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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Boxing used to be a passion of mine. But it's been twenty years since I was constantly immersed in the fight game, since the glory days of Hagler, Hearns, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard. I've missed traveling or tuning in to the big bouts that drew worldwide interest beyond boxing purists. And I'm not the only one. And now I'm not the only one to be drawn back to the ring and the draw is a terribly exciting, magnetic, highly skilled Filipino named Manny Pacquiao.
Last Saturday night, Pacquiao won his seventh title belt in impressive fashion over a fit, game, powerful opponent, Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto. From the first to the twelfth round TKO, Pacquiao's legs danced in a flurry of pressing rhythm, pressuring Cotto in a chase from one corner of the ring to the other. His hands flew toward Cotto's face, in double combinations and from unexpected angles, quick as lightning. As well-trained and technically sound as Cotto is, he just couldn't seem to touch the elusive Pacquiao.
It is de rigeur in boxing to determine the best fighters, even across various eras, by their pound-for-pound status. It's already a nebulous exercise to compare Duran to Pacquiao, as it is to compare Roger Federer to Rod Laver in tennis, but in boxing you have to consider the weight-class differences as well. How to compare a 207-pound heavyweight Joe Louis to a 155-pound Sugar Ray Robinson? That's why the question is posed: Who is the best pound-for-pound boxer who ever lived?
Fans can drum up valid ammunition to defend their personal choices. Ali always hovers at the top of the list, not only because of his universal fame and larger-than-life personality, but because he wasn't considered a BIG heavyweight, yet constantly defeated larger opponents with speed, quickness, and art.
Rocky Marciano never once lost a bout. Some swear they never saw a fighter dominate the way Mike Tyson did. Sugar Ray Robinson won the middleweight title five times.
And now Manny Pacquiao lands firmly on that list of the all-time elite. Pound-for-pound is the perfect storm discussion for Pacquiao because his achievement in the ring lies beyond his punches and even his heart. He is the first ever to win seven titles in seven different weight categories. He started his career at a mere 106 pounds and moved up in weight, year by year, opponents heavier and stronger, until he weighed in for Saturday's fight at an unnatural weight for his frame, a huge 145 pounds. You take a look at natural welterweights, Oscar de la Hoya at 5'10" or Sugar Shane Mosley at 5'9", both with much longer reaches than Pacquiao, and you see that 145 pounds on his slight 5'6" frame is not normal.
The point made about Pacquiao's success up the weight-gain ladder is his remarkable retention of the power of his punch. For me, that's not the point. A punch should carry more force behind more poundage. But what floors me is Pacquiao's quickness and endurance at a weight unnatural to him. The training footage in the weeks leading up to this Cotto fight showed him running like a hollow-boned rabbit, breathing mouth-closed after long sparring sessions. Whereas de la Hoya often had showed weakness in tiring toward the end of big fights, Pacquiao darts and bobs and weaves with the same effortless breeze in the twelfth round as he does at the opening bell.
A superstar fight reminiscent of the golden era ‘80's is brewing between Pacquiao and Floyd Pretty Boy Mayweather, maybe even a bonanza event at Yankee Stadium in May.
It wouldn't be hyperbole to say Pacquiao is bringing boxing back to the mainstream. And I, for one, am thrilled to be back.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: (R-L) Manny Pacquiao throws a right to the head of Miguel Cotto during their WBO welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 14, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images