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Pacquiao v. Mayweather: Who's the best of the decade?

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We may well get an actual fight before the end of the decade (which comes this year -- feeling old?) to truly hash it out, but for now, the debate rages on.

Recently, RING Magazine's Michael Rosenthal put up a "Greatest fighters by decade" post on their blog. For the 2000s, he put Pacquiao in the top spot, with Mayweather as the runner-up.

Rosenthal says that he got a lot of mail about it, and not all of it was kind. He then makes his case for Pacquiao, and it's quite the impassioned plea:

The reactions got me thinking: OK, what is the overriding reason I believe Pacquiao is better than Mayeather, as well as Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe, Winky Wright and a few others who might have credentials?

The answer finally became clear: Because Pacquiao moves me, as does Marquez to a lesser extent. The others don’t.

I acknowledge that a strong case can be made that Mayweather is the best fighter of the 2000s. He is the most naturally gifted of these fighters and has a perfect record (39-0, 25 knockouts). He has what it takes to win and does so, plain and simple.

If that’s how you define the best fighter, then he’s your man. God bless you.

That’s not my definition, though. To me, skills and winning are only part of the equation.

I admire the sublime ability, speed and athleticism of Mayweather, as I did Pernell Whitaker. They are virtuoso boxers, master technicians, certainly among the best of their eras. At the same time, there’s something missing with both of them, in my opinion. I call it the “thrill factor.”

To me, the greatest fighters aren’t just admirable; they’re part technician and all warrior. They, too, have exceptional skills and win consistently but also take risks, both in terms of who they fight and in the ring. They seek out the best possible opponents and then go to war, putting both their record and well being on the line.

I think this is a great, great argument, and yes I put Pacquiao ahead of Mayweather as it stands now, too.

The difference, I think, is in a lot of what Rosenthal is saying: Pacquiao went out and sought the greatest challenges. Mayweather makes a show now of fighting men he admittedly deems "too small" to beat him. What kind of fighter is that?

I am not discounting Mayweather's skills, nor am I a hater. The man is absurdly talented, and he can be poetry to watch perform. He is a brilliant tactician who seems like he's generally two steps ahead of his opponents. And he is more than deserving of being called one of this decade's two best.

If Mayweather does it for you over Pacquiao, then I won't argue. But if the two of them finish out their careers as the two have gone so far, ask yourself this: Who's going to be revered for decades? It's Pacquiao. Mayweather will be respected (and I think respect will even grow over time for his skills). But Pacquiao has inspired, become a hero in both his native Philippines and in the sport worldwide.

He has become the beacon of light for a sport that has seen a depressed decade, if not the wasteland or cemetery it has been made out as by the misinformed. Mayweather doesn't have that sort of fire, that passion in him. He could have never been That Guy.

In some ways, I question if it's not plainly related to the fact that relatively speaking, boxing came easy for Mayweather. His father was a fighter, his uncle a better one. He was born, as they say, with boxing gloves on. And both his father and uncle are great teachers. Pacquiao fought his way out of poverty, going from scrawny flyweight world champion to ripped, fully formed junior welterweight champion of the world. It has not been "easy" for Pacquiao to get where he is. He wasn't backed from the moment he entered an amateur ring, groomed for success. He fought. Mayweather performed as a great artist might, rarely missing a note on stage.

It's all sports romance, really; cold, hard skill is very debatable, and no doubt Mayweather's has been at the highest level for longer. But that's not all we're talking about. Yngwie Malmsteen can shred; Stevie Ray Vaughn bled through his guitar. The comparison here is similar.