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Time to rate Pacquiao among all-time greats

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LAS VEGAS – Bob Arum is 78 years old, but as Saturday night became Sunday morning and the famous Strip geared up for another dose of party time, boxing's omnipresent promoter was as hyperbolic as ever.

Arum loves this brutal yet entrancing game, loves the spin and the hype and the eternal battle of verbal chicanery needed to sell the virtues of fights and fighters.

But as the Top Rank chief cranked into high gear to extol the merits of his shining light, Manny Pacquiao, for once his spiel was met with nods of agreement from even the sagest of boxing experts.

Pacquiao's 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was mightily impressive on paper but even more so in actuality, a punishing and blistering assault that was electrifying to witness.

That's why Arum found plenty of takers when he floated the theory that his boxer is the greatest of this era, even without the clarifying factor of a bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which boxing prays will take place in 2010.

It's been a while since current fighters were talked about in historical terms, but that's the level to which Pacquiao is taking his performances, a reality to which Cotto's mangled face bore testament.

"I think he is the greatest fighter I have seen," said Arum. "Certainly the greatest of this era. There was a time in this country when boxing was mainstream, it really mattered, and Manny is helping to bring that back."

The fight game is still a long way removed from the days of big contests on network television and a cemented place in the public consciousness, but Pacquiao's abilities certainly bridge generational gaps.

Boxing historian Bert Sugar, author of "Boxing's Greatest Fighters," believes the Filipino sensation is now among the top 20 fighters who have ever lived.

"This performance puts him up there," Sugar said. "The key with Pacquiao is the way he has retained his power while he climbs up the weights.

"A lot of people thought that Cotto's own punching power – a natural welterweight – would be too much for him. Instead, Pacquiao put himself in Cotto's wheelhouse and took his shots."

Pacquiao has now won officially sanctioned belts in five divisions and has been regarded as a champion in seven, a remarkable feat that has confounded the critics at virtually every step.

The welterweight limit of 147 pounds is as high as he will go, but there is still more he can do to cement his legacy, starting with a showdown with Mayweather.

"Don't be afraid to put this guy up there with the greats," said trainer Freddie Roach. "What he is doing just doesn't happen these days and boxing is lucky to have him.

"It might even be that it won't be until after his career that Manny is truly appreciated. People know what he is doing, moving up the weights with so much success, but we won't see it happen again. Only then will people truly appreciate it."

One of the more popular comparisons emerging is Pacquiao and Henry Armstrong, the legendary fighter of the 1930s and 1940s. Armstrong fought across six divisions and maintained his ferocious power at every level.

Such likenesses are mired in conjecture – Armstrong fought more than 150 times, often taking the ring up to 15 times per year. Compared to Armstrong, current evaluations of Pacquiao are based on limited information.

"It is not for me to say where I am in the history of boxing," said Pacquiao. "I just try to win my fights and represent my country. I don't think too much about these things."

Well, that won't stop the rest of the boxing world from thinking about it. The topic of Pac-Man's spot in history will keep the sport's fans chattering away.

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