Saturday, May 2, 2009
Is Manny Pacquiao the Best Boxer Ever?
It cost me $49.99. It ended 2:59 into the second round. It was worth every penny.
Watching Manny Pacquiao, right now, aged 30, with it all clicking, is like watching Michael Jordan go for 41 a game in the Finals against the Suns in 1993. It's like watching Babe Ruth club 60 homers in 1927, more than any other single team hit that season. It's like watching Tiger Woods win the 2001 Masters, completing the "Tiger Slam."
We get to see a historically significant boxer and athlete and A-list entertainer, during a period when few will ever match his prowess - his natural ability meeting halfway with his learned skills, a simultaneous happening of physical superiority peaking and years of practice and fine-tuning culminating.
A great star at his greatest.
For the second consecutive bout, Pacquiao turned a supposed super-fight into a mismatch, demolishing Ricky Hatton in slightly less than two rounds. Now, some are beginning to wonder if we are not witnessing potentially the best pound-for-pound fighter ever.
A clash looms between him and a recently un-retired assassin, in which a Pacman victory could answer the question definitively.
What happened Saturday night was brilliant, something I'll never forget, but we must consider all of this on a grander scale.
When Pacquiao first entered the pro ranks, he was a dazzling raw talent but not a particularly technical or versatile fighter.
Eight years of tutelage from Freddie Roach (the Phil Jackson to his MJ), however, have turned him into an all-around dynamo. "The Coach" has helped improve Manny's defense (specifically his head movement, now stellar) and diversify his punch selection. In addition, his power has followed him as he has moved up through the weight classes, and with Saturday's victory over Ricky Hatton he is now only the second ever six-division title-holder (joining Oscar De la Hoya), and the first ever four-time Ring Magazine champion.
About the only questions left are, Who could beat him, and where does he rank all-time?
The first query may be single choice.
Pacquiao has actually lost three times before, but not since 2005. If Floyd Mayweather Jr., who officially announced the end of his "retirement" at a press conference hours before Saturday night's fight that gave notice to his July 18 comeback bout against Juan Manuel Marquez, can defeat the Mexican legend, then all signs will point to a battle between him and the Filipino sensation.
And if Mayweather, now 32, does indeed return to his previous form, the form he possessed when he knocked out Hatton (who may now retire despite being merely 30, and if not will never fight a top-flight opponent again, anyway) two Decembers ago, then he may be able to do what no one else right now seems capable of.
Floyd may be the only person on the planet capable of matching Manny's speed and quickness, although he deploys it in a different way. Whereas Pacquiao is a relentless attacker who stops throwing only to adjust his trunks, Mayweather is a counter-puncher, an in-and-out fighter trained since childhood not to get hit. He is also the sports best defensive fighter, as well as its most disciplined.
In short, he may be the only man with the talent and gameplan to thwart this peak Pacquiao. He may be the only man with the hand-speed to compete with Pacquiao's bobbing and weaving and ducking. He may be the only man with the reflexes to avoid Pacquaio's whirlwind offensive attack. He may be the only man who can frustrate Pacquiao and dictate the style of the fight.
Winner takes all.
If Floyd can take down a true ring superstar in Marquez, then pick apart Pacquiao at a time when Pacman seems unbeatable, then we will call him not only the best boxer of his generation, but perhaps the premiere pound-for-pound boxer of all-time.
If Pacquiao can hand the extraordinary Mayweather his first loss, many will call him the G.O.A.T.
All I know for sure is this: If Floyd, cocky and confident (he said he would be out bowling with his daughter during the fight) and undeniably good as he is, watches what happened Saturday night and doesn't get at least a little nervous, then quite frankly, he's crazy.
Saturday night's knockout punch - a perfectly timed, perfectly placed left hook to Hatton's chin that left the "Hitman" in such a bad way it quite literally had my heart pounding with fear for his well-being - landed near the close of the second round. It collided so flush, so compact that Hatton's face barely turned with its force, not whipping nearly as much as a punch of such magnitude would seem to command - which is how you know it couldn't have connected any more violently.
My heart raced, too, when Pacquiao knocked Hatton down twice in the first round. I turned to my grandmother and asked her if she would split the fee with me if the bout lasted fewer than three rounds. Initially I wanted Hatton to hang on, yes, so that my $50 bucks would be spread out, and worth more per round.
By the time it was over, though, I fully appreciated what I had witnessed and realized that I didn't wish I could have a dime of it back, because I was clearly watching someone special.
The funny thing about Pacquiao is how calm and well-mannered he is after such beatdowns. He wore a smirk in the dressing room before being introduced, while Hatton, during the requisite stare-down as referee Kenny Bayless gave the pre-fight instructions, sported an expression that said, "What have I gotten myself into?" It's no surprise, then, that in the post-fight interviews, Pacman made it sound as if all he had done was gone and bought some donuts, then shared them amongst his friends.
He says he was just doing his job. He always says he's just doing his job.
Once again, job well done.
But there are larger things at stake.