In recent years, there has been a lot of commentary regarding the place that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao hold among the all-time greats. Pacquiao’s admirers concede that Manny has passed his peak. Mayweather’s partisans maintain that Floyd is as good as ever and mention him in the same breath as Sugar Ray Robinson. Each man is scheduled to appear in a major pay-per-view fight later this year. As those fights draw near, historical comparisons are expected to fill the air.
How good are Mayweather and Pacquiao? Or to rephrase the question the way their admirers would like it to be, “How great are they?”
To put their considerable skills in context, I chose eight fighters for a “fantasy” round-robin tournament at 147-pounds.
The fighters, in alphabetical order, are Roberto Duran, Emile Griffith, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Aaron Pryor, and Sugar Ray Robinson.
The list is limited to welterweights from Sugar Ray Robinson’s championship reign to date. It doesn’t include earlier champions like Mickey Walker, Barney Ross, and Henry Armstrong (each of whom competed successfully at 147 pounds).
All of the fighters chosen for the tournament fought at one time or another at weights other than welterweight. Roberto Duran was at his most dominating as a lightweight, although he handed Sugar Ray Leonard his first loss at 147 pounds. Aaron Pryor’s peak performances were at 140. But Teddy Atlas offered his take on that recently, saying, “I don’t think anyone was too big for Aaron Pryor.”
Issues such as same-day weigh-ins versus day-before weigh-ins might also be considered by purists.
But at the end of the day, either a fighter is very good, great, or the greatest.
Twenty-eight experts participated in the rankings process. Listed alphabetically, the panelists are:
Trainers: Teddy Atlas, Dan Birmingham, Pat Burns, Naazim Richardson, and Don Turner.
Media: Al Bernstein, Steve Farhood, Jerry Izenberg, Dan Rafael, Michael Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schaap.
Matchmakers: Jerry Alfano, Eric Bottjer, Don Elbaum, Bobby Goodman, Brad Goodman, Charles Jay, Ron Katz, Mike Marchionte , Chris Middendorf, Russell Peltz, and Bruce Trampler.
Historians: Craig Hamilton, Bob Mee, Clay Moyle, Adam Pollack, Randy Roberts, and Mike Silver.
The panelists were asked to assume for each hypothetical fight that both fighters were at the point in their career when they were the best they could be and still able to make 147 pounds.
If each of the eight fighters listed above had fought the other seven, there would have been 28 fights. And there were 28 panelists. Thus, 784 fights were entered in the data base.
Every fight on this list would have been a MEGA-event.
Fighters were awarded one point for each predicted win and a half-point for each predicted draw (too close to call).
A perfect score (each voter predicting that the same fighter would win every one of his fights) would have been 196 points.
The results have been tabulated. The rankings are:
Sugar Ray Robinson 189.5 points
Sugar Ray Leonard 156.0
Thomas Hearns 112.5
Roberto Duran 93.5
Floyd Mayweather 79.0
Emile Griffith 60.5
Aaron Pryor 59.5
Manny Pacquiao 33.5
PART TWO, analyzing the underlying data, will be posted tomorrow.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Sports: Remembering the Journey) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.