What makes a great champion? If you’re Manny Pacquiao, it would seem to be collecting belts and making up false achievements for yourself. If you’re Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who fights Robert Guerrero in a move back down to welterweight on Showtime May 4, it’s about fighting up-and-comers and great champions alike, collecting belts as a consequence of being the best fighter in the world for now and perhaps all-time. Here’s why Floyd Mayweather is a better champion than Manny Pacquiao and why his plaque in Canastota should have more prominent display in the Hall:
Mayweather actually held a real, undisputed title at each of his five weights, not claiming “eight-division world champion” like Pacquiao, whose claim is probably false.
Manny Pacquiao wants you to believe he’s an “eight-division world champion”, but he has no claim on two of those divisions and a very weak claim on a third. The ability to (allegedly) fill one’s muscles full of steroids en route to a weight well in excess of one’s natural bulk does not a great champion make.
Pacquiao was absolutely without doubt one of the greatest little guys ever to lace up the gloves; had he just stayed between flyweight and featherweight, we wouldn’t have had this conversation. But let’s break it down, his “eight divisions”:
Flyweight: Pacquiao was the lord of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, putting together a career a lot like the one Pongsaklek Wonjongkam just had before Pong aged out of the role last year. Even so, he is only 2-1 in world title fights at 112 pounds, including one of his KO losses, to Medgoen Singsurat for the WBC belt in 1998.
Junior Featherweight: Make no mistake. This is where nobody can argue that Manny wasn’t one of the great champions of all time. At 122 pounds, he cut through the division, burst onto the scene in the United States, and beat a lot of the best at the weight; even so, when it came time to fight actual beltholders, why is Pacquiao only 4-0-1 in world title fights?
Featherweight: Don’t give me that claptrap about “lineal titles” and “beat the guy who beat the guy”. In today’s environment, there are more pretenders to the throne of “title lineage” than there are on Game of Thrones. Yes, Manny Pacquiao beat Marco Antonio Barrera impressively in their first fight. But he is 0-0-1 in world title fights (the first Juan Manuel Marquez fight), and that’s not going to cut it, since a draw doesn’t get a Hall of Fame-recognized belt around your waist. That’s two weights so far, not three.
Junior Lightweight: Only the second fight with Marquez was actually for a recognized world title, and it’s a fight that many could argue that Manny didn’t win. Now, we can argue all day about what good the “WBC International” title is, but it’s not the WBC Junior Lightweight Champion of the World now, is it? Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier the second time for the NABF heavyweight title, but everyone knew that George Foreman was the heavyweight champion at the time. Yes, the Erik Morales trilogy and the second Barrera fight were great fights. But wearing a farcical belt around one’s waist does not a world champion make. You need a real one, and Manny was 1-0 in world title fights at 130 pounds.
Lightweight: Talk about goosing a claim. Fighting David Diaz only because Diaz had a belt, Manny Pacquiao steamrolled him. Forgive me for saying “so what?” 1-0 in title fights, 1-0 at the weight, and the first signs were there of a guy who cared more about records that are about as impressive as the Boston Red Sox “sellout streak” at Fenway, which is to say not at all. Four divisions so far, and three cases where he was a “champion” rather than a “beltholder.” In the words of Jamie Hyneman, “this isn’t looking good for the myth.”
Junior Welterweight: Another division, another lack of a world title. The win over Ricky Hatton was for the IBO title at 140 pounds. Not the IBF, not the WBO, and you can’t split the difference. The record is clear; Manny Pacquiao never fought for a recognized world title at 140 pounds. He moved up to welterweight after the Hatton fight without ever having won an actual title. Still four divisions. Still only three strong claims. And we’re running out of weight classes.
Welterweight: OK, fine. Manny Pacquiao won a real belt (from the WBO) and beat real contenders (you don’t have to beat all-time greats. Let’s leave the lack of a superfight out of this.) Pacquiao beat Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, and (debatably) Juan Manuel Marquez in sanctioned world title fights. He was a welterweight champ. He wasn’t THE welterweight champ (that would be Floyd Mayweather), but he was A welterweight champ, and if we can give Vitali Klitschko credit for holding the WBC belt, then Manny gets a pass here as well. That’s five weights and four legit claims, and I think we’re about to run out of divisions.
