By Matthew Hurley
As the accolades continue to pour in for Manny Pacquiao
in the aftermath of his destruction of Ricky Hatton
, a contingent of more pragmatic fans have begun to bark back at the lunatic fringe of Pacmaniacs who now proclaim their idol to be one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up the gloves.
There is no doubt that Pacquiao is a very special fighter, one worthy of intense praise for not only his accomplishments, but for how he has transformed himself from a left-hook happy slugger into a complete fighter.
He also goes about his business with a quiet dignity in a sport filled with braggarts and blowhards. So, is Pacquiao’s sudden elevation into the pantheon of great fighters justified or is he being overestimated? Will he continue down his path of destruction or will some fighter hand him his head after which some of the naysayers now having their say will proclaim, “I told you so.”
At this point in time it is probably somewhere in between. Not because Pacquiao hasn’t proven his greatness as a fighter, he has and in spectacularly exciting fashion. But a truism in all of sports is that you never evaluate an athlete’s place among the all time great practitioners of a particular sport until his career has ended and it can be put in its proper perspective.
So many athletes bust out of the gate amidst a fanfare of hosannas from fans and media alike only to fall far short of the very approbations heaped upon them before they collapsed.
Red Sox fans still lament all the unfulfilled promise Nomar Garciaparra showed when he first burst onto the Boston sports scene. Even the legendary Ted Williams became fascinated with the young shortstop and lauded him as a future Hall of Famer. But after a few good seasons followed by middling play, nagging injuries, rumors of steroid use and a falling out with management this franchise player was not only sent packing but saw any chance of even remote Hall of Fame consideration waft away into the ether.
In boxing one fighter always stands out in this writer’s mind when it comes to unfulfilled promise – Donald Curry. At his best, from his welterweight ascent in 1983 to his unification demolition of Milton McCrory in 1985 ‘The Lone Star Cobra’ was anointed almost universally as the heir apparent to then middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. He was even voted co-fighter of the year with Hagler in 1985 – the very year the Marvelous one knocked out Thomas Hearns in a fight for the ages.
But shortly after that brilliant run everything fell apart for Curry. In 1986 he was battered into submission in the sixth round by huge underdog Lloyd Honeyghan in the upset of the year. He tried to rebound as a junior middleweight but was starched by one sweeping left hook in the fifth round by Mike McCallum in 1987. After that this once terrific fighter was never the same and his name has been gathering dust on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Pacquiao has already surpassed Curry’s truncated display of brilliance. He is now a legitimately great fighter by virtue of the competition he has faced over the last six years. Tie that up with his constantly improving skills and exciting style and you have a fighter who is now the complete fistic package.
But to place him upon the sacred ground of the all time greats is premature. It was easy to shake one’s head in astonishment at the perfect left hook he connected in the second round on Ricky Hatton
’s chin – it was so compact, so sweet. As the canvas spun up to claim Hatton, Pacquiao’s admirers leapt to their feet and pointed at the Filipino icon. “Greatest of all time!” they screamed in unison.
Not so fast people. Curry launched a left hook just as perfectly timed that exploded on McCrory’s chin in, yes, round two, dropping the Kronk fighter flat on his back in their welterweight showdown. With a mindset similar to those who are now deifying Pacquiao, fans and media back in 1985 began comparing Curry to Sugar Ray Leonard.
It didn’t pan out for Donald Curry. It just might for Manny Pacquiao
. He’s that good. In fact his longevity, quality of opposition and performance has indeed elevated him to greatness. But to proclaim him as a fighter worthy to be hyphenated with an all time great like Henry Armstrong is jumping the gun. And, refreshingly, Manny Pacquiao
would probably say the very same.