Manny looking trim and confident at the Friday weigh in. (Tom Casino photo)
It's fight day and as expected WBO welterweight title holder Manny Pacquiao 52-3-2 (38) was everywhere. He's been on the late night talk shows, he just recently recoded a CD and forget about reading something pertaining to boxing on the Internet, he's plastered all over it. He is in fact the face of boxing and combat sports in 2011. His opponent tonight, former three division champ Shane Mosley, is basically an afterthought and seen by most as a sacrificial lamb.
The hysteria over Pacquiao, 32, is almost Tyson like circa 1986-90. It's probably not a reach to think that the boxing world would be almost as stunned by a Mosley upset over Pacquiao as it was 21 years ago when Buster Douglas shook the planet when he knocked out undisputed and undefeated heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and shattered his myth of being invincible forever.
We better enjoy Pacquiao for however much longer he's around and fighting at his current level. He is without a doubt an all-time great pound-for-pound fighter/boxer and he's really compiled a stellar body of work and he's not done. Amazingly just a little over five years ago he was seen as a noticeably flawed fighter. In Pacquiao we have a fighter who was an established multiple division title holder who has ascended to almost a deity. Has any other fighter made a transition like that as completely as Pacquiao has?
Just five or so years ago as an established fighter he was seen more or less the equal of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. And it was around that same time that he was viewed as a one-armed fighter who fought sporadically, rushed his punches, didn't have anything close to good balance, and he even was stopped twice. Today, his stoppage defeats are thought of as something that happened to him in another lifetime, and for good reason. He's never been close to being stopped in almost 12-years.
Heading into tonight's bout with Mosley, Pacquiao is correctly viewed as a complete fighter. The balance and punch variation are tremendous. He's developed a terrific right hand that he uses as a set up or finishing punch. Instead of being all over the place winging his shots, he fights in a natural rhythm in which the intensity escalates as the fight progresses.
There's been mass hysteria over other fighters since Sugar Ray Leonard retired. We had Mike Tyson after Leonard, who before his personal life unraveled was viewed as a genuine life-taker. Back in the day when Mike fought everybody made sure they caught the fight just to see Tyson take someone apart in a brutal fashion. Then there was Oscar De La Hoya. Only Oscar was more of a media creation with crossover appeal who had enough going on around him (including his central casting good looks) that everyone could grasp at something to like or dislike about him. Which ultimately led to a lot of interest and tickets being sold when he fought, regardless of the opponent.
Pacquiao is more in the mold of Tyson. There's interest in Manny when he fights because he's not like many other fighters we've seen. He can box, move, and punch with the best around. He's fast and quick and he throws punches in bunches as a southpaw. And based on some of the shots he was forced to eat against the likes of Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito, if looks as if Manny can also catch with the best of the best as well. Not to mention he's won a piece of a world title in a record setting eight divisions.
And just like it is the case with all great fighters, some question Pacquiao's opposition since he's moved up from lightweight. Remember, these are the fights that pushed him from being regarded as one of today's pound-for-pound greats to being thought of by some as Sugar Ray Robinson's equal. Oscar De La Hoya looked bad against Steve Forbes and Floyd Mayweather before Pacquiao beat the hell out of the corpse that remained. They say Ricky Hatton was a solid fighter who was softened up by Floyd Mayweather before Pacquiao blitzed him. Miguel Cotto was brutalized by a fighter in Antonio Margarito who may have been fighting with loaded hand wraps the night they fought. Not to mention Cotto had to come in at a catch-weight of 145 for a welterweight title bout. Joshua Clottey was a one armed bandit who lost every time he stepped up and fought an elite fighter. And Antonio Margarito only had one fight in a year and a half before fighting Pacquiao in another catch-weight bout. Yes, that's the resume that Manny has strung together that has caused the Pacquiao frenzy. Having said that, it's not so much the level of competition Pacquiao faced in those bouts, it's the brilliance that he showed in dominating them.
Forget about whether or not you buy the above as the be all end all. Those are the fights in which Pacquiao's performance has him being compared to the greatest of the greats. He's surely eclipsed Barrera, Morales and Marquez and has to be thought of as an all-time great by anyone's standards or criteria. He's truly the best the sweet science has to offer today. However, the Robinson comparisons are ridiculous along with some others. But that's an argument for another time.
The question that remains is - has any fighter risen in the public's estimation so dramatically at such a late stage of their career as Pacquiao? I don't know of any.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com