By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
The current Fighter of the Decade debate involving Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. somewhat mirrors the situation in the 1950s where the choice was between five time middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson and the retired undefeated heavyweight king Rocky Marciano.
Robinson eventually was given the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Decade award covering the years from1950 to 1959 despite suffering five of his career losses during that same period. This was aided by Marciano retiring in 1955 with an immaculate 49-0 career record, including 24 wins, 20 by KO since 1950.
Many boxing followers today are hopeful that the Ring Magazine and most especially, the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) will be guided by that precedence in deciding who between Pacquiao and Mayweather deserves Fighter of the Decade award for 2000-2019.
This notwithstanding the possibility of a non American fighter as Pacquiao winning the award in back to back manner as Robinson did and the equally meritorious bid of Saul Canelo Alvarez who like Pacquiao started and ended the decade as world champion.
Another undefeated American fighter Andre Ward is the running for the decade award but he too has been retired since 2017.
Like Pacquiao in the 2000s decade, Robinson was adjudged as the best fighter of the previous decade, the 1940s where he debuted in 1940 and went on to post an incredible 101 wins, one loss and two draws record while winning the world championship in and dominating the welterweight division.
His only loss during that stretch was on points to arch-rival Jake LaMotta, a middleweight whom he had defeated earlier and three more times afterwards in revenge and brutally concluding their personal rivalry. He drew with Jose Basora whom he would kayo in just one round in their rematch, and another middleweight Henry Brimm.
Aside from LaMotta, among the prominent fighters, mostly former and future world champions he defeated during the period included Sammy Angott, Fritzie Zivic, Kid Gavilan, Henry Armstrong, Tommy Bell and Izzy Janazzo.
By comparison, Pacquiao was declared the Fighter of the Decade for 2000-2009 by the BWAA on the strength of his winning world championships in six more weight classes to go with his first at flyweight in 1998 while registering a 23-1-2 record.
His only loss was against former triple world champion Erik Morales in 2005 whom he defeated twice bý technical knockout in rematches in 2006. His two draws came against Agapito Sanchez in 2001 and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004 who he would defeat later for the WBC super featherweight title in 2007.
The other highly prominent fighters Manny met and defeated during the period included Lehlo Ledwaba, Marco Antonio Barrera, David Diaz, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto against whom he collected majority of his world titles. He also defeated and retired former six division world champion Oscar de la Hoya.
Pacquiao’s closest rival for the decade honor was Floyd Mayweather who went undefeated during the decade while winning world championships in four more weight classes to go with his WBC super featherweight title won in 1998. But he retired in the middle of 2007 and only came back in late 2009 and that weakened his bid.
Entering the 1950s, Robinson decided to move up to the middleweights and shortly afterwards, he won the world title against familiar nemesis, Jake LaMotta. But it was also during this decade that Robinson incurred five of his losses that saw him lose his middleweight crown four times and fail in his bid for the world light heavyweight championship. He was 41-5 during the decade, only losing to Joey Maxim, Bobo Olson, Carmen Basilio and twice to Gene Fullmer.
Marciano on the other hand was highly successful for much of the first half of the decade. After defeating former long time champion Joe Louis in 1951, he won the heavyweight championship from Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952. He went on defend it against Walcott, twice against ex titlist Ezzard Charles, Roland Starza, British and European champion Don Cockell and finally, Archie Moore in 1955 after which he announced his retirement. He was 24-0 including 22 KOs during that five year span and 49-0 overall.
To Robinson’s credit however, he came back to regain the middleweight title as many times he lost it, giving him the distinction as the first and only fighter to win the championship five times. He also only failed in his quest for the light heavyweight championship when he retired due to heat exhaustion in the waning minutes of his 15 round bout versus Joey Maxim which he was dominating. And despite fighting his last world title bout in 1957, he remained a force to be reckoned with well into the start of the 1960s.
Those plus Marciano retiring in 1955 proved enough in convincing the Ring Magazine to name Robinson the Fighter of the Decade of the 1950s.
Pacquiao ended the 2010s decade with an unflattering 12-4 record but two of his defeats to Tim Bradley in 2012 and Jeff Horn in 2017 were highly questionable.
He lost clearly by knockout to Marquez also in 2012 but he had Marquez in deep trouble before the Mexican landed the Hail Mary punch. His losing fight versus Mayweather is still questioned to this day due to his pre-existing shoulder injury which was made known to the public hours before the bout.
Mayweather won all his bouts between 2010 and 2015, winning titles in the welterweight and super welterweight divisions over such foes as Canelo Alvarez, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz, Marcos Maidana and Pacquiao.
But he ended his first official boxing comeback later in 2015 on a lower note in a title defense versus opt beaten ex titlist Andre Berto though he tied Marciano’s 49-0 record in the process. His last win in 2017 was against a non boxer Conor McGregor though their fight was sanctioned as a boxing match raising his ledger to 50-0.
To Pacquiao’s credit, after losing to Bradley, Mayweather and Horn, he has always came back to regain or win world titles in the division, defeating Bradley himself ( two more times in fact ), Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse and most recently, erstwhile undefeated Keith Thurman. He is the oldest to win a world title in the division at 40 years old and currently is the only fighter to remain a world champion in the past four decades, the 90s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020.
He also won the WBC super welterweight title, his eighth world division championship in 2010. Among the other fighters he defeated during the decade included Joshua Clottey, Marquez, Mosley, Chris Algieri, Brandon Rios and Adrien Broner.
Talking of merit and precedent, Pacquiao deserves high consideration, indeed.