Manny Pacquiao didn't get the win against Timothy Bradley, but displayed his greatness in a controversial defeat. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
Sean Mills returns to Bad Left Hook tonight with his take on not just the Pacquiao vs Bradley controversy, but Manny's claim to all-time greatness.
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Boxing fans are reeling from the controversial split decision victory of Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquiao. The public outcry seen online has been angry, loud, and steady. While many fans were quick to cry corruption some commentators report that the decision was fair if not popular.
The ladder of excuses proffered for the seemingly absurd judging decision is familiar at this point. The first step is to acknowledge that this fight was a competitive contest no matter what the decision. The next step is to claim that the action of the fight was back and forth and depending on what the taste of the judges it could be rounds could be scored either way. The penultimate step is to claim, like boxing scribe Doug Fischer, "I can see a score of 115-113." The conclusion is that if you simply remove one round winner's victory could have been a defeat.
Many casual fans become amateur spin doctors after a fight. They say that there are robberies and judging inconsistencies all the time. They say you could give every ambiguous round to the underdog. They say that there are a collection of angles and punches from ringside that make it look different than what you saw at home. They say aggression is rewarded over hard punching. For all of that debatable truth, there is something else that is also true. Sometimes boxers lose, even when they dominate their opponent.
The greatest boxers in history are not defined by a victory or even all their victories combined. The greatest boxers flat out dominate, and it's not hard to tell when they do. Some boxers convincingly beat a champion without dominating; such as when Joe Calzaghe scored a split decision over Bernard Hopkins in 2008. Some boxers can stop a champion without looking dominant; such as when Hector Camacho scored a technical knockout over Sugar Ray Leonard in 1997.
Some boxers, ones that come along oh so rarely, fight champions and dominates those champions. The best example of this is Muhammad Ali. Ali didn't have an unbeaten record and everyone knows Ken Norton had his number, but during his career he routinely dominated great fighters.
In 1962 Ali punished Ageless Archie Moore with a fourth round knockout. Sonny Liston fell in 1964 and again in 1965 after everyone at the time said he was unbeatable. Later in ‘65, Ali punished speedy Floyd Patterson over 12 rounds, then did it in seven rounds, seven years later. The juggernaut, George Foreman fell in 1974, and he took years to recover. And, Ali's arch-nemesis Joe Frazier was finally stopped in round 14 of their 1975 contest. Every one of these fighters were great champions and they all lost big.
In a similar fashion to contemporary critics, they argued that Liston was scared, Patterson was too small, Moore was too old, and Foreman was given a short count. But, the truth is even though Ricky Hatton wasn't in his prime when he fought Pacquiao or that Juan Manuel Marquez came out cold when he fought Pacquiao, or that Mosley was too old when he fought Pacquiao, or that Miguel Cotto didn't have a proper trainer when he fought Pacquiao, they were all caught by Pacquiao's talent. These same fighters could have easily won victories over other good fighters on those nights, but their problem was that they were dominated by an all time great.
Leaving aside the highlight reel of knock outs in Pacquiao's early career, spectators of Pacquiao's fights have witnessed even his best opponents utterly demoralized. Can anyone who saw Ledwaba roll on the canvas in agony forget it? Can anybody forget the look on Marco Antonio Barrera's face in 2004 when he was knocked down into a seated position? The only thing comparable to that moment was when Pacquiao knocked Erik Morales down in round 3 of their final fight. Morales sat with his hands on his knees and shook his head, "No."
In Pacquiao's "Dream Fight" against Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, no one gave Pacquiao much of a chance. However, in round eight, De La Hoya sat on his stool covered in bruises and abrasions when his corner threw in the towel. The line from Raging Bull came to mind, "He ain't pretty no more."
In 2009, Miguel Cotto had a look of determination wiped off his face by Pacquiao in round 4. After his second knockdown he could barely bring himself to attack all the rest of the way. Just a series of haunting images in Pacquiao's series of dominant performances.
Even though the contest between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley was mostly lackluster, one frame is permanently etched in my mind. In round three, Mosley flopped helplessly to the ground. Looking like a Roman Senator eating in a reclined position, Mosley struggled to gain his wits and he never regained his footing in the fight.
The most remarkable thing about all these fights is that it's so easy to forget that Manny Pacquiao was not even supposed to be there. Pacquiao is like an aging Roberto Duran, a natural lightweight who was so good that he made you forget he was fighting above his natural advantages. Duran lost in 1983 to Marvin Hagler and to Tommy Hearns a year after that. Pacquiao lost to Timothy Bradley, but didn't Bradley really deserve to be in that pantheon of conquered champions? Maybe Bradley will be after the November rematch.
However, even if Pacquiao retired right now, he would already look just fine besides the likes of Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong, Jack Dempsey, Roberto Duran, Joe Louis, Willie Pep, and Sugar Ray Robinson. These boxers were all capable of domination and not just controversial split decisions.