Bunch of fives: Manny’s greatest hits
Luke G. Williams
As Manny Pacquiao approaches the 67th fight of a stellar professional career, Luke G. Williams counts down his choice of the five greatest performances by the Filipino sensation.
Having won ‘world’ titles in eight different weight classes, Manny Pacquiao is, it goes without saying, a pugilistic legend. However, selecting his five greatest performances is something of a thankless task, largely because he has enjoyed so many memorable nights throughout his career.
With particular regret, then, at having to omit any of his victories against Juan Manuel Marquez, as well as his impressive demolitions of Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito, here is my choice - in chronological order - of 'Pac-Man'’s five greatest fistic triumphs.
5. IBF super-bantamweight title vs Lehlo Ledwaba, 23 June 2001 – won by TKO in round 6
2001 was a landmark year in Pacquiao’s career, marking the beginning of his training association with Freddie Roach as well as his first pugilistic appearance in the United States.
There was a fair degree of chance involved in this contest being brokered, 'Pac Man' having stepped in as a late replacement for Mexican Enrique Sanchez. Ledwaba was highly rated, having defended the IBF title five times and was favoured by the odds makers to once again triumph. However, the whirlwind-fisted Filipino demolished the reigning titlist in a stunning display of vicious southpaw hitting.
Pacquiao broke Ledwaba’s nose in round one and also dropped him in the first stanza, as well as twice in the sixth before referee Joe Cortez waved the fight off. At this stage in his career, Pacquiao has already won and lost the lineal flyweight title in Asia, but the Ledwaba victory was the fight that enabled him to break into the American boxing market and take his first steps on the path to global stardom. Significantly, all but six of his next 32 fights up to the Vargas contest this weekend would take place in the USA.
Given the low profile nature of Ledwaba, this fight is not often given as much prominence in accounts of Pacquiao’s career as it should be, but its significance, for me, justifies its place in the top five.
2. Lineal World Featherweight Championship vs Marco Antonio Barrera, 15 November 2003 – won by TKO in round 11
You could argue that this was the greatest victory of Pacquiao’s career - given that he was facing a peak all-time great for a lineal title in one of the eight traditional weight classes. Pacquiao's ensuing against-the-odds victory reverberated around the boxing world, establishing him for the first time as a true boxing superstar.
After deposing Naseem Hamed as featherweight king, Barrera had successfully defended his title against Enrique Sanchez, Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley, as well as gaining revenge against Erik Morales by removing his arch rival’s undefeated record.
As a consequence, few thought that the then 24-year-old Pacquiao would be strong enough to stand up to the power and pressure of the relentless 'Baby Faced Assassin'. In the first round Pacquiao was somewhat dubiously ruled to have been knocked down as Barrera stalked him around the ring, but from the second round onwards the Filipino’s hand speed and sharp left hand befuddled the Mexican.
'Pac Man' dropped Barrera heavily in the third with a huge left and gave him a systematic beating thereafter, repeatedly shaking him. The increasingly desperate and bloodied Mexican had a point deducted in the ninth round for a low blow and was sent spiralling to the canvas again in the eleventh, before the contest was finally waved off by his corner. The duo would eventually rematch in 2007 at 130lbs, with Pacquiao winning via unanimous decision.
3. Super-featherweight contest vs Erik Morales, 21 January 2006 – won by TKO in round 10
Less than a year earlier, Morales had become the first man to defeat Pacquiao since Medgoen Singsurat in 1999, winning a unanimous 115-113 decision on all three judges’ scorecards after an intense and action-packed battle at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The build-up to their eagerly awaited rematch was dominated by a dissection of Pacquiao’s somewhat dubious series of excuses for defeat in the first contest, which included problems with taxes, gloves and a pre-fight blood test which he claimed had left him feeling weak come fight night.
However, the Filipino promised no excuses second time around, and was as good as his word as he became the first man to ever halt Morales inside the distance after a spectacular display of non-stop energy and precise, savage punching.
Pacquiao badly hurt the Mexican warrior in the second and sixth rounds and floored him twice in the decisive tenth stanza to register a stunning victory.
“I saw I hurt him every time I hit him in the body,” he crowed afterwards as his growing reputation as a fistic phenomenon flared to new heights. The two men would meet again later in the year, with Pacquiao demolishing 'El Terrible' in just three rounds.
4. Lineal Super-Lightweight Championship vs Ricky Hatton, 2 May 2009 – won by KO in round 2
With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to say that Hatton was past his best at this stage in his career, but it’s also a little unfair: he entered this contest with just one defeat on his record (against Floyd Mayweather) and with a lofty number eight ranking on The Ring magazine’s pound for pound rankings.
Hatton may have started the fight as the underdog but few expected to Pacquiao to demolish him quite as dramatically and savagely as he did. The Mancunian was downed twice in the opening round alone, once courtesy of a crunching right hook and then after a flurry of punches, culminating in a straight left.
Perhaps the sweetest single punch Pacquiao has ever thrown, a perfect parabola of a left, separated Hatton from his senses in round two and the fight was over almost before it had begun.
This performance represented Pacquiao at the utter peak of his formidable powers. Sadly, boxing fans will have to forever wonder how 'Pac Man' circa 2009 might have fared against Mayweather.
5. WBO welterweight title vs Miguel Cotto, 14 November 2009 – won by TKO in round 12
Arguably the last truly great performance by Pacquiao, his systematic destruction of a larger man in Cotto was quite simply breath-taking.
At this stage in his career, only Antonio Margarito had bested the Puerto Rican, but Pacquiao’s hand speed and precision simply overwhelmed him. A right hook floored Cotto in round three and a left uppercut downed him in round four. Thereafter he took his lumps manfully as Pacquiao maintained a terrifying onslaught, before referee Kenny Bayless mercifully halted proceedings in round 12, with a bloodied Cotto being battered against the ropes.
Given that Cotto is surely headed for the International Boxing Hall of fame one day, and would later defeat Margarito and Sergio Martinez among others, this performance ranks among Pac Man's very best.
After the fight promoter Bob Arum announced that: "Pacquiao is the greatest boxer I've ever seen, and I've seen them all, including Ali, Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard." Although this now looks like hyperbole, at the time - such was the extent of global 'Pacquiao fever' - many believed that Arum had hit the nail on the head.
The only possible caveat one should attach to this fight, which ostensibly earned Pacquiao a seventh 'world' title, is that it was a contest that was brokered at a 145lb catchweight, two pounds below the welterweight limit.