Sunday, May 3, 2009

Manny Pacquiao Has Reached Rarefied Air

Michael Nelson reflects on last night's spectacular performance by Manny Pacquaio.

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

One of the best indicators of how great a fighter is pertains to how often he exceeds everyone's expectations.

There's no longer any doubt that Manny Pacquaio is an all-time great.

Nobody expected the Filipino sensation to dominate and knock out Marco Antonio Barrera in November of 2003. Not many expected him to knock out Erik Morales in their rematch in January 2006. Few people expected a knock out of Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008. And virtually no one expected him to blast out Ricky Hatton within two rounds Saturday night.

That's what makes him special.

The pundits that tabbed him to win expected him to control the fight with his left hand. But it was his blindingly quick right hook that befuddled Hatton in the early going. Showing exceptional timing, it seemed that Pacquiao knew what Hatton was going to do before Hatton made his move. He made it clear that he was of a different class when he dropped Hatton to all fours with a right hook in the first stanza, and dropped him again with his patented straight left at the end of the round. The message was definitive. Despite the hype, this fight would not be competitive.

Corralling Ricky with his hand speed and footwork in the second round, Pacquiao threw a devastating overhand left within the final ten seconds that rendered Hatton completely unconscious. Referee Kenny Bayless didn't bother with a full count, and Manny once again proved himself to be the number one pound for pound fighter in the world.

To some, he has reached a stratosphere where it's hard to imagine anyone around his weight class beating him, even Floyd Mayweather or Juan Manuel Marquez. Others believe that Pacquiao is the same boxer he's been for years and that Ricky Hatton was simply an overrated fighter who benefited greatly from a few good wins and a rabid fan base.

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. While Hatton's foot speed, stamina, and determined combination punching makes him an explosive offensive fighter, he was never elite defensively. Fighters like Mayweather and Marquez possess the ring IQ, pinpoint counter punching skills, and defensive abilities to present a far more difficult level of problems for Manny. They're simply cut from a different cloth than someone as predictable as Ricky.

But Pacquiao - even entering his 13th year as a professional boxer, even elevating into different weight classes seemingly every year- continues to improve. His ceiling is unclear, and his potential extends beyond the foreseeable horizon.

We're witnessing a special talent that comes around every few decades. Undoubtedly, within the next months, boxing fans will deconstruct and reconstruct what lies in Manny Pacquiao's future. For now, let's just enjoy history.

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