Well, after all that what is there really left to say? That wasn't supposed to happen. The mind starts to search for context, but it’s hard to find antecedents for someone moving up in weight against a fine champion and scoring a second round knockout. And not just a second round knockout, but the type of brutal, uncomfortable KO which, if it had been scored by a prospect on Friday Night Fights, would follow that fighter for the rest of his career. “That guy is a puncher!” “I saw him ‘bout kill a man with a left hand once.”
But that’s not supposed to happen against the elites, on the biggest stage, so far above the featherweight limit where Manny Pacquiao made his bones as a one-handed wrecking machine. It’s just not supposed to happen.
This is a makeshift list of the other great weight jumpers and how they won their final belt.
Oscar De La Hoya UD 12 Felix Sturm: Oscar moves up to middleweight to set up the huge fight against true middleweight champion, Bernard Hopkins. He encounters the limited Sturm and, looking fat and unmotivated, receives a dubious decision that even he seems unconvinced by. This is for the least respected and only recently recognized WBO belt. Oscar is promptly knocked out in his next fight against Bernard Hopkins.
Ray Leonard KO 9 Danny Lalonde: In a farce of a fight Leonard makes Lalonde come down from the Light Heavyweight class to Super-Middleweight to fight for a vacant belt. In addition to the vacant Super-Middleweight title, Lalonde’s light heavyweight belt is on the line, marking, I believe, the first and only time anyone has won belts in two different weight classes in the same fight,. Only the media darling Leonard could have gotten away with this silliness. Leonard scores a great knockout against the extremely limited Lalonde, but the circumstances of the fight, and the opponent, are very dubious.
Thomas Hearns UD 12 Virgil Hill: A fine performance from the great Hearns wins him the light heavyweight title in a close, competitive fight. Virgil Hill was a great fighter, and this was a terrific performance by Hearns, but even the preternaturally powerful Hearns, in my opinion one of the top five punchers of all-time, couldn’t dent Hill in his fifth division.
Floyd Mayweather SD 12 Oscar De La Hoya: Floyd does well in winning the junior-middleweight belt. By no means should this have been a split decision, but it was a competitive fight, with Floyd using his superior handspeed to peck his way to victory.
Roberto Duran SD 12 Iran Barkley: The legendary Duran was 38 when he won the middleweight belt from the limited but born tough Iran “the blade” Barkley. In one of the finest achievements of his great career Duran scored a late knockdown to edge the fight on the cards.
Pernell Whitaker UD 12 Julio Cesar Vasquez: Whitaker, the defensive genius, moves up to Junior Middleweight and takes the belt from Vasquez, a decent but uninspiring champion. Whitaker looks tiny and is forced to be extremely defensive in an ugly, scraping fight.
Roy Jones UD 12 John Ruiz: Jones moves to heavyweight and cautiously picks his way to a clear decision win. Though a great achievement, Ruiz is widely regarded as one of the worst belt holders in heavyweight history.
Now, the caveat must be made that there are more divisions now, and more belts. Who knows how many Henry Armstrong or Ray Robinson could have if given the same opportunities.
But even still, what Pacquiao just did is historically unprecedented. Not merely winning a belt in his 6th weight class, not only becoming the first man to win the legitimate title in four weight classes, but to do it against a highly respected Ring champion, and to do it like this; it is almost unspeakable. Most on the preceding greats were nearing the end of their careers, looking to pick up a strap in the easiest manner possible, and finding even that a struggle. Manny just ripped through a pound for pound fighter as though he was a prospect. It was the finest performance in a career filled with them. It was a goddamned ritual beating, it was a bloodletting, it was Manny Pacquiao, the guy I first saw at SUPER-BANTAMWEIGHT what done the deed, your honor, I seen it with my own two eyes. My goodness but it’s a marvel.
The urge comes to dismiss Hatton, especially as he lays quivering and lifeless on the canvas. He was overrated, he was hype, he fought the wrong fight, his face first style was made for Pacquiao. True, but bullshit. Hatton is a fine fighting champion, he earned what he got; Pacquiao is just better. De La Hoya was past his prime, he was weight drained; true but bullshit, Pacquiao made it happen. There is nothing like him.
He’s at the height of his powers, a terrible thing. A laughing assassin. I love one-sided performances, have watched the Diaz masterpiece and the De La Hoya fight many times, but this bout is hard to watch again. It seems to burn the eyes. That left hand looked like it might have killed him. Accuracy and power like that do not belong together.
And I think that may be why some seemed to doubt him, and perhaps still do. He is a contradictory package. A left-hander that aggressive? Not supposed to be. A happy warrior so destructive? No, that’s for the brooding killers, the Duran’s and Chavez’s. An athlete so physically unique and spectacular? That’s for the black fighters.
We have a framework in which to place Mayweather, Roy Jones, and Julio Ceasar Chavez; with Pacquiao it feels like we are flying blind.
Boxing is about context, more than any sport history interacts with the present, so when we see something special and unique and wholly separate it takes a long time, sometimes years or decades, to appreciate it. I liken it to debating superheroes' superpowers. New heroes rise up, but it always seem natural that those from our childhood and prehistory are the ones who stand unvanquished.
Normally I would feel a little guilty for selling a fight so hard only to see it end an uncompetitive show, a queasy reminder of the brutality of the sport; as one contestant lay prone, wracked by spasms, his eyes dead to the world. It’s an amazing and impossible thing to turn a prime physical specimen, honed to his limit, so quickly into an insentient heap with ones' fists. It’s amazing and troubling and barbaric and I should feel a little bad; but really I don’t. Everyone who watched that fight will remember it, they’ll remember that they saw a warrior king at his apex, a rare glimpse of greatness in real time; like a volcanic eruption or earthquake or something equally awesome and powerful.
There will be much talk of where Manny is going, and who knows if he will ever get any further, any higher than this, but really it does not even matter all that much. He has already arrived.