By John Hively

With the retirement of Floyd Mayweather, Manuel Pacquiao is clearly the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter. What’s more, so far he is arguably the greatest fighter of the first decade of this century.

Given that he is primarily a puncher, and those guys usually don’t have long stays at the top, Pacquiao’s longevity is amazing. And just as astonishing, no one can accuse him of ducking anybody at any weight in which he has fought.

Manny destroyed Marco Antonio Barrera in their first bout and triumphed over Eric Morales two out of three. He twice edged Juan Manuel Marquez, although the first bout was scored as a draw only because a judge added his scores incorrectly. All four of these guys are headed for the Hall-of-Fame; and a lot of historians are going to rate them among the top thirty featherweights of all time, and the era they fought in as one of the most talent rich in the division’s history. Manny was the best of the lot.

Coupled with victories over other tough guys, such as Oscar Larios, and given Pac Man’s time at the top, I predict when 2009 ends, most experts will call him the decade’s best, and rightly so.

The recently retired Floyd Mayweather is arguably the number two fighter of the decade—so far. Who knows? Floyd may return and enhance his position. He was unbeaten throughout his career, but unlike Pac Man, he didn’t climb into the ring with everybody he could. He ducked Antonio Margarito for years, and recently it appears he has been avoiding Miguel Cotto. Nonetheless, with victories over the faded, but still formidable, Oscar De La Hoya and the undefeated Ricky Hatton, Mayweather clearly established himself as one of the great fighters of his time, and of all time. One thing Floyd failed to do, however, is attain legendary status.

That’s a difficult thing to determine, but if we loosely define a legendary fighter as one who is willing to take on the best boxers of his era, anywhere near his weight, while fighting during a period featuring strong competition (especially against other Hall of Fame pugilists), and then triumph in the vast majority of these bouts. Add to that in some cases a need and a willingness to fight through adversity against great opponents and still win.

The paragraph above describes the career of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Willie Pep, Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mickey Walker and a lot of others.  Think of Marvin Hagler; how did he respond when Tommy Hearns busted his forehead open in the first round of their classic brawl? Did he grab his unhit groin and drop onto his face in order to get a rest? No! He charged forward until he knocked Hearns out. That’s why Hagler is a legend.

Pac Man has taken on the best in a talent rich era, and he has fought through adversity and mostly triumphed.

Joe Calzaghe is third on my list for fighter of the decade. He is undefeated in his career and is arguably the greatest super middleweight in history. But Joe has been a carefully managed boxer, certainly far more than Mayweather. Sure, he recently defeated forty-three year old Bernard Hopkins, and B-Bop is still a formidable force, but now he’s looking to take on past-his-prime, but still formidable, Roy Jones. Why not face a lighter, but in his prime, Kelly Pavlik?

While a bout with Jones could be a cash bonanza for the Welshman, it could be a dud for the fans because styles make fights. Both guys are boxers. Sure, Joe will probably win in a bore snore, like the Hopkins fight. What about bouts with Tarver, Glen Johnson and Chad Dawson? I know, I know! It’s all about the money, and who will bring Calzaghe the most cash at the tail end of his career. It was the same with Floyd, but that’s not going to make either of them legendary figures.

And this is why Pacquiao is so far the fighter of the decade and Floyd and Joe are not.