By J.D. Vena
Some say that it’s impossible to measure greatness. As a victim of public education, I don’t consider myself to be a math wizard. Therefore, if you only use simple math, the only kind I understand, then there is a mathematical reason why Manny Pacquiao is the greatest boxer of them all. Without using equations to measure accomplishments, then you cannot prove greatness. In the terms of boxing, this measure is determined by dominating your weight class and then dominating beyond that division until you surpass the successor that has climbed the most divisions. When a boxer wins boxing matches by knockouts, a boxer further increases their status of ring supremacy over other boxers before or since. Age, being young or old can also impact your greatness as longevity and earliest rise to the top is commendable. This is the equation I like to use when weighing greatness. It’s all about 4 pounds, the miniscule difference between what you weigh from morning and night.
In the mid-1970’s, there were two world bantamweight champions (118 pounds), Carlos Zarate (45-0 with 44 KO’s), the WBC champ and Alfonso Zamora (29-0 ALL by KO), the WBA champ. Both were Mexican and two of the very best boxers in the world. Among the men that Zamora destroyed was a young Eusebio Pedroza ,who went on to rack up 19 consecutive featherweight title defenses, the most in division history. Featherweight, to the non-fan reader is one of the original 8 weight classes with weight limit of 126 pounds, a leap of two 4-lb. weight class limits from bantamweight.
Zarate versus Zamora would decide total supremacy at 118 pounds. Both agreed to meet in a non-title fight because the winner was mandated by their belt manufacturers, the WBA and the WBC, to face their organizations’ top challenger, who unfortunately wasn’t the same person. By meeting in a non-title match, they would be able to retain their own title despite not recording an official defense. This fight was far more than a title fight. By the numbers their match was more important than any other of the decade. Consider that their combined ledger of 74 and 0 with 73 knockouts far exceeded the first match up between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (57-0 with 49 KO’s).
Both champions had made 6 defenses of their titles entering the match but clearly, this win would be far more relevant than any of their title matches. In what most perceived to be a match-up either could have won, Zarate destroyed Zamora in the 4th round. Zarate had proved to be the very best in the division and after recording a total of 9 defenses, all by knockout, a move up in weight to the 122-pound, super-bantamweight division was inevitable and the most lucrative. Fortunately, at this weight class, there had been just such a champion to test Zarate’s greatness and was enjoying a similar claim of dominance. A win over this man would greatly improve either boxer’s stature.
WBC champ, Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, began his career at 18 years with a 6 round draw. From that point on he proceeded to let his fists decide the outcomes of his next 21 fights, all of which he won by knockout. He had made 6 defenses since winning a world championship in only his third year as a pro. Entering the fight, Zarate won all 52 of his fights and only one man made it to the final bell. That man wasn’t any of his nine title fight opponents and obviously not his non-title bout with Zamora. Men who were 52-3-5 and 42-3-1 were prey to knockout of Zarate during his reign. Amazingly. Zarate’s progression finally ended suddenly the night he fought Gomez, who knocked out Zarate in the 5th round.
Though Gomez defeated a smaller man that night, it was absolutely the most significant of his career. Gomez fought on and made seven more title defenses until the demand of facing the best in the featherweight division, Salvador Sanchez (40-1-1) of Mexico.
Since his draw in his first fight, Gomez had won all of his next 32 fights by knockout. I know you want me to say Gomez was able to beat Sanchez despite moving up 4 pounds, but I cannot. Sanchez crucified and stopped Gomez in 8 rounds. Despite another career defining win, Sanchez’ ascent was not to be furthered as he died from a care accident a month after he knocked out future hall of famer, Azumah Nelson. Eventually Gomez went on to win a world title at featherweight and another one at super-featherweight (130 pounds), but his short lived reigns were evidence that he was not the best.
Very few boxers had been successful in multiple division jumps and it very much speaks to their greatness. Henry Armstrong won undisputed world titles at featherweight through welterweight and nearly won the middleweight title. Roy Jones, Jr. defeated the perceived best of each weight class from middleweight to light heavyweight and defeated a top heavyweight for a world title. For a man who could have fought for a 154 pound title and won it within the first few fights of his career, Jones’ chain of dominance over top opposition went from 154 pounds through a 220+ pound heavyweight that won a portion of the heavyweight title twice. Since the heavyweights of 2003, were generally much heavier than 220 lbs., Jones had made a great case that he was the best boxer from 154 pounds through at least cruiserweights (200 pounds) That’s a 46 lbs. difference. But Roy’s decision to drop solid muscle in melting back down from 193 pounds to 175 lbs, was one that got him knocked out and never the same.
Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard were the only boxers from welterweight to light heavyweight to win five world titles. Sugar Ray Robinson almost did the same but was most certainly dominant through weight classes from 147-160 and came within degrees of temperature from wing the light heavyweight title. He surely would have dominated a 168 pound division had it existed as it does today. Roberto Duran had won titles from 135 to 160 pounds and even defeated a man who won a light heavyweight title but never was he the best at the higher weights. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has been the best boxer at each of class from super featherweight, through light middleweight (154). And Oscar De La Hoya has won 6 world titles from jr. lightweight through middleweight but he was never the best in a few of those divisions. Some of these men are all discussed in the breath of the greatest boxers of all time. It would seem that the lighter boxers below featherweight have a greater disadvantage of jumping weight divisions. The frame of a 5’11 or taller boxer such as Hearns, De L Hoya or Robinson, has the ability to add more weight to fill the frame of a boxer that can compete in any weight class.
Under the limit of featherweight (126 pounds), no boxer to ever dominate the bantamweight division has ever gone on to conquer the super featherweight (130 lbs) division or win a world title there. Jeff Fenech had won from bantamweight through featherweight and almost became the best at 130 pounds. But his conquest came up short.
Manny Pacquiao’s conquests continue from when it began at flyweight (112 lbs) through light middleweight (154 lbs) Consider all that has happened in the long history of boxing and count Manny’s conquests: 8 world titles over 9 weight classes. He has lost three times and only once since he was almost 21, a loss (to the great Erik Morales) he avenged twice with emphatic knockouts. Great, dominant boxers such as Carlos Zarate could not succeed in a weight class 4 pounds above his natural weight. Manny Pacquiao has been able to succeed in a jump of 44 pounds of his early weight and along the way, destroyed the best each division had to offer with exception to one man, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Mayweather has somewhat comparable accomplishments but will not move up to middleweight and win what would be his 6th conquest of weight classes (a span of 30 lbs) to possibly compare to Pacquiao’s feat. Even if the two should never meet, Manny Pacquiao will be the most accomplished boxer of all time. Pacquiao is 5’6 ½ and did not have the height to fill his frame. Unless of course, Pacquiao has cheated with the use of illegal drugs or doping, then his successful progression cannot be compared. By defying physics and history, Pacquiao is mathematically the greatest boxer of all time.