). If we know nothing else, we know that Mayweather-Pacquiao or Pacquiao-Mayweather if it ever happens, will undoubtedly be realized long after the sell-by date.
By the time Mayweather meets Cotto on May 5th, the anticipation for the fight will be at a crescendo. You can bet everything you own that Mayweather's WWE style of promoting a fight will be in full bloom. Add to that Floyd's willingness to assume the role of the villain, something he does remarkably well, boxing fans will be chomping at the bit to buy the fight with the hope of seeing Cotto separate Floyd from his senses. (Note: Lotierzo filed this before Mayweather's Lin Tweet) Aside from that there's not much intrigue to the fight. It doesn't take someone with a high boxing acumen to grasp that Mayweather is the fresher fighter who also holds the style advantage.
Mayweather will beat Cotto conclusively and then try to convince the boxing world that he's the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in history because of it, despite it being five years after the time when it would've really meant something. Everyone knows that the Mayweather MO never changes. Pick a name fighter to fight after he's been beaten and on the decline, and brag about the feat as if it's Randy Turpin upsetting Sugar Ray Robinson afterwards.
However, the story around Manny Pacquiao as he approaches the Bradley fight on June 9th is much different. Remember when Pacquiao was thought of as being one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history after he took apart a game Miguel Cotto in 2009? Pacquiao looked so good that night it was scary. Then he fought Joshua Clottey, who after two rounds decided that he'd rather lose every round and claim a moral victory in going the distance, than fight to win and chance getting embarrassed. After Clottey he fought a rusty and ponderous Antonio Margarito at a catchweight, and aside from being hurt once during the bout, he won going away. After Margarito, he sparred Shane Mosley for 12 rounds, who looked as if he knew his skills had been long gone and just wanted to keep his record alive of having never been stopped in his career. Yet, even against a complicit Mosley, Pacquiao didn't look spectacular.
In his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny was constantly a step behind and looked as if he saw a style in Marquez that he'd never seen before, despite sharing the same ring with him for 24 rounds over two fights between 2004 and 2008. After the Marquez bout, there were several fan polls taken in which an overwhelming majority of those who saw the fight thought Pacquiao lost.
Prior to Marquez III, Pacquiao got the benefit of every doubt in a hypothetical fight against other past all-time greats that he was matched with. It's always been crazy to think Manny was the equal of Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, but it went beyond that. Some ill souls even suggested that he was equal to or better than Sugar Ray Robinson and Harry Greb. Then he fought Marquez this past November and those type of conversations seemed to disappear.
So the question now is: Has enough time passed for passionate boxing fans to have forgotten that he's human?
As of February 2012, Manny doesn't even get the benefit of the doubt against Mayweather in a hypothetical fight, let alone Duran and Leonard. In all honesty, Manny's persona as being this supernova flashing across the galaxy isn't what it was a year ago. There used to be talk of him winning titles up to super-middleweight without losing more than a round or two along the way. Now he's fighting Timothy Bradley and he's not even considered a mortal lock in that fight. Granted, Bradley's an undefeated highly skilled junior welterweight, but to be given a chance against Pacquiao, where'd that come from?
Perhaps it came from fans and media overreacting to one fight or showing, something that I too may have been a victim of for a brief spell. Then again I never went past thinking that he was perhaps Mayweather's equal, but never beyond that. Never for a fleeting moment did I see him in the league with the former greats mentioned above.
Pacquiao is now in a no win situation.
If he doesn't take Bradley apart and beat him decisively, some will begin to question if Pacquiao ever was nearly as great as he was perceived to be, and how Mayweather messed up and waited too long to fight him. On the other hand, if he destroys Bradley, it'll be said after the fight that other than beating Devon Alexander, Bradley wasn't such a world beater either.
It's amazing how one fight or game can rightly or wrongly change the perception of an athlete or team. Two weeks before the NFL playoffs began, the New York Giants (7-6) lost a home game 23-10 to the Washington Redskins (4-9). Who in the world would've taken a bet that the Giants would win the NFC East after that, let alone not lose another game the rest of the year and go onto win the Super Bowl? That would be nobody including the biggest Giants homer in the world.
Prior to fighting Marquez last November, many fans viewed Pacquiao as unbeatable. Since winning a gift decision over him last November, those same fans can easily envision him having his hands full with Timothy Bradley. That is unless they've already forgot that he's human.