Junior Middleweight: The rules of boxing define the junior middleweight/light middleweight/super welterweight division as “a weight division in professional boxing, above 147 pounds and up to 154 pounds (66.7-69.9 kg).” (Wikipedia) Manny Pacquiao fought for a world title at a 150-pound catchweight, came in himself at 145, and called himself the junior middleweight champion of the world.
Does anyone really need to think too hard about how absurd that is? Manny got to fight a welterweight fight against a guy who came in no further over the welterweight limit than Brandon Rios did at lightweight in his last two fights at 135, and if it looks like a 147-pound fight and hits like a 147-pound fight, it cannot legitimately be a junior middleweight title fight. If the WBO set its mind to it, Manny Pacquiao could fight Robert Stieglitz at a 155-pound catchweight, ‘roid himself to hell and back, and be the super middleweight champ with that logic.
Just because a greedy sanctioning body wants its pound of flesh, and just because Jose Sulaiman wanted Antonio Margarito out of the way knowing Pacquiao wouldn’t defend the belt so that he could install Saul Alvarez as his champion, this does not make Manny Pacquiao a 154-pound world champion. So that’s six divisions with a title and only four legitimate claims.
I don’t know how people do it elsewhere, but where I come from we don’t run around pounding our chests when we haven’t earned the right to boast. Manny Pacquiao is a six-division titlist and a four-division champion. End of discussion.
Just for kicks, let’s check out Floyd Mayweather’s claim, shall we?
Same methodology, less getting flattened and going down like he’s been shot the way Pacquiao did in the fourth Marquez fight:
Junior featherweight: Floyd Mayweather won his first title from Genaro Hernandez in 1998, sending Hernandez into a comfortable retirement counting punches on the CompuBox machine on basic cable. After affixing the WBC 130-pound belt around his waist, Mayweather tenaciously defended it, eight times in fact, including a brutal beatdown of Diego Corrales that saw Diego hit the mat five times in ten rounds. Floyd’s style rounded into something special in the dying years of the Bill Clinton administration, and that title run alone could’ve made a Hall of Fame case by itself.
Lightweight: Mayweather had played at 135 pounds during his 130 run, beating Emanuel Augustus in what Mayweather later said was one of his toughest fights by way of paying compliment to his opponent. Things didn’t turn out so bad for Augustus (still known as Emanuel Burton at the time) since it got him a date in New Hampshire for a Fight of the Year with Micky Ward a few months later.
Once the time for play was over, Mayweather seized the mantle from Jose Luis Castillo, won a rematch, then put seven rounds of TKO icing on the cake against Philip Ndou before heading up to 140 for a shot at greater things. Beating Jose Luis Castillo twice when Castillo was still two years away from his fight with Diego Corrales is no mean feat, and doing it for a belt makes you a champion. That’s two legit claims.
Junior Welterweight: In one of the strongest times the 140-pound division has ever seen, Arturo Gatti leveraged his trilogy with Micky Ward into a title shot, lifted the belt off of Gianluca Branco, defended against Leonard Dorin, smacked around Jesse James Leija (a former world champ at 130, even if he was 1-6 all-time in world title fights for his career), and then surrendered the belt to Floyd Mayweather. If we’re not holding Joshua Clottey against Manny Pacquiao, we can’t hold Arturo Gatti against Floyd Mayweather. Was Gatti Kostya Tszyu or Ricky Hatton? No, but in 2005 the division was loaded and Mayweather was one of the titlists. That’s three.
Welterweight: Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Victor Ortiz, a stint as the pound-for-pound No. 1, and a whole lot of whining from both camps trying to make a fight with Pacquiao. Any questions? That’s four.
Junior Middleweight: To become the recognized undisputed 154-pound champ by beating Miguel Cotto for it is nice. To do it five years after stepping up in weight when barely off the 140-pound limit, weigh in at a solid 150 for a fight contracted at the limit (none of this catchweight crap), and beat the snot out of an all-time great in Oscar De La Hoya? That’s five, and all five of the title reigns with at least a modest claim (if we’re being fair, maybe we discount junior welter, but I just made that case.
Having a belt around your waist does not make you a world champion.
Floyd Mayweather’s belts were earned by beating champions. Manny Pacquiao earned his by beating beltholders. There’s a difference. And that’s why Floyd Mayweather is a better champion than Manny Pacquiao; indeed, Money, should he retire undefeated, deserves mention with guys like Ali and Whitaker and Robinson and Leonard as the great fighters ever to lace up the gloves.
Fox Doucette is Deputy Editor for MyBoxing.