By Cliff Rold
The echoing chorus of drunken Manchester natives is heading across the pond one more time. An island nation will live and die with its idol. May 2nd, it will be Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KO) defending the lineal World Junior Welterweight championship against the consensus pick for pound-for-pound king, Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KO).
Those two names alone make the fight an event.
It doesn’t need more.
The fight has more anyways.
Beneath the glitter, the razzle-dazzle of it all, there lies some real history which demands not to be overlooked. Pacquiao isn’t just challenging for the World Championship at 140 lbs. Pacquiao is challenging for a unique piece of history.
Defeating Hatton would make Pacquiao only the second fighter ever to capture some claim to the title in six weight divisions.
More importantly, more significantly, a Pacquiao win over Hatton arguably makes him the first lineal four-division World Champion in Boxing’s storied annals.
Others have tried; some have come close enough to make a heck of an argument. In the weeks leading up to the big fight, this corner will take a look at the notable fighters who have claimed all or some share of the World title in four, five and six weight divisions and at the end of this series allow readers to forecast just how real the history at hand could be.
The following accomplished champions will be contrasted with Pacquiao over the course of this series:
Four Division Claimants
Roy Jones Jr.
Five Division Claimants
Sugar Ray Leonard
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
And the lone Six Division Claimant
Oscar De La Hoya
The closing piece will go a step further, focusing in on fighters who came close to the feat of four (lineal or otherwise) World titles but fell short, with special attention paid to the fighter of yesteryear who might most closely parallel Pacquiao.
And it’s not Henry Armstrong.
Do any of these men make a strong enough case to deny Pacquiao the history at hand?
We begin of course with Manny Pacquiao. Before any comparison can be made, close examination of the titles he’s collected is in order. How legitimate are his claims? What history supports them and how do they weather the test of time?
Pacquiao’s Title Resume
World Flyweight – KO 8 Chatchai Sasakul: Turned professional at age 16 with a points win over Edmund Ignacio on January 22, 1995, Pacquiao would amass a record of 23-1 en route to his first major title win on December 4, 1999. The WBC recognized Sasakul as champion after a surprising upset of previous conqueror and long-time champion Yuri Arbachakov in 1997.
History also recognized Sasakul as king.
The WBC belt then, and still, also runs parallel to the lineal World championship at Flyweight all the way back to the reign of Miguel Canto. Fittingly, it took a championship bomb to begin Pacquiao’s collection of Gold. The more experienced Sasakul counter punched and outslicked the taller Pacquiao for much of the bout, though the youngster was never out of the fight. Pacquiao at 19 was much more a one-handed fighter then versus the better all-around warrior he’s become under the tutelage of Freddie Roach. Even then, that one hand, the left, was enough if it landed. It did and Sasakul was relieved of the top honors at 112 lbs.
There was one Flyweight during the reign of Arbachakov and later Sasakul who could make a strong case against recognizing the validity of recognizing their lineal claims to the top, but American Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson had moved up to capture gold at 115 lbs. some eight months before Pacquiao’s ascension. Forecast: Clear, Lineal Claim to the World Title
IBF Jr. Featherweight – TKO 6 Lehlo Ledwaba: Pacquiao wouldn’t rest atop the Flyweights very long. Basic biology was pushing Pacquiao up the scale and in his second defense a body shot from Medgoen Singsurat ended his reign in the third round. Pacquiao immediately skipped past both the Jr. Bantamweight and Bantamweight classes, winning six straight inside the distance.
It sounds better than it did at the time. For most of the world in 2001, Pacquiao was just another obscure Asian fighter who they’d, maybe, read the name of briefly when he’d won and lost his Flyweight crown. The world became better informed on June 23 of that year. Often forgotten, Pacquiao was brought in as a late-substitute to feed the burgeoning stardom of South Africa’s highly touted Ledwaba, then 33-1-1, on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo. Anyone who bought the card or bought a ticket left with a revelatory sensation.
Showing off violent speed and power, Pacquiao bludgeoned Ledwaba in one-sided fashion. So impressive was he that HBO’s Larry Merchant began touting Pacquiao as a top-ten pound-for-pound level guy shortly thereafter, a prescient observation scoffed at when first made.
As eye-opening as it was, 122 lbs. would represent one of Pacquiao’s softer claims to a title for a number of reasons.
Budding star or not, Ledwaba was not firmly established as the king at Jr. Featherweight. Pacquiao’s follow-up to Ledwaba was a foul-filled unification bout with WBO titlist Agapito Sanchez which ended in a technical draw and while Pacquiao ultimately made four defenses, none would come in the division against men who could also viably claim to be the best like Clarence Adams, Paulie Ayala or Oscar Larios (they fought later at 130 lbs.). Hindsight says Pacquiao might well have beaten them all, but they fight the fights for a reason and at 122 those fights didn’t happen. Forecast: Hazy, but always nice to win a belt
World Featherweight – TKO 11 Marco Antonio Barrera: If the Ledwaba win was eye-opening, the Barrera win on November 15, 2003 probably left some scratched corneas in its wake as viewers wondered if they were really seeing what unfolded. Besides a hasty knockdown call against Pacquiao early on, it was all Manny as he dished out a beating against a man already regarded as a future Hall of Famer.
