The Measure of a Man: Floyd’s Great, Pacquiao Is Greater

Pacquiao opens camp 120507 008aLast Saturday, as I watched Floyd Mayweather dig down deeper than I’d ever seen before to outlast the hard-charging and brave Miguel Cotto, I could not help but come away impressed. Going into the championship rounds with a bloody nose and, most assuredly, in a close contest, Mayweather was as advertised—money. He blanked Cotto over the final three rounds on my scorecard and even had the proud champion holding on for dear life in the twelfth.It was truly a virtuoso performance from a brilliant fighter I have long admired as the best in the sport.

But then it hit me. Floyd Mayweather is an all-time great, but Manny Pacquiao is an all-time greater.

It’s been an interesting debate for fight fans through the years, and it’s one I’ve long sided on with those in Mayweather’s corner. And with so much time between boxing’s big events, what else is there to do really?Think about it: NFL fans get games every week. MLB fans get entire series of games all week long. The NBA plays what seems like every other day. Then, at the end of their seasons they get a championship game—a coup de grace.

Meanwhile, boxing fans wait around all year long just for big enough fights to get excited about, and even longer for Super Bowl-type events that never seem to materialize. I’m looking at you, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather.

But fret not, friends, because as boxing fans we are used to it. We accept our boxing broken, as one of our reader contest winners recently put it, and so the debate rages on even though the fight may never actually materialize.

But that’s okay. Heck, how many boxing message boards would be shut down if there were a moratorium on things like whether Joe Louis was greater than Muhammad Ali, or whether Ray Leonard could defeat Ray Robinson?

Have no fear: Mayweather versus Pacquiao will live on forever even if the fight never actually happens.

Boxing isn’t statistics-run-amok the way other sports, particularly baseball, can be. Sure, our historians can research data with the best of them, but nothing tells the story of a fighter’s greatness quite like the combined measure our heads and hearts give us.

And mine’s telling me Manny Pacquiao should go down in history ranked ahead of Floyd Mayweather.

A good place to start this type of examination is by looking at how the fighters fared against common opponents. Our own Lee Wylie did some comparative analysis of this information just this week.

Suddenly, it's Manny Pacquiao who now appears to be in the driving seat. A quick glance at their respective results against common opponents suggests this;

Pacquiao TKO 8 De La Hoya        Mayweather  SD De La Hoya

Pacquiao TKO 2 Hatton                Mayweather TKO 10 Hatton

Pacquiao TKO 12 Cotto               Mayweather  UD Cotto

Pacquiao  UD Mosley                  Mayweather  UD Mosley *

Pacquiao  UD/SD/D Marquez     Mayweather  UD Marquez

* Pacquiao was more dominant over Mosley than Mayweather was. Unlike Mayweather, Pacquiao scored a knockdown and was never hurt himself.

Really, the only thing Mayweather has done better than Pacquiao against common opponents has been his 2009 decision win over Marquez. While Pacquiao’s battles with Marquez have all been fiercely contested, Mayweather pitched a virtual shut-out in his lone encounter with the great champion.Still, even his shining moment over what Pacquiao did was marred by his refusal to make the contracted catch-weight of 144 pounds. Readers will recall that Marquez had never before fought above 135 pounds and had fought at 130 pounds as recently as the previous year. Meanwhile, Mayweather had campaigned at 140 pounds or higher since 2004, so his coming into the fight at 146 pounds (four pounds over the limit) can’t be easily dismissed.

Of course, boxing analysis isn’t as easy as common opponents. Just because fighter A beats fighter B and fighter B beats fighter C, well it pretty much never means that fighter A will certainly beat fighter C. Boxing doesn’t like math.

There’s more to it than that. As my colleague Bart Barry noted recently from ringside in San Antonio, when was the last time Mayweather came into a fight the underdog and was able to come out the winner? Has Mayweather ever been the underdog? Has he ever tested himself beyond his comfort zone?

Manny Pacquiao sure has. Heck, the first time anyone but the hardest of the hardcore boxing fan saw the guy fight was when he obliterated Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003. His wars with Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez alone give him wins over more fierce competitors than anyone Mayweather has every fought, and raise your hand if you thought Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton were just too big for the Filipino fighter who had started his career at a mere 106 pounds. Am I the only one?

Still, none of that data makes the case entirely. After all, our heads can only do so much for us. We’re boxing fans. So while all that remains to be fact, and even though Mayweather may be a prohibitive favorite over Pacquiao should they ever meet, none of it really gives the answer. Our hearts will tell the tale instead.

Manny Pacquiao’s ferocity inside the ring is magnified by his love for the sport. He seems to revel in fighting. He loves it. He even appears to enjoy getting hit. When the bell rings, Manny Pacquiao is a warrior. Outside the ring, his boyish charm and world class charisma have attracted fans to the sport that otherwise might not be here. His lasting impact on the sport is sure to go down among the elite. He’ll be mentioned in the same breath as other fighters that transcended the sport—Tyson, Ali, Leonard—guys your friends that aren’t boxing fans knew of then and still know now.

In the end, though, all of this is over-complicating something atrociously as easy as this: if both of them were to end their careers today, Manny Pacquiao’s legacy would be secure without ever fighting again. Like it or not, Manny has done more than just about any other fighter ever. He’s won titles in seven different weight classes, he came out the victor in one of boxing’s greatest four man round robins ever, and with his aggressive style and rapid fire approach he’s given fight fans the kinds of thrills and spills that won’t been soon forgotten. Meanwhile, Mayweather, for all his technical brilliance and otherworldly ability, would leave many of us, even some of his biggest fans, bewildered by what might have been had he taken on more challenges and gone after bigger fights.

Mayweather told the media after his brilliant win over Cotto that he was 80/20 on retiring this year. If that’s the case and fight fans never get the fight they’ve longed for, then the odds that boxing historians look more favorably on Pacquiao than Mayweather are even higher, and the odds that this boxing historian does so is about 99/1.

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