Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April of last year. We’re posting it again after Manny Pacquiao announced his retirement from boxing.
Greatness is achieved step by painstaking step over a substantial period of time.
Few get there. And those who do can generally point to defining victories that served as those rare stepping stones that lead directly to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. All great fighters have that in common.
With that in mind, Boxing Junkie is initiating an occasional series called “Building Greatness,” in which we select a special fighter and provide five stepping-stone victories that demonstrated his greatness.
Our first subject: Manny Pacquiao, who over more than two decades proved over and over again that he is one of the best fighters of all time.
Here are five fights that helped define him:
Date / site: June 23, 2001 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Division: Junior featherweight
Records: Pacquiao 32-2; Ledwaba 33-1-1
At stake: Ledwaba’s IBF title
Result: Pacquiao TKO 6
Background: Ledwaba, a talented South African, was one of the hottest fighters in the world when he agreed to defend his 122-pound title against Pacquiao on the Oscar De La Hoya vs. Javier Castillejo card. Some believed he was a future pound-for-pounder. Pacquiao? Trainer Freddie Roach had an inkling that his little Filipino was special but few others were aware of his potential. Until this fight. Pacquiao, throwing quick, hard punches from impossible angles and at a remarkable rate, stunned Ledwaba and everyone watching by dominating the champion in every conceivable way en route to a spectacular knockout. Pacquiao won every round on all three cards through five rounds. The future Hall of Famer was a secret no more. He had arrived.
MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA
Date / site: Nov. 15, 2003 / Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: Pacquiao 37-2-1; Barrera 57-3
At stake: Nothing
Result: Pacquiao TKO 11
Background: This was only the first of Pacquiao’s nine fights against one of the great Mexican trio of Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But he proved in this fight — the main event at the Alamodome — that he was capable of dominating a truly great opponent. Pacquiao, too fast, too powerful, too good for Barrera, had wide leads on all three cards and was pounding Barrera at will when the victim’s corner ended the slaughter with four seconds remaining in the penultimate round. “This is a fight that will shake up the boxing world,” HBO commentator Larry Merchant said toward the end of the fight. And indeed it did. A star was born that night. Pacquiao would end up with a record of 6-2-1 against the Mexican Hall of Famers.
OSCAR DE LA HOYA
Date / site: Dec. 6, 2008 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Records: Pacquiao 47-3-2; De La Hoya 39-5
At stake: Nothing
Result: Pacquiao TKO 8
Background: In retrospect, Pacquiao’s knockout victory over De La Hoya makes sense. The Mexican-American superstar was 35, in decline and dropped considerable weight to make the fight happen. However, at the time, it was difficult to imagine the diminutive Pacquiao beating such a gifted, experienced and naturally bigger opponent. We learned quickly that the young, dynamic Filipino was too much for this version of De La Hoya, who had neither the reflexes nor wherewithal to cope with Pacquiao’s speed and accurate punching. He battered his one-time idol for eight rounds – losing only one round on one card – before De La Hoya’s handlers decided enough was enough and he didn’t come out for Round 9. The victory proved to be Pacquiao’s threshold to superstardom.
Date / site: Nov. 14, 2009 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Records: Pacquiao 49-3-2; Cotto 34-1
At stake: Cotto’s WBO title
Result: Pacquiao TKO 12
Background: Pacquiao followed his stunning victory over De La Hoya with perhaps his greatest knockout, a breathtaking, one-punch stoppage of the durable Ricky Hatton on May 2, 2009. However, his victory over Cotto was more important. The Puerto Rican had built a reputation as one of the best fighters in the world over the previous half decade. And, frankly, Pacquiao had his way with him. Cotto felt Pacquiao’s power early – going down in Rounds 3 and 4 – and had no appetite to exchange punches from then on. Instead, he turned to his formidable skill set and dancing ability but even that failed him in the end. Cotto, his face a battered mess, was taking a pounding when referee Kenny Bayless finally stopped the fight.
Date / site: July 20, 2019
Records: Pacquiao 61-7-2; Thurman 29-0
At stake: Thurman’s WBA title
Result: Pacquiao SD 12
Background: Pacquiao had many more-dominating performances than this one in his nearly quarter-century career. The elements that made this one special? Pacquiao’s age (40) and Thurman’s perceived ability. Pacquiao certainly wasn’t a has-been, having beaten Adrien Broner in his previous fight, but he was relatively old, couldn’t fight at the same pace he once did and was a small 147-pounder. All that figured to work in favor of Thurman, a big, strong welterweight who was in the second fight of a comeback from injuries. Turned out that even a diminished version of Pacquiao could still beat an elite 147-pounder. Pacquiao got off to a quick start by putting Thurman down in Round 1 and then fought in energy-conserving bursts to win rounds and ultimate the fight, albeit by a narrow margin. Surprise, surprise. The great one still had more to give.