JOAQUIN HENSON: THEN THERE IS MANNY PACQUIAO, GREATEST FIGHTER EVER


MANILA, NOVEMBER 19, 2010
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - In yesterday’s column, we discussed the boxing careers of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, two of four fighters who were the only common choices of experts listing the world’s greatest boxers ever in five authoritative books.

The two others were Henry Armstrong (right photo) and Jack Dempsey (left).

Armstrong is the only fighter in history to hold three world titles in different divisions simultaneously – and it was during the pre-alphabet days when the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF were still non-existent. “Homicide Hank” captured the world featherweight, welterweight and lightweight titles, in that order, within a 10-month period in 1937-38. He attempted to annex the world middleweight crown but could only draw with defending Filipino champion Ceferino Garcia in 1940. Armstrong tipped the scales at 142 pounds and Garcia, 153 1/2, for the bout in Los Angeles.

Believe it or not, Armstrong saw action in 27 bouts, winning all by knockout except one, in 1937. A relentless and tireless puncher, he was known to have an abnormally slow heartbeat that allowed him to keep a frenetic pace in the ring.

“Armstrong imposed his will on his opponents, suffocating them in his swarming style, firing off his punches and then running over them, much like a runaway locomotive with a 10-ton truck rumbling over their remains for good measure,” wrote Bert Randolph Sugar in his book “The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time.” “The feats of Henry Armstrong are a benchmark against which all future generations will be measured.”

Armstong compiled a record of 150-21-0, with 100 KOs, from 1931 to 1945. The only stain in his history was when he resorted to rough-house tactics in losing to Lou Ambers in 1939. Referee Arthur Donovan penalized Armstrong five rounds for low blows.

Born to poverty, Armstrong was the 11th of 15 children and never knew how to manage his ring earnings. Within months of his retirement from boxing, he was penniless and became an alcoholic. In 1951, Armstrong “saw the light” and was ordained a Baptist minister. He died at 75 in 1988 as poor as when he was born.

“Armstrong was, by all accounts, something of a miracle man outside as well as inside the ring,” wrote Henry Cooper in his book “100 Greatest Boxers.” “One of his trainers once revealed, ‘Hank is a champion womanizer. I have to get him out of a different bed every day to train. I just don’t know where he finds the energy.’”

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Dempsey got the common nod of the experts over such legends as Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Benny Leonard, Carlos Monzon and Rocky Marciano. He held the world heavyweight title and posted a record of 61-6-8, with 50 KOs and six no-contests, from 1914 to 1927. Dempsey fought France’s Georges Carpentier at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City in 1921 to mark the fight game’s first million-dollar gate. About 80,000 fans paid almost $1.8 million to witness the bout which Dempsey won by a fourth round knockout. In 1927, a crowd of 102,000 jammed Soldier Field in Chicago to watch the “Battle of the Long Count” where Gene Tunney recovered from a knockdown to outpoint Dempsey.

“If anyone ever possessed a killer instinct, it was Dempsey,” wrote Steve Nicholaisen and Robert Cassidy Jr. in “Boxing Legends of All Time.” “In the ring, Dempsey was equipped with a surly demeanor and constant two-fisted attack. He was an unrelenting and remorseless warrior. He fought out of a crouch, bobbing and bombing, always stalking the man in front of him. Dempsey craved fighting so much that he once knocked out a sportswriter (Paul Gallico) who sought a sparring session with him for a first-person column.”

One of Dempsey’s historic wins was when he overcame a huge physical disadvantage to stop Jess Willard in the third round for the world heavyweight crown in Toledo in 1919. Willard was six inches taller and outweighed Dempsey by 58 pounds. “The Manassas Mauler” floored Willard seven times in the first round to set the tone for the massacre. Willard ended up with a broken jaw, fractured ribs and crushed cheekbone.

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Then there is Manny Pacquiao whose style closely resembles Armstrong’s. No fighter ever has accomplished what Pacquiao has in capturing eight world titles in eight weight classes – flyweight (112-pound limit), superbantamweight (122), featherweight (126), superfeatherweight (130), lightweight (135), lightwelterweight (140), welterweight (147) and superwelterweight (154). Floyd Mayweather Jr. went as far as claiming five titles in as many divisions. Oscar de la Hoya, Tommy Hearns, Hector (Macho) Camacho and James Toney took six titles in different classes but only Pacquiao has won seven and eight.

Pacquiao could’ve even collected 10 world titles but opted to skip the superflyweight (115) and bantamweight (118) divisions in moving up from flyweight to superbantamweight in 1999.

Pacquiao’s quality of opposition has been high standard. He battled future Hall of Famers De la Hoya, Erik Morales thrice and Marco Antonio Barrera twice. The Filipino ring icon has been named the “Fighter of the Decade” by the Boxing Writers Association of America for his exploits. Today, he is widely acknowledged as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound champion captivating the universe with his charisma, skills and courage. Pacquiao is a global hero, hailed by an adoring army of fans, and a media magnet. His record of 52-3-2, with 38 KOs, is a testament to his greatness as a fighter.

Outside the ring, Pacquiao has also made a serious impact. He’s in the record books as the only fighter ever to win an election for a high public office while still active in boxing. And his gesture of compassion before the 12th round in his bout against Antonio Margarito last Saturday will be forever etched in history books recalling the glorious moments of the sport.

When Pacquiao said that “boxing isn’t killing each other,” he humanized the fight game and immediately preserved its integrity as a sport, an art and a science. He erased the tag of boxing as a brutal and vicious display of violence. The sport has never known a fighter with a soul quite like Pacquiao’s. In my mind, that characteristic is the clincher for the argument to name Pacquiao as the greatest fighter of all time. His boxing record speaks for itself. His accomplishments are unprecedented. But Pacquiao’s show of heart is his ticket to immortality.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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