By Robert Morales
Manny Pacquiao has graced the professional boxing world with his presence for the past 16 years, since he turned pro in January 1995 at the age of 16. Much has been made of the success he has had in eight weight classes, having won major-governing body world titles in six and people's-champion titles in two others.
Unquestionably, Pacquiao - who will defend his welterweight title against "Sugar" Shane Mosley on Saturday at MGM Grand in Las Vegas - will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection five years after he retires.
But as good as he has been, it's difficult not to wonder how he would have done against the likes of Roberto Duran as a lightweight, Aaron Pryor as a junior welterweight and Sugar Ray Leonard as a welterweight. After all, none of the fighters Pacquiao has beaten from lightweight to welterweight - David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito - are in the same class as any of those three.
De La Hoya might have been the closest, but he was so drained when he fought Pacquiao he looked like he was fighting without a single carbohydrate in his system - as was the observation of Hall of Fame welterweight champion Carlos Palomino.
Well, we spoke with Leonard via telephone Tuesday. He had some very intriguing observations. Interestingly, he didn't automatically say Pacquiao couldn't hang against himself, Duran and Pryor, like some might expect he would. He did say that the competition in his day was superior to today's.
"But that's not Pacquiao's fault, it's not (Floyd) Mayweather's fault," said Leonard, fresh off a stint on Dancing With the Stars.
Leonard said that trying to handicap a fight between boxers of different eras is strictly a hypothetical proposition.
"But that is what makes boxing tick, when people say can this guy beat that guy? Can Sugar Ray Leonard beat Sugar Ray Robinson?" he said.
And even though Duran is considered by some as the greatest lightweight ever, Pryor was fierce and tremendous at junior welterweight and Leonard was awesome at welterweight, Leonard did not shoot down Pacquiao against any of the three.
"Duran was a better boxer than people gave him credit for," Leonard said. "He hit like a ton of bricks and he had such a great chin. That would be a fight. Both would be so energetic. Both guys would whale away at each other."
Leonard wouldn't pick a winner.
Then we talked about Pacquiao-Pryor and it was like an antenna went up on Leonard's head.
"Oh, man, that's a fight I would like to see," he said. "Pryor was a monster. He was like the Tasmanian Devil in there."
But again, Leonard would not just hand the victory to Pryor, whose biggest claim to fame was two knockout victories over Alexis Arguello.
"Each punches with serious conviction," Leonard said. "Both have great speed and power and huge balls."
As far as a fight between himself and Pacquiao, Leonard said that like any good champion he never thought he could lose to anybody.
Still, he took a humble road.
"I'm physically bigger than Manny Pacquiao and my speed was ... I don't know how to measure speed but ...," Leonard said, as if to suggest he had superior hand speed.
"Manny throws more punches than I threw. He throws like a ton on punches. I think I was a little more defensive than he was. It would be a cat-and-mouse game. There is not one way to beat Manny. I would try a number of things."
Leonard intimated that the long and the short of it is, Pacquiao has shown enough to where he would be given a chance against any of the aforementioned greats, or anyone else of that caliber, for that matter.
"Yeah, anyone that has that kind of hand speed and that kind of bravado, the heart and balls, that guy can hold his own against anyone," Leonard said. "Forget about Pacquiao. Put another fighter that has great hand speed, great natural attributes - hand speed, power, courage - yeah, he hangs in there."
Finally, Leonard was was told that some in the industry believe Pacquiao's accomplishments have been overstated because his opponents since moving up to lightweight and above seemingly have been made-to-order. Leonard wouldn't have any of that.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't hear about Pacquiao's demolition of Margarito and his demolition of De La Hoya and all the fights he's had," Leonard said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's all that really matters. He's a star, he's a good guy and he's been good for boxing. So, it's hard for me to knock that."
Not surprisingly, Pacquiao wouldn't even consider where he might rank among the greats of this sport.
"I never think of comparing myself to anybody," he said. "I don't like my accomplishments to compare to anybody. Of what I have right now and accomplished in boxing, I'm happy for that. And I'm happy because I'm giving happiness and enjoyment to the people."
Pacquiao is promoted by Bob Arum, who can't say enough about his Filipino superstar. At Pacquiao's recent media workout at Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Arum was asked if Pacquiao could be the greatest fighter ever. Arum started fast, but quickly reeled himself in.
