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45 Greatest Fighters of the Last 45 Years – 11: Manny Pacquiao

manny pacquiao greatest

Manny Pacquiao was the first legendary fighter over the last 45 years that my fighter never had the opportunity to see fight. He didn’t make his American television debut on HBO until June 23, 2001, 11 months after my father passed away. My father would’ve love seeing Manny fight. Manny’s signature angles and constant pressure would’ve made my father smile in amazement. He would’ve also picked apart his flaws by explaining to me the perfect styles to defeat such a whirlwind. I also firmly believed that my father would’ve agreed with me ranking Manny as the 11th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.

After 64 amateur fights, the young southpaw turned pro at the the tender age of 16 in his native Philippines. Manny won 23 of his first 24 fights that earned him his first world title fight opportunity just two weeks short of his 20th birthday. On December 4, 1998, Manny knocked out WBC flyweight champion Chatchai Sakul in the eighth round on the reigning champion’s Thailand hometown to win his first world title. Nine months later, on September 17, 1999, Manny went back to Thailand and lost his title via brutal third round knockout to Thai challenger Medgoen Singsurat. Pacquiao wouldn’t lose again until five and a half years later.

Less than two years after getting knocked out by Singsurat, Manny migrated to America and hired Freddie Roach as his new trainer. Roach redefined Manny’s whirlwind Tasmanian Devil style offense to include utilization of dizzying angles that would accentuate his incredible hand and foot speed. Immediate dividends were paid off as Pacquiao destroyed Lehlo Ledwaba via sixth round stoppage in his very first fight in the United States on June 23, 2001 to win the IBF 122-pound crown. After three successful defenses of the 122-pound title, Pacquiao moved up to 126 pounds to face Mexican legend and Ring featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera. He was the first legendary fighter Manny would face in what undoubtedly I figured would be a difficult fight for the Filipino southpaw. I was completely wrong.

On November 15, 2003, Manny put on the first of many virtuoso performances against legendary prizefighters. Manny totally suffocated the cagey Barrera, who was a 4-1 favorite, the entire evening. The predominantly Mexican crowd in attendance at the San Antonio Alamodome were in awe at how Barrera was easily manhandled by the speed and power of the Pac-Man. Manny dropped Barrera twice before Barrera’s trainer Rudy Perez entered the ring to stop the massacre. A new boxing star had been birthed. In his very next fight, Pacquiao would engage in the birth of one of the greatest rivalries in boxing history.

On the evening of May 8, 2004, Pacquiao faced another Mexican legend. Juan Manuel Marquez stepped into the ring to defend his WBA and IBF 126-pound titles against the Philippine Ring champion whirlwind. Pacquiao was expected to continue on his mercurial rise since coming to America a few years before. The first round was exactly what people expected. Manny came out like a house on fire, knocking Marquez down three times before somehow the champion survived the end of the round. Over the next few rounds, Marquez cleared his head and began to counter the aggressive Pacquiao with pinpoint right cross counters. The fight ended in a draw which showed just how great Marquez was in recovering from a seemingly insurmountable first round.

Ten months later Pacquiao moved up to 130 to face his third Mexican legend in less than two years. On March 19, 2005, Manny faced the fading Erik Morales. I thought for sure Morales was going to be cannon fodder for the 26 year-old-Pacquiao. I was shocked when Morales put on the performance of a lifetime. Over 12 hard-fought rounds, Morales neutralized Manny’s aggression and speed by boxing from the outside and utilizing his great left jab. Morales, in the final great victory of his career, won a hard fought decision over the Pac-Man. Pacquiao gained vengeance against Morales twice in 2006 by violently knocking Morales out. Then after winning decisions in subsequent rematches versus Barrera and Marquez, Manny and Roach decided to take his career to another level.

On December 6, 2008, Pacquiao moved all the way up to 147 pounds to face another legend and the most marketable fighter of the decade, Oscar de la Hoya. I thought for sure Oscar was too big and strong for Manny to have a shot at winning. Once again the Pac-Man proved me wrong as he gave Oscar the worst beating of his storied career. The fight was a one-sided thrashing until Oscar quit in his corner after round eight. At this point in time, the 29-year-old Pacquiao and 31-year-old Floyd Mayweather had become the two most marketable fighters on the planet. It only made sense both financially and historically for these two men to fight. Unfortunately, both men allowed obstacles to delay what could’ve been a memorable fight had they fought right after Manny’s one-sided shellacking of de la Hoya.

