Manny Pacquiao has had a career of great performances. But what were the absolute best? (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
No matter what happens for the rest of his career, the legacy of Manny Pacquiao is secure. The "Pacman" has done things that -- even in a watered-down era for "championships" -- will probably never be touched again. He has won recognized titles at 112, 122, 126, 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds. He has put era-defining talents on the shelf. He has faced almost every top fighter there is to face.
"I think he’s achieved things that will never be repeated," trainer Freddie Roach said on Wednesday. "Eight-time world champion will never be touched and will be secure for a lifetime."
And as Pacquiao puts the finishing touches on his preparation for a May 7 bout with "Sugar" Shane Mosley, I thought tonight we'd take a look back at what are, in my opinion, Manny Pacquiao's five greatest performances over his celebrated career.
Those new to the Pacquiao bandwagon, or just getting into boxing at all (which a lot of people are thanks to Manny), may be confused about some of his recent demolition jobs missing on this list. I would give an honorable mention to his dominant performances against Miguel Cotto (2009), Joshua Clottey (2010), and Antonio Margarito (2010). But they're not quite making this list. Let's get into it.
5. Lehlohonolo Ledwaba (W-TKO-6 / June 23, 2001)
Watching these highlights again, it seems like this fight is from another planet. 10 years ago, on the undercard of Oscar de la Hoya's fight with Javier Castillejo, a Freddie Roach-trained Filipino super bantamweight named Manny Pacquiao fought in the United States for the first time. George Foreman didn't know his name. Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley were just hoping he could fight. Though Pacquiao had held a title at flyweight, he was now fighting three divisions higher, had had zero U.S. exposure, and frankly it wasn't exactly a time when Filipino fighters were getting famous.
Ledwaba (33-1-1 coming in) was such a big favorite that Vegas didn't even have odds on the fight. Pacquiao, then 22 years old, was a late injury replacement for Enrique Sanchez, and he broke the slick South African's nose in the opening round and really never relented, battering the titleholder en route to a totally one-sided stoppage in the sixth round. This was the very fight that alerted fans outside of the Philippines that there was a fighter named Manny Pacquiao who packed some serious power, and come hell or high water was going to use it, even on a world-class opponent like Ledwaba. It would still be a couple of years before he became a star, but this was the arrival.
4. Oscar de la Hoya (W-RTD-8 / December 6, 2008)
Manny Pacquiao's first-ever million-sold pay-per-view event came with "The Dream Match" in late 2008. Coming up from 135 pounds (where he'd had just one fight against the tough but limited David Diaz) to welterweight, Pacquiao weighed in at a career-high 142 pounds in a fight that six months earlier would have been seen as impossible. The bout came to life after Floyd Mayweather Jr. "retired," aborting plans for a big-money rematch with Oscar de la Hoya, in what was going to be Oscar's first fight at welterweight since 2001.
Oscar picked the wrong opponent. Pacquiao destroyed an exhausted, physically-drained Oscar, forcing him to quit on his stool after eight rounds on a one-way street. The "too small" Pacquiao didn't just out-quick Oscar, but he battered him relentlessly -- except for moments when he appeared, for whatever reason, to take his foot off the gas, which probably saved Oscar from referee Tony Weeks being forced to call off the slaughter. I don't think you can argue that Oscar was in proper shape, and he hasn't fought since. But that doesn't mean Pacquiao doesn't deserve all the credit in the world for beating a bigger, favored man, and beating him decisively.
3. Juan Manuel Marquez (W-SD-12 / March 15, 2008)
For the record, yes, I scored this fight for Marquez by a close margin. No, I don't feel Marquez was robbed. And this was an excellent fight between two excellent fighters. Marquez is often hyped as the fighter who has Pacquiao's number, but at the same time, Pacquiao has gone blow-for-blow with the Mexican great over 24 thrilling rounds in 2004 and 2008. Their second fight, for my money, was the greater of the two excellent bouts, and the better overall performance by Pacquiao. Faced with a fighter he couldn't keep down or off of him no matter how hard he hit him, Pacquiao rose to the occasion and put on a brilliant fight with an equal. Over two fights, there was little separating Pacquiao and Marquez, and their rivalry is about as good as it gets.
I know others might not put this fight up here for Manny, but I felt this was a peaking Pacquiao against a peaking Marquez, and both of them were at their best.
2. Ricky Hatton (W-KO-2 / May 2, 2009)
The highlight video is about half as long as the entire fight. Pacquiao knocked the stuffing out of Ricky Hatton, who hasn't fought since and probably never should fight again, scoring one of the great knockouts in recent memory. Hatton was thoroughly outclassed and overwhelmed, in a division where he had ruled with an iron fist for years. Ricky Hatton had never lost at 140 pounds or come particularly close to losing since dethroning Kostya Tszyu in 2005. This put him on the shelf with not just a bang, but a kaboom.
1. Marco Antonio Barrera (W-TKO-11 / November 15, 2003)
Outside of a great performance against Floyd Mayweather Jr., this one can't be topped. That's my opinion. This came years before Pacquiao was a global icon, and years before he became the complete fighter and finished product that we see today. This was also a stunningly "easy" night for Pacquiao, who became a star with this win over Barrera, manhandling a tried-and-tested champion and beating up on him until the fight was stopped, rather mercifully, in the 11th round.
Before this fight, Barrera hadn't lost since 2000, when he dropped a debatable decision to Erik Morales, and before that, 1997, when he lost a second straight fight to Junior Jones. And he had never been beaten like this -- so thoroughly, so overwhelmingly. There were times in the fight when Barrera looked at a loss for what to do against the southpaw sting of Manny Pacquiao. He'd never looked like that before, and frankly never really looked like that after, even once he was well past his peak. Ledwaba was the arrival. The recent stuff has been the crowning and the continued celebration of an incredible athlete. This, however, was the definitive proof that there was something special about Manny Pacquiao.