Unable to blunt the advantage in speed held by the Filipino, Barrera resorted to blatant fouls as the fight wore on despite numerous warnings from the official. It was enough to speculate about whether Barrera was trying to be disqualified. The poor display of character compounded an awful night finally ended by the corner when even broken rules couldn’t break the tide.
There are some who for various reasons refuse to recognize Pacquiao’s claim to the Featherweight crown, some out of ignorance, many because there was no alphabelt attached and/or because the only notable title attached was the editorially administered Ring Magazine belt.
They are all wrong.
One can view the lineage of the World Featherweight crown won that night as descending from Eusebio Pedroza in the mid-1980s. If not there, Boxing Scene’s Jake Donovan reminded in his recent series on lineal titles that
Those with even a basic understanding of what makes a definitive leader could easily identify Naseem Hamed’s body of work in the mid-to-late 1990’s. Only sanctioning body politics stood in the way of Hamed owning all of the featherweight real estate. Wins over Steve Robinson, Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson, Wilfredo Vazquez and Cesar Soto came at a time when all were either titlists or fresh from being stripped for no good reason.
There was also Barrera’s second win over Erik Morales for the Ring title as the magazine managed to catch up their own historical recognition of Pedroza, this coming after Barrera had already mangled Hamed for lineal rights. No matter where the start point is identified, the history all ended up on the same waist and Pacquiao became the first man to officially capture the lineal World Flyweight and Featherweight crowns. Forecast: Clear, Lineal Claim to the World Title
World Jr. Lightweight – SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez: Ironically, the path leading to Pacquiao’s third world title would begin and end with the same foe. In his first defense of the Featherweight crown in April 2004, Pacquiao dropped Marquez, then the WBA and IBF titlist at 126 lbs, thrice en route to a draw which still provokes debate. The rematch seemed obvious but was not immediate. Instead Pacquiao would head up the scale four pounds for his only loss to date outside the Flyweight arena. Over twelve, he was outboxed and outfoxed in what may have been the last great performance from Erik Morales. The loss would be avenged twice by stoppage. Another decision victory over Marco Antonio Barrera, who had lost his WBC Jr. Lightweight title to Marquez one fight earlier, set up the rematch nearly four years in the making on March 15, 2008.
It was worth the wait. A third-round knockdown would provide Pacquiao a single point edge on the scorecard of judge Tom Miller to avoid yet another draw in yet another classic encounter. Going into the bout, the Ring had announced they would recognize the winner as champion and it was the right choice. The gap between Pacquiao and Marquez, and almost everyone else at 130 (save, maybe, Joan Guzman), was such that the winner could be recognized as nothing less than the division’s first true World Champion since Floyd Mayweather departed in 2002. As had been the case one division lower, Pacquiao was the first to officially add this divisional crown to a career begun with 112 lb. laurels. Forecast: Clear, Lineal Claim to the World Title
WBC Lightweight: Pacquiao’s title run, so far, ends with the June 28, 2008 nine-round rout of David Diaz. It was, overall, his fifth title in five weight classes. Considering he’s skipped 115 and 118, and turned professional weight under the Jr. Flyweight limit at 106 lbs., it marked a span of eight divisions competed across. One fight later, he’d topple former World Welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya in a Welterweight non-title fight already documented enough to expand to a spectrum of nine weight classes.
Focused here on titles, the Diaz win, like the Ledwaba win, falls into the category of ‘it’s nice to win a belt.’ Entering the fight, Diaz was regarded as a mid-level top ten Lightweight at best. The lineal claim then still rested with Joel Casamayor while there was a populist sentiment for Nate Campbell. Diaz wasn’t really in the debate and Pacquiao really didn’t make much of a case to be considered the World Lightweight champion. Nonetheless, considering the perceived size difference and Diaz’s past as an Olympian, the devastating nature of the win was impressive. Forecast: Hazy to the point of foggy
So there we are; the Pacquiao bona fides in terms of titles won. Make no mistake. There is no haze to the claim of Ricky Hatton. He has never lost at 140 lbs., has only lost once at all to the great Floyd Mayweather, and defeated a great fighter, Kostya Tszyu, to make his claim to the throne. Since the Tszyu win in 2005, he’s defended his title five times but none were bigger than this. Hatton’s claim to the throne puts Pacquiao in a position to compete with the fighter in the ring and the history all around it.
The competition with history will begin to be put under the microscope in Part II with a look at the titles of the great Roberto Duran.
The Weekly Ledger
As always, there’s more:
One-Ring Circus: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18785
Ortiz and Kirkland: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18820
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18843
The Top 20 Jr. Lightweights: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18873
Kelly Pavlik-Sergio Mora? Really? I know ‘not enough people have heard of Arthur Abraham’ but haven’t enough people seen Mora to know not to want to see this? To think Jermain Taylor got grief for defending the Middleweight title against Kasim Ouma and Cory Spinks…Wladimir Klitschko can’t find an opponent and the sport doesn’t miss him. Take your time…This weekend should be hot with Bute-Zuniga on Friday and Barrera-Khan on Saturday. The best part about Barrera-Khan? It will be over early enough to leave viewers with the rest of their Saturday night. No matter how much better crowds get, asking people to follow a sport almost exclusively held late Saturday night on the East Coast is a ceiling to audience mass.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org