Manny Pacquiao’s legacy isn’t tied to his rematch with Tim Bradley on Saturday in Las Vegas. Assuming he doesn’t fight and beat Floyd Mayweather Jr. – a safe assumption – his place in history is more or less set.
Pacquiao will be judged primarily for what happened between 2001, when he seized our attention by upsetting Lehlo Ledwaba in his first fight in the U.S., and 2010 or 2011, when we first detected signs of decline.
That’s when he was at his best, the period of any elite fighter’s career for which he is most remembered.
Pacquiao peaked as the “Mexicutioner,” a moniker attached to him because of his dominance over top Mexican fighters. He was 6-1-1 against the great trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez going into his ill-fated fourth fight against Marquez in 2012.
That historic run is now a matter of record, never to be altered.
Pacquiao was at his most dramatic during a five-month period in 2008 and 2009, when he stunned the boxing world by making Oscar De La Hoya quit in his corner and putting Ricky Hatton to sleep with one unforgettable left hand.
Those images, which inspired comparisons to the likes of Henry Armstrong, will stay with us no matter what happens from here on out.
Then there is the fact Pacquiao has won major titles in a record eight of 17 weight classes. No one can take that remarkable feat from him.
Of course, Marquez’s stunning one-punch knockout of Pacquiao in December 2012 didn’t help his cause. We’ll also never forget the disturbing image of him lying face down and motionless. He never seemed more human.
At the same time, that setback – as dramatic as it was – didn’t do catastrophic damage to his legacy, particularly because he was winning the fight when he was caught by the historic punch. The same holds true in Pacquiao’s first fight against Bradley, in June of 2012, when he lost a controversial decision.
Yes, Pacquiao lost some big fights. No one can say he made a habit of it, though. He is 10-3-1 in 14 fights against opponents who are certain or possible Hall of Famers. That’s impressive.
A victory over Bradley would add to Pacquiao’s body of work but it wouldn’t change our perception of him appreciably. A loss would be more of a signal that he is finished than a horrible stain on his record.
The bottom line is that Pacquiao has been one of the greatest fighters of his generation, perhaps second only to Mayweather. Nothing is going to change that.