LAS VEGAS – Records in boxing are only slightly more sacred than they are in professional wrestling. The greed of those who run the major world sanctioning organizations prevents boxing from having a history that one generation can hand down to the next.
Because of that, it's hardly been mentioned in the days leading up to the biggest fight of the year that Manny Pacquiao, boxing's pound-for-pound king, may be on the verge of matching one of the sport's most hallowed records.
Pacquiao fights Ricky Hatton in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout Saturday at the sold-out MGM Grand Garden for supremacy at 140 pounds.
If he wins, he'll tie Oscar De La Hoya as the only men to win recognized world championships in six weight classes.
This being boxing, however, that comes with a caveat. It depends greatly upon who you talk to and what you consider a legitimate world title whether Pacquiao will be a four-division champion or a six-division champion if he wins Saturday.
Hatton holds the IBO super lightweight belt and is recognized by Ring Magazine as its champion.
But there are many who only count as legitimate championships those sanctioned by the WBA, WBC, WBO and/or IBF.
Therein lies the rub.
Pacquiao has won the WBC flyweight belt, the IBF super bantamweight title, the WBC super featherweight crown and the WBC lightweight championship.
That's four. But Pacquiao also was the linear champion at featherweight, though he never held a sanctioning body belt, and he'd become the linear champion if he were to defeat Hatton as a nearly 3-1 favorite.
To those who care about the history of the sport, that's six titles, including three in just under 15 months.
Sugar Ray Leonard, who won belts at 147, 154, 160, 168 and 175, said it's a phenomenal achievement regardless of who may recognize Pacquiao's belts at 126 and 140.
"It's an amazing, amazing accomplishment and I don't think people truly grasp how difficult that is to do," Leonard said.
What makes it more amazing is that Pacquiao fought his first fight at 106 pounds. Each of the three men who went on to win belts in six divisions were tall and had the type of frame that allowed them to easily pack on pounds.
Leonard began his career as a welterweight and never weighed less than 141 for a fight. Thomas Hearns was 6 feet 1 inches – or a full seven inches taller than Pacquiao – and not only never weighed less than 144 for a bout, but he weighed as much as 190.
De La Hoya began as a 130-pounder, but fought more than half of his bouts at 140 or higher. Plus, De La Hoya is nearly 5-11, five inches taller than Pacquiao, and has the broad shoulders like Hearns and Leonard that made it easy for him to put on the pounds.
"You need to have a quirky kind of a frame to do that," promoter Bob Arum said. "That's the kind of thing you think someone like Tommy would do, because of how tall he was and how light he fought when he started. A kid like Paul Williams today has that kind of a frame, where it's easy to see him putting on the pounds and being able to fight in a lot of different weight classes very easily.
"Manny doesn't have that and that, in my mind, makes what he is accomplishing all the more extraordinary. He's kind of like [Roberto] Duran; he's a normal size for the weight. But he has that unbelievable speed and explosiveness, plus he's in incredible condition, that he's able to do things you wouldn't think he'd be able to do."
Leonard agreed with Arum and said Pacquiao's frame would seem to have been his limiting factor.
Being a short fighter without the long arms and broad shoulders makes it difficult not only to pack on weight, but to physically withstand the grueling nature of a bout against a naturally bigger man, Leonard said.
"As you go up, the guys you wind up fighting are a lot taller, they have a lot longer reach, they hit harder and they take punches better," Leonard said. "When I was a welterweight, there were shots I'd hit guys with that I knew they'd go, but when I got up in those higher weights and was fighting guys like Marvin [Hagler], I'd hit them with that same shot and they'd grunt and keep coming forward."
De La Hoya promotes Hatton and made it clear that he expects Hatton to come out on top Saturday, rendering any claim Pacquiao may have to a belt in a sixth division moot.
However, given how tough it was for him to get six, he said he'd have immense respect for the accomplishment if Pacquiao pulls it off.
"To me, I see it as a lot more difficult to jump up through six classes and win than it is to stay in the same class and defend the title there for a long time," De La Hoya said. "As you go up, you have to deal with stronger fighters with more power, but they also have different styles. The bigger guys can fight a lot more different types of styles.
"When you stay in one class, you get used to the speed, you get used to the power and you know what to expect. Each time you jump up, there's a mental hurdle you have to clear. You ask yourself, 'Can I do this? Do I have what it takes to handle this kind of a jump?' We're all human, too, and we ask ourselves those questions."
Trainer Freddie Roach said that regardless of how many titles Pacquiao winds up with, he should be considered among the best who ever stepped through the ropes.
Pacquiao shrugged when discussing what it might mean to him should he get a belt in a sixth class.
Leonard, though, did not. He's done it and he is one of the few who knows what it means.
"If Manny does it, he'll deserve all the accolades anyone can give him," Leonard said. "This is one of those records that, man, it's a rare, rare feat."