While negotiations stalled between Manny and Floyd, Pacquiao instead fought the best available competition not named Mayweather. Manny’s next five fights saw him capture world titles at 140, 147 and 154 pounds while destroying Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley. None of these fights were close to being competitive. He violently knocked out Hatton in the second round and brutalized the other three each over 12 rounds. There seemed to be no stopping the now universally recognized greatest Filipino fighter of all time. However, once again, he fought his Achilles heel in Juan Manuel Marquez.

On November 12, 2011, Pacquiao and Marquez fought to a damn near standstill. Once again, the Filipino great Pacquiao won, this time via majority decision. Both men decided right away that they needed to fight a fourth time in order to decide once and for all who the superior fighter was. Before that fourth fight occurred, Pacquiao lost his WBO 147-pound title in one of the worst decisions in boxing history to Timothy Bradley on June 9, 2012. Manny completely out=punched, out-hustled and out-fought Bradley only to get fleeced out of his title by two of the three judges. Despite the highway robbery, Manny and Marquez decided to once again fight for a fourth time on December 8, 2012.

As great as the first three fights were, the fourth and final fight between the two legends was easily the most action-packed fight of the series. Marquez gave Manny hell because of his innate ability to counter Manny’s relentless southpaw style with his accurate and punishing right cross. Finally, Marquez knocked Manny down for the first time in their series with a crisp right cross in the third round. Manny was able to get up and survive the round. The fifth round was the single most scintillating round of the series. Pacquiao landed his signature left cross early in the round to score a flash knockdown. Marquez came roaring back and slugged it out with the Philippine legend for the rest of the round. Then came the iconic moment in the fight.

Round six saw Manny dominate for the entire round until right before the end of the round when he walked into one of the greatest right crosses ever landed in boxing history. Marquez’s right was so accurate and potent that Manny was unconscious the second he was hit and fell face-first to the canvas. Referee Kenny Bayless immediately stopped the fight as Pacquiao laid unconscious for several minutes. It was one of the most momentous knockouts in boxing history because of the rare occurrence of a legendary fighter like Manny getting put to sleep in that fashion.

It look like the Marquez knockout would be the final blow to ending any potential dream match between Pacquiao and Mayweather. However, it was still a matchup fight fans desperately wanted to see happen. Manny won his next three fights, including a very decisive rematch against Bradley. Finally, after over six years of obstacles, the dream fight finally took place on May 2, 2015. The fight was anticlimactic to say the least.

The evening of the fight, my lady took me to the Downtown Brooklyn night club Milk River to see the fight for my 47th birthday. The music, atmosphere and food more than made up for Floyd’s complete domination over a 36-year-old Pac-Man who was unable to penetrate his 37-year-old opponent’s still all-time legendary defensive skills. I had Floyd easily winning 10 of the 12 rounds as he controlled the entire fight with his counterpunching precision and completely negated Manny’s angles and aggression. The fight set a record PPV buys of over four million, a record that will never be broken. Oh, and by the way, as soon as the fight ended, my lady gave me a victory and birthday lap dance on the couch we were sitting on.

Manny fought seven times over the next six years. He had notable wins over Bradley in an unnecessary third fight and convincing decisions over Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman in claiming the WBA 147-pound crown. He signed to fight the best 147-pound champion since Floyd retired, Errol Spence, on August 21, 2021. Unfortunately, just days before the fight, Spence had to withdraw due to a severe eye injury that I felt he received during a near fatal car accident two years prior. Yordenis Ugas instead stepped in as Spence’s replacement and gave Manny a 12 round beating, similar to the one Terry Norris gave Sugar Ray Leonard 30 years ago. Manny’s face was so disfigured that his wife had to feed him for the next several days. Wisely, this would be the final fight of Manny’s iconic career.

Manny Pacquiao escaped extreme poverty while growing up in the Philippines to become the greatest athlete and cultural icon that country has ever produced. He displayed sportsmanship on the same level as boxing great Alexis Arguello. Never throughout his 26-year fistic career did he ever embarrass himself, his country or his family. He fought damn near every great fighter between 122-147 pounds during the 20 years he fought while based in America. He would finally retire at the age of 42 with a spectacular record of 62-8-2 with 39 knockouts. Despite being only 5’5, Manny dominated several men four inches or more taller than him. It is without question that he deserves his ranking as the 11th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.

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