While some of Manny Pacquiao’s more enthusiastic fans are sharpening their pitchforks and preparing to take aim at anyone daring to question His Highness, the question must be asked:
Is Pacquiao overrated?
Despite fighting in a much weaker era of boxing than pugilists from past decades, the Filipino superstar has been defeated more than a couple of times during his career.
Unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has fought in the same weak era but can at least pride himself of being the best of this bunch, Pacquiao’s losses immediately put his status amongst the true boxing legends in question.
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That’s not to say going undefeated means you’re automatically an amazing fighter, of course. Plenty of no-names have gone undefeated simply because they don’t fight any real opponents. That’s not the case with Mayweather Jr., though.
Now, it’s important to define what ‘overrated’ means. The word in its everyday use isn’t synonymous with bad. It simply means, “Not all it’s cracked up to be.” Nobody is trying to peddle the notion that Pacquiao is bad or merely average – he's a very good fighter, but overhyped.
Pacquiao is being sold to the public as an all-time great. A legend in the sport. Someone who, when it's all said and done, could be considered amongst the top 10, 15 or 20 boxers of all time.
Regardless of what his loyal cult followers believe, Pacquiao doesn’t deserve to be in that discussion.
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Often times, Pacquiao was manufactured to be the nice guy (read: anti-Mayweather) that boxing fans should get behind during a time when the sport desperately needed a friendly face.
Remember, Mayweather Jr. quickly embraced his role as the villain. The bad guy you hate with a vengeance, whose big mouth you pray, wish and hope will finally meet a power-packed fist.
Pacquiao, for better or worse, emerged as the white knight to Mayweather Jr. The humble, quiet efficient fighter who does everything his rival does – only without the brashness. A role model. A beloved international figure.
The guy boxing wants us to cheer for.
After all, now that Pacquiao has opted to fight ‘Splenda’ Shane Mosley in his next match – is there anyone who still believes that Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum isn’t the guy with his hand up the puppet? That he isn’t the one who pulls every last string belonging to the Filipino superstar and dictates when, where and who he’ll fight?
Heck, every word out of Pacquiao’s mouth probably gets the green check of approval from Arum.
And, in return, he’s the Top Rank boss’ biggest prize. The cash cow that -- even in a declining boxing market with diminished returns -- can still deliver a big pay day.
With so much on the line for the people who control Pacquiao, why would any of them want their eight-division champion to fight difficult opponents? Lose to one of them, and the cash flow may become a trickle, especially if Pacquiao calls it quits. In other words, if you're from the Arum Clan, you want Pacquiao to fight somebody who is just barely respectable yet poses no threat to the money-printing machine.
It’s been said many times -- by me -- that Pacquiao’s opponents can be characterized as either has-beens, cheaters or fill-ins.
Forget the upcoming match with ‘Splenda’ Mosley, who clearly falls into the has-beens pile. Don’t even bother trudging up the memories of the way Pacquiao ducked him in favor of Miguel Cotto -- who wasn’t even willing to make the same pre-fight weight and money sacrifices as Mosley -- when the former was in his prime and ready to do some damage.
Instead, think back to that actual fight with Cotto. This wasn’t the same Cotto who got that 12-round decision over Mosley when he finally got around to fighting Pacquiao. No, the spark the fighter had earlier in his career was clearly gone. Instead, Pacquiao used an eventual 12-round knockout to beat an opponent who didn’t look anywhere nearly as good as he did in 2007.
The has-been pile of fighters appears to be Pacquiao’s personal favorite. Big names that draw a lot of interest, yet who are no real threat anymore.
Oscar De La Hoya fit that bill when he squared off against the Filipino rock star. With a brilliant marketing campaign launched by Golden Boy and mimicked by Top Rank, this somehow became billed as a “Dream Fight.” Whose dream, exactly, nobody really got to ask. As expected, it was a massacre of epic proportions and the once-great De La Hoya had neither the legs nor the stamina to keep up with a younger, faster, smaller fighter in Pacquiao.
In summation – that bout didn’t prove much either.
Moving on to perhaps the most disgusting display of money-grubbing in recent memory out of Pacquiao’s camp (aside from the scheduled ‘Splenda’ fight): Joshua Clottey.
I mean, seriously. Was there anyone who gave Clottey any shot at all in this match-up? After annoying Mayweather -- the fighter everyone actually wanted to see him fight -- with incessant excuses on why he wouldn’t take reasonable drug tests, Pacquiao claimed an easy win against this punching bag with a pulse. With a clearly over-matched opponent in front of him, Pacquiao fought an un-inspired and boring match that did little more than boost his earnings and his statistics.
Again, that bout didn't prove much.
There is no point in even bringing up Ricky Hatton when everyone knows the British brawler was overhyped and troubled by the time his match with Pacquiao rolled around.
Say it with me: That bout didn't prove anything.
Even his most recent fight with Antonio Margarito served more as a testament to the weak selection of fighters that Pacquiao is fighting against. A known, proven cheater who everyone knew was in over his head without his illegal substances squared off against the next Filipino president simply because he decided to get in bed with Arum’s group.
And, to make matters worse, Top Rank tried to insult the public’s intelligence by resorting to WWE style trickery and pretending that Pacquiao wasn’t ready for this bout just so that people would think it could possibly be close. Worst training we've seen in years! His sparring partners are better than he is! We're worried! He's not focused! He's fat! He's slow!
The only time Pacquiao faced a legitimate competitor was Juan Manual Marquez. In those contests, Pacquiao hardly proved he was the better fighter. One of their fights easily could have gone to Marquez, and Pacquiao’s reluctance to face him again -- instead of ‘Splenda’ -- in his next match speaks volumes.
If you go down the line it becomes clear: Pacquiao is the beneficiary of fighting in a weak era and had favorable fights chosen for him by his slick little friend at Top Rank. That, coupled with the fact that he constantly forced his opponents to drop to a lower weight class with his catch weight fights, has created a flimsy, house-of-cards legacy for Pacquiao.
He has the wins, he has the numbers – but there is no substance there.
Keep in mind, no boxers are immune to this analysis. For years, despite an unblemished record, Mayweather Jr. was discussed as possibly being overrated because of the lack of credible fighters during his heyday.
Pacquiao is no different. He’s made a career out of fighting nobodies, has-beens and former cheaters. His lying promoters have hyped him as the greatest thing since Jack Johnson because he carries with him an international fan base that American fighters don’t seem to have (even though Mayweather is still a bigger pay-per-view draw).
It’s not too late for Pacquiao to turn things around and prove the doubters wrong. Though, with the goon squad up at Top Rank running his career, it’s doubtful that he will. When the Filipino superstar’s pride finally kicks in and he decides he actually wants to earn the “people’s champ” title that he falsely wears at the moment, three fighters await that could cement his legacy:
Juan Manual Marquez, Sergio Martinez and – most important – Floyd Mayweather Jr.