"Yeah, he could be," said Arum, who has been promoting boxing for 45 years. "I mean, I'm limited to the fighters I've seen because I've never seen Ray Robinson, I never saw Joe Louis, I never saw Benny Leonard. So of the fighters I've seen, I would rank him as the best."
And Pacquiao's Trainer?
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, was asked where he thinks Pacquiao might belong among all-time greats. Top five? Top 10?
"I think he's top 10," Roach said. "I mean, his eight world titles will never be duplicated in our lifetime. It's hard for me to say he's better than Duran and Sugar Ray Robinson and stuff like that. I wouldn't say that, but I would say he's the best fighter of his era."
Mosley Wins If ...
Leonard spoke briefly about Mosley's chances Saturday.
"The only way that Mosley wins is that he goes back in time," Leonard said. "All of a sudden he finds that button, that he wakes up on the morning of the fight and feels like a fuc***g million dollars. He is pumped, his eyes are wide open, those legs come to life, his hands come to life, he comes to life. Then it could be an early Fourth of July."
Arum: Mosley Win Would Not Be Huge Upset
Much has been made about the notion that a Mosley victory Saturday would be an upset of gargantuan proportions. Mosley is 39 and past his prime. Pacquiao is 32 and in his prime.
But Arum isn't buying that.
"No," Arum said. "Nobody can count Shane Mosley out of a fight. Shane Mosley is a real warrior, is a really good, good fighter, particularly when he's fighting a guy who brings the fight to him. So if Shane were to win, it would be an upset, yes, but not one of the greatest upsets ever."
"I think Bob's right on," Mosley said via telephone last week from his camp in Big Bear.
"Like with me, I don't think it would be an upset at all."
He doesn't mind if everyone else thinks it would be.
"In anybody else's mind, they think it's going to be an upset," Mosley said. "So, I'll roll with that."
Mosley had a lot to ponder this day. He spoke softly, almost too softly at times. For example, he knows how fortunate he is to, four months shy of his 40th birthday, be fighting boxing's pound-for-pound king.
"This is definitely a great accomplishment, to be in the ring with somebody of Manny Pacquiao's stature," Mosley said.
But there are a lot of people out there who don't believe Mosley is worthy of such a fight after his performances in his most recent two fights - a wide decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and draw with Sergio Mora.
"Very disrespectful people," he said, when asked what he says to those who believe he doesn't belong in this fight. "I really don't say anything to them. They can believe what they want."
He also had a thought or two about those who expect him to get blown out by Pacquiao, who won't turn 33 until three months after Mosley turns 40.
"It gives me some kind of fire that people don't ... I mean, there are a lot of naysayers, and people who just kind of go with the grain sometimes of who's hot at the time. So that's just the way it is. You can't cry over spilled milk. I just go ahead and do what I do. I know what I can do.
"If you don't believe in yourself, who is going to believe in you? I believe in my ability, I believe in what I can do, and go out there and fight."
Richardson on Pacquiao
Mosley is trained by Naazim Richardson, who has done well with another aging boxer by the name of Bernard Hopkins, who at 46 remains a world-class fighter. Richardson was asked about Pacquiao recently, and he came with a very interesting assessment of Pacquiao's way of going about his business.
"Pacquiao is not tailor-made for anyone," Richardson said. "Pacquiao offers opportunities because he's a gladiator. He offers those opportunities, but he may limit those opportunities in dealing with Shane. There is still a strategy involved with every gladiator."
Richardson therefore is not convinced Pacquiao is going to just go toe-to-toe with Mosley.
"I don't believe that even Pacquiao will stand there and fight with Shane," he said. "As aggressive as he has been with those other guys, I mean, you can't stay aggressive with Shane. Pacquiao is capable of doing other things and I, for one, believe that he's going to do other things."
Dancing With Stress
Leonard last month was the third star to be booted off Dancing With the Stars. He laughed when asked about the show.
"That was the most stressful and challenging thing I've done in a long time," he said. "We had like three weeks to learn one dance, then we had like five or six days to learn the next one. And it was like, 'Whoa.' "
Leonard said that ballroom dancing is completely opposite of what a fighter is supposed to do in two ways. As a fighter, you don't want your shoulders squared up and your chin in the air. But you do in ballroom dancing, he said.
Leonard said he will dance on the season finale later this month, and that he has actually been asked by a company in Turkey to come and dance over there.