It’s always hard to compare boxers of different eras. When they’re in different weight classes it’s even tougher. This is the major problem when trying to figure out where Manny Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs) rates among the greatest boxers in history.
Instead of trying to compare him to everybody else, let’s look at somebody who’s widely known as the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali (56-5, 37 KOs).
Both are well known for their exploits out of the ring as well as in it, but when it comes to popularity, there’s no doubt Ali blows most people throughout history out of the water. This is because he owned the most recognized face on the planet at one time and was loved by millions from America to Zimbabwe.
Pacquaio’s one of the most beloved citizens to ever walk the streets of the Philippines. The country comes to a standstill when he fights and he’s loved by just about everybody in his homeland -- while Ali certainly until long after his prime. But on a global scale, I don’t think anybody comes near Ali popularity-wise.
However, if we’re comparing them as boxers it’s not really fair to look at them anywhere other than the ring. Both of them showed a lot of promise as amateurs: Ali won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, while Pacquiao reportedly went 60-4 before turning pro at the tender age of 16.
When it comes quality of opposition, most of Ali’s opponents were household names and enjoyed fine careers. He took on just about every top heavyweight of his era, including Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, George Chuvalo, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Ellis, Ernie Terrell, Jimmy Young, Cleveland Williams, Zora Foley, George Foreman, Trevor Berbick and Larry Holmes.
Many of his opponents were past, present or future world champions. Ali also used to fight on average about four times a year, including six times in 1972 after he’d already won a world title. He was a true world champion since he fought all over the planet, in a dozen different countries by my count.
Pacquiao has taken on some of the top fighters in various divisions because he’s moved up in weight all the way from Jr. Flyweight to Jr. Middleweight. But he’s never really stayed around in one division long enough to dominate it. His list of opponents is also impressive though, considering it includes Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De la Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Jorge Solis, Oscar Larios, and Fashan 3K Battery, most of them world champions at one time or another.
Ali only fought as a heavyweight, so while Pacquiao’s eight championships in different divisions are exceptional and historical, the only comparison that can be made is of Ali winning the heavyweight title three times. He only lost one fight while he was world champion, a split decision to Spinks, and while he lost five fights in total, three of them were in his last four bouts -- and widely considered past his prime.
Both men possess exceptional skills in the ring and, at times, dominated their opponents. In fact, Ali might have actually been too dominant for his own good. He often gave away rounds and let himself get hit, knowing he could win fights at any time when push came to shove. He clowned around a lot in the ring, but was also involved in some fierce battles with the likes of Frazier, Foreman, Shavers and Norton.
When Ali was at his peak around 1966-67, he was almost untouchable. But it’s not clear when or if Pacquiao’s even hit his peak yet. His best era so far seems to be between his win over Morales in 2006 to the present. Still, the best may be yet to come. Pacquiao is all business in the ring and has to be to succeed. He’s not dominant enough to take things easy, but then again he hasn’t really faced some of the “soft touches” that Ali did, such as Alfredo Evangelista, Chuck Wepner, and Richard Dunn.
Pacquiao’s an all-action fighter. Ali was earlier in his career, but then slowed down with age to fight in spurts. Ali could control the pace of fights, was also a master at fighting while back-pedaling and employed his famous rope-a-dope strategy. They both have good power, but can’t be considered one-punch knockout artists. But they each delivered their share of spectacular KOs, such as Ali against Foreman and Pacquiao over Hatton.
When it comes to taking a punch, they both showed granite chins, but Ali was one of a kind. He may have been dropped by Frazier in their first fight, but Ali was more or less back on his feet before the ref started to count. He was stopped by Holmes after trainer Angelo Dundee stopped their fight between rounds, but was never knocked out and was rarely ever in serious trouble. Pacquiao has been knocked out twice and dropped on a couple of other occasions.
I think Ali could have gone down in history as the undisputed greatest and most dominant boxer ever if he would have taken some of his fights more seriously and concentrated on fighting instead of entertaining. When he was at his absolute peak, Ali had the ability to end a fight anytime by unleashing his lightning-fast, accurate combinations. He wouldn’t let up until the referee stopped the fight. As much as I like Pacquiao, he’s never really possessed that skill at any time in his career.
Because of this, his chin, and the fact he fought several times a year against quality opposition, I’d have to rate Ali as a more complete boxer than Pacquiao.