By Cliff Rold
Many a fan has asked the question: what would it take for a modern fighter to make a run at Sugar Ray Robinson’s hold on the mythical top of the sport’s all-time ratings?
It may be the answer is nothing.
If not, the answer is that we are witnessing it in our time.
On Saturday night, with a frightening precision, the same Manny Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KO) who came from behind on December 4, 1998, to knock out lineal and WBC World Flyweight champion Chatchai Sasakul in the eighth round with a single punch, walked through lineal World Junior Welterweight champion Ricky Hatton (45-2, 32 KO) in one second shy of six minutes.
In doing so, Pacquiao became only the second man to make title claims in six weight divisions and the first man ever to win lineal World titles in four weight classes.
Before examining the magnitude of this accomplishment, we begin with a quick glance at the post fight report card.
Pre-Fight - Speed: Pacquiao A; Hatton B/Post-Fight: A; B-
Pre-Fight - Power: Pacquiao B+; Hatton B/Post-Fight: A; Incomplete
Pre-Fight - Defense: Pacquiao B; Hatton B-/Post-Fight: A; D-
Pre-Fight - Intangibles: Pacquiao A; Hatton B+/Post-Fight: A+; B
In the first couple minutes, Hatton showed signs of a sound strategy. He was tying up, going to the body in close, attempting to test the physicality of Pacquiao. Then a lead right hook sent him down for the first of three knockdowns and it was a game of survival he couldn’t win. What punches he did land seemed to have no effect and Pacquiao’s speed left Hatton without any recourse.
At the least, fans got another look at Hatton’s fighting heart. He was trying to stay in the fight but Pacquiao showed off what may be his greatest intangible asset. When the biggest moments have been upon him, he punctuates his performances and seizes his moments.
There really isn’t much to add to Pacquiao’s performance and no need to pile on Hatton. The fight was what it was. In its wake, the page turns to the historical ramifications.
Prior to Saturday night, eight men besides Pacquiao had laid claim to titles in four, five or six weight divisions. In the weeks leading to Pacquiao-Hatton, this corner looked at each of their accomplishments in the following series of title history profiles:
Four Division Claimants
Roberto Duran - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19025
Pernell Whitaker - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19117
Roy Jones Jr. & Leo Gamez - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19243
Five Division Claimants
Sugar Ray Leonard - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19317
Thomas Hearns - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19427
Floyd Mayweather Jr. - http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19516
And the lone Six Division Claimant
Oscar De La Hoya – http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=19638
Pacquiao’s initial five title claims were also examined (http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=18886), tallying lineal (real, legitimate, man who beat the man…whatever the hell one calls it) World titles at Flyweight, Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight.
Of the other eight men examined, only Leonard, Mayweather and De La Hoya could join Pacquiao as three-division lineal champions.
They all stand a step behind him in terms of title accomplishment now.
Titles though are only one way greatness, or even really goodness, is measured in boxing. Leo Gamez won titles in four weight divisions and is probably a long shot to get on the ballot much less ever make the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Who gets defeated on the way to building the ol’ trophy case matters greatly in weighing what it all means.
On those terms, Pacquiao is in high cotton.
In amassing now four lineal World titles, he has defeated the best available fighter in the weight class he’s contesting in all four times and two of those men (Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez) are lock, first ballot Hall of Famers.
In collecting two other titles, at Jr. Featherweight and Lightweight against Lehlo Ledwaba and David Diaz, he defeated a man who was making a case as the best in his class and a former Olympian who was at least a solid top ten player at the time.
There are also style points to consider. The Hatton win was all style as no one had ever manhandled the British favorite before. Five of Pacquiao’s six total title wins ended similarly. They ended by knockout. Of those five, only Sasakul was really competitive and, as short term memory will provide, there are many who still argue the decision in the lone title winning fight which went the distance, that being against Marquez last year (there are still fine arguments about their first fight at Featherweight as well).
Already the message boards which make up the heartbeat of hardcore fandom are proclaiming Pacquiao’s detonation of Hatton as a validation of greatness. This being boxing, there will always be cynics and those minds may caution that greatness is not proved by beating Ricky Hatton alone.
It hasn’t been.
Greatness is a product of a body of work. Hatton is merely the icing on the cake.
Pacquiao was one fourth of what will long be remembered as one of the great quartets in any area of the scale ever assembled, a Featherweight/Jr. Lightweight crop highlighted by Barrera, Marquez, and another future Hall of Famer Erik Morales. Pacquiao was 5-1-1 with three knockouts, losing only to Morales in a hellacious fight.
Prior to Pacquiao, no fighter had ever officially won the Flyweight and Featherweight crowns (Fighting Harada was robbed of the feat). Before Pacquiao, only former Flyweight king Fidel LaBarba had ever come close in ultimately failing to win the Jr. Lightweight honors.
In his post-fight wrap, ESPN’s Dan Rafael pointed out that “there are more divisions now than there were back in the era of fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson” but it’s worth noting that the Jr. Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight titles were worn by Hall of Famers like Kid Chocolate and Jack Berg while Robinson was still a child. These are deep, storied realms.
It is also noteworthy that, in leaping from Flyweight to Jr. Featherweight after being stopped for the Flyweight crown in 1999, Pacquiao skipped over the modern Jr. Bantamweight and classic Bantamweight classes altogether. Having turned pro at 106 lbs. (Jr. Flyweight) and succeeding as high as Welterweight against that division’s former champion Oscar De La Hoya last year, Pacquiao has won in ten modern weight classes and beaten a current or former World champion in five of the original eight.
That’s a body of work for the ages.
It’s not finished yet.
The now reigning Jr. Welterweight king exited the MGM Grand on Saturday night with options sure to keep the sport buzzing in the coming months. No matter what had happened against Hatton or what happens from here, Pacquiao is an all-time great. The game from here out is about where he’ll place with the legends.
July 16 will play heavily into that plot. Mayweather pending return to face the current World Lightweight champion Marquez will be a fight Mayweather is expected to win, moving him to 40-0. Fight number 41 would logically be Pacquiao. It’s by far the biggest money maker in the game right now and the closest Pacquiao will get to a prime fighter with the physical attributes of a Robinson.
And it’s not a fight where the stakes would be all in Pacquiao’s favor. A win over this Pacquiao would get more than a few serious looks from fight aficionados who have thus far scoffed at Mayweather’s previous claims of being the better of the original Sugar man.
Should Marquez pull the upset over Mayweather, a rubber match with Pacquiao would take the place of Mayweather-Pacquiao as the must-see bout of 2009’s second half though not necessarily the automatic showdown. A Marquez win could open the door for Welterweights Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto to lure Pacquiao into their wheel house for a shot at a seventh divisional belt.
In other words, Pacquiao has the right options to expand his resume, meaning fans will have more opportunities for real history in their time sooner than later.
Enjoy this while it lasts because it doesn’t get much better.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]