In May of 2009, we asked the same question. We had a three-person panel weigh-in on Manny Pacquiao's status among the elite fighters in boxing history.
We caught up with author Mike Silver to see if his opinion of Pacquiao has changed. Here's what he had to say:
Mike Silver, boxing historian and author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science:" I do think Manny has improved in that he is punching harder and has picked up some additional experience. I have great respect for Manny. On the plus side he is the most exciting and entertaining fighter on the planet. I admire his great fighting heart, superb conditioning, and commitment to his profession. Manny is a credit to boxing and a wonderful representative for the sport because he is using his enormous popularity in the Philippines in a genuine effort to help his people. For those reasons I have a much easier time saying Manny is a great man, although not necessarily an all time great fighter.
As I said in my previous interview, Manny is a throwback fighter. He would have been tough in any era. But in my opinion he is not the complete fighter everyone seems to think he is. We cannot truly evaluate any fighter unless we try to understand the level of his competition. In the Margarito fight I liked the way he quickly moved off to the left or right after landing his punches. He did not, as you often see today, stay around waiting to get hit in return. Manny has that difficult southpaw style, moves around nicely, and places his punches well. He also knows how to use his feet to bring him within proper punching range and then out again. But really, how much did the Margarito fight prove? Many fighters in the gym can look sensational hitting a stationary punching bag. And that’s pretty much all Margarito was in this fight—a half blind, slow moving punching bag who would have been easy prey for any top welter of the 1940s, 50s or earlier.
It annoys me when people with no perspective or historical frame of reference get so carried away praising a fighter to the skies for beating up a shot fighter, or a Margarito, who has plenty of guts but exhibits the boxing skills of an ordinary six round preliminary fighter. Even so, I thought Manny was hit with punches that he should have avoided. And if he can be hit by a fighter of Margarito’s limited ability then a quality ring technician would know how to land even more punches.
The only aspect of the fight that was difficult for Manny was the weight advantage of his opponent. When Manny, really a small welterweight, was hit by a punch it carried the weight of a fighter who outweighed him by seventeen pounds at fight time. Even though he won every round I don’t think it was wise for him to be giving away that kind of poundage and he should not do it again.
If boxing had only been around for the past 30 years then I would have no problem labeling Manny an all time great fighter. He is great for his time. But modern boxing has been around for almost 120 years and in that time there have been scores of genuine all time greats who proved their greatness against other outstanding fighters. Through no fault of his own Manny has not had to face that type of competition because it no longer exists. Several years ago Manny had tough fights with two very good junior lightweights—Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales—who were in their primes when they gave him problems. Is Manny better today? Yes, but not to the extent that he could easily be considered superior to those fighters in their primes.
When Manny moved up in weight he actually had an easier time of it. There were no Marquez’s or Morales’s to face. Just a dehydrated, uninspired and over the hill De La Hoya, a damaged Cotto, a glass jawed club fighter Hatton, and nothing much in Margarito. (The Clottey fight can be dismissed since Clottey refused to fight). Where are fighters like Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, Carlos Ortiz, Emile Griffith, Jose Napoles, Luis Rodriguez, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran or Tommy Hearns? The answer is there are no challengers for Pacquiao who even approach the talent of these fighters, all of whom, in my opinion, would have been able to outbox Manny. Does anyone remember Freddie Dawson, Bernard Docusen, Billy Graham or Joey Archer? These shifty, clever fighters never won a title (no plethora of synthetic titles then, only eight weight divisions and one champ per division) but they had the right style and ring savvy to outmaneuver Manny. This is not to say had Manny been active 50 or more years ago he would not have developed into a great fighter. He certainly has the ingredients and the competition would have demanded he rise to the occasion. Could he have done so? I don’t know.