Boxing is known as the sweet science for a reason, and its technical workings have perhaps been more closely dissected and studied than those of any other sport.
Some believe this ceaseless search for the slightest and most intricate of advantages imposes a limit as to how much one performer can be better than his peers.
Manny Pacquiao’s latest demolition job may have started to smash through that mind-set with the same sort of force he used on Ricky Hatton’s face and body on Saturday night.
Rarely has a boxer raised the bar of his profession so quickly and emphatically as the Filipino superstar is doing as he marches through a series of weight divisions.
Worryingly, for those with future designs on facing him, there is no ceiling in sight.
The Filipino superstar’s progress since his last defeat, to Erik Morales in 2005, has not purely been built with his physical gifts or inscrutable technique.
His poor upbringing in the Philippines may have limited his formal education, but trainer Freddie Roach believes Pacquiao is a boxing genius.
And, crucially, he has not just the mentality of a fighter, but the sporting intellect reserved for sports’ all-time greats.
Pacquiao probably hasn’t heard of Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French philosopher. But one of Pascal’s most famous phrases – “man’s greatness lies in his power of thought” – applies to him.
Pacquiao is not simply chasing recognition or success; his ultimate target is fulfillment.
Deep within the closeted mind of this introverted yet phenomenal athlete is the seed of thought that his upper limits are still some way from being tapped.
“I know I can improve my skills as a boxer,” Pacquiao said in an interview with Filipino television. “I am very pleased to have beaten Ricky Hatton but I think I can still get better. How much better, I don’t know.”
No one knows the full capabilities of the 30-year-old’s dancer feet and surgical fists.
However, fueled by the fulsome belief of Roach, the sense is that the end is not yet close.
The crushing flurry that struck out Hatton at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and sent the Englishman to a local hospital didn’t feel anything like a crowning achievement, more a stepping stone to future glories.
For the sport of boxing, the timing could not have been better. With Floyd Mayweather Jr. returning from his brief retirement, there are now two bona fide superstars of generational aptitude.
Pacquiao, though, is an athlete of the purest variety, for whom the essence of his profession is the essence of himself.
If the public began to tire of hyperbole and marketing shtick, it never sickens of witnessing greatness in full flow, and that is what Pacquiao is providing.
His understated personality is a wonderful antidote to the bling culture inherent in many professional sports and his methodology carries a powerful message.
“Every pro athlete should take what Manny does to heart," said his promoter, Bob Arum. “This young man realized he didn’t know everything and that to be more successful he could still learn.
“He learns every fight, every training session, and gets better and better. The way he lives his life and the way he performs is an example to anyone.”
Pacquiao’s achievements speak for themselves and the way he sent Hatton crashing to the canvas for the final time was the most resounding of finishes.
It has been a long time since a boxer would have been mentioned in a mythical “pound-for-pound” list of the world’s finest athletes.
Yet while Pacquiao does not have the personality of a Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt or Rafael Nadal, his level of achievement must be considered on par.
“Manny Pacquiao is the best man out there in boxing,” said the New York Giants’ Super Bowl-winning running back Brandon Jacobs, an impressed spectator on Saturday. “I can’t think of a single athlete there who would not give him their total respect.
“Power comes in many forms, especially in my sport, but when you see it coming from a man who weighs 140 pounds it is an incredible thing to behold.
“This guy is an artist at what he does. He is the best pound-for-pound boxer and his ability transcends across all sports.
“He has to be one of the best athletes in the world.”
- Manny Pacquiao
- Ricky Hatton