Thankfully, my job only requires me to choose the Yahoo! Sports Fighter of the Year for 2009 and not select a runner-up, where there are several very good candidates.
Picking the Fighter of the Year for 2009 is easy. Who, other than Manny Pacquiao, could it possibly be?
There were many brilliant individual performances in 2009, but no boxer accomplished as much in the year as Pacquiao did with his devastatingly quick knockout of Ricky Hatton and his 12-round bludgeoning of Miguel Cotto. In fights in which there were more than a handful of knowledgeable boxing experts who thought he might lose both of his fights, Pacquiao breezed to dominant victories in each.
Pacquiao confirmed in 2009 what many began to suspect in 2008: He deserves to be considered among the greatest boxers of all time.
Burt Sugar, a boxing historian whose book "Boxing's Greatest Fighters" is a list of his choices of the top 100 fighters ever, said Pacquiao deserves to be considered one of the 25 greatest fighters of all time.
That's quite a statement considering the men that Sugar's book includes in the top 25 – names like Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep, Joe Louis, Harry Greb, Benny Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Mickey Walker, Tony Canzoneri, Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano, Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jimmy Wilde, Stanley Ketchel, Barney Ross, Jimmy McLarnin, Archie Moore, Marcel Cerdan, Ezzard Charles and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Sugar said Pacquiao is likely the greatest Asian-born fighter ever as well as arguably the best left-hander in history.
"I think he's clearly done enough to get into the top 25, going through all those weight classes and winning the fights in devastating style," Sugar said. "He reminds me a lot of Henry Armstrong. He's got nonstop power punching and he moves and gives angles."
Pacquiao wins the award in 2009 based on unexpectedly one-sided victories over Hatton and Cotto, each of whom spent time in the pound-for-pound top 10 at some point in their careers.
Few doubted going into the Hatton fight that Pacquiao was the more-skilled, more-talented fighter. Despite his victory over Oscar De La Hoya five months earlier, however, there were many questions surrounding Pacquiao's ability to fight and defeat a naturally bigger man in his prime.
After Pacquiao destroyed De La Hoya in 2008, the consensus was that De La Hoya was over the hill. Such was not the case about Hatton as he prepared to fight Pacquiao in Las Vegas on May 2. Those who supported Hatton felt he would prove to be too big and too strong for Pacquiao to handle.
Their belief was that Pacquiao's punches wouldn't have the impact they had against De La Hoya and that Pacquiao might have difficulty with Hatton's physical strength and mauling style. Pacquiao dispelled that myth quickly, knocking out Hatton with a wicked left to the chin that left Hatton prone in the center of the ring for several minutes.
Pacquiao then agreed to face Cotto, a powerful welterweight who had lost just once in 35 bouts and who was in his prime. Again, the question of whether Pacquiao could withstand Cotto's pressure, particularly his relentless body assault, was raised. And yet again, Pacquiao answered those questions.
His promoter, Bob Arum, called Pacquiao the best fighter he's seen in 45 years in the boxing business. Sugar said that's not far off.
"Obviously, you have to take Arum's opinion somewhat with a grain of salt considering his job, but when you think about it, it's not that horribly wrong," Sugar said. "OK, the bulk of Ali's career came during that time, but when you consider the vast majority of guys who competed in that time, see how many guys you come up with who you say are hands down, unquestionably, better than this kid. I'm betting that you don't come up with a real long list."
There were several exceptional performers in 2009, but it's hard to consider most of them for Fighter of the Year. Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather Jr. were dominant in their fights, but each man only competed once.
Paul Williams nearly shut out Winky Wright in April and then won an excellent bout against Sergio Martinez on Dec. 5. Timothy Bradley defeated Kendall Holt and Lamont Peterson, each of whom is a quality fighter, in championship bouts and had a no-decision with Nate Campbell in a fight he appeared en route to winning.
Either Williams or Bradley would be a terrific choice in a year other than one in which Pacquiao established himself as the world's top pound-for-pound boxer. But by being so dominant against elite competition, Manny Pacquiao has cinched the spot as the Yahoo! Sports Fighter of the Year for 2009.