ARLINGTON, Texas – When Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said last November that he considered Manny Pacquiao the best fighter he'd ever seen, it seemed at the time as little more than promoter hyperbole.
A successful salesman like Arum is always pitching and conjuring new ways to sell his next fight. Arum began promoting boxing in 1966 and handled legends like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Julio Cesar Chavez.
After watching Pacquiao decimate opponent after opponent over the last two-plus years, perhaps Arum isn't as batty as we all thought.
Dominating a slow and one-dimensional fighter like Antonio Margarito, such as Pacquiao did Saturday in winning a wide unanimous decision before 41,734 at Cowboys Stadium, doesn't make one the equal of legends like Ali, Leonard and Hagler, et al.
Pacquiao, though, is far more dominant against his opposition than the likes of Leonard and others ever were versus theirs. Ali had grueling battles against guys like Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Leonard was in pitched battles with Duran, Hearns and Hagler.
Pacquiao is further ahead of the field now than the great Secretariat was in the 1973 Belmont. He defeated Margarito by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 despite being outweighed by 17 pounds when the bell rang. Margarito, who weighed 150 at Friday's weigh-in, was 165 after rehydrating. Margarito had advantages of 17 pounds, 4½ inches in height and 6½ inches of reach, but looked like he would have needed sticks and clubs, as well as loaded gloves, to even be competitive with the blazingly fast Filipino.
Pacquiao said it was difficult, though it didn't appear he had many problems.
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"I really had a hard fight and this was the hardest fight in my boxing career," Pacquiao said. "Margarito is really tough and strong. I felt it. He is really big, bigger than me. I wanted to give a good fight and I wanted to make the people happy. It's why sometimes I fought him toe-to-toe. It's what the people wanted."
Pacquiao gave the fans everything they could have wanted and more. He said he knew he had the fight by the third round, but he did take some hard body shots that he conceded hurt him.
Pacquiao cracked Margarito with an uppercut in the fourth round that opened a wound under Margarito's right eye and nearly closed it. By the 11th round, Pacquiao was looking pleadingly at referee Laurence Cole in hopes that Cole would show mercy on Margarito and end it.
Cole, perhaps, wanted to see Margarito get his just desserts after attempting to enter the ring with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps before a 2009 fight in Los Angeles with Shane Mosley. There was little sense in letting the bout continue Saturday and trainer Robert Garcia's assertion that Margarito is a "warrior who wouldn't allow me to stop it" is ridiculous. A trainer's job is to protect his fighter and know when he's had enough. Margarito had enough by the eighth round – the rest of the punishment he took was gratuitous.
"I wish they had stopped the fight," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "They probably ruined his career by not stopping the fight."
Next on the agenda is a phone call to Mayweather to see if he has interest in the fight. There are significant obstacles to overcome, but Mayweather is the only man who could be remotely competitive with him.
[Photos: Manny Pacquiao in the ring]
Mayweather has legal issues – he has a court date on Jan. 24 and faces up to 34 years in prison if convicted on all counts – that have to be overcome in addition to agreeing upon a deal.
Roach, who was one of the most exciting fighters of the 1980s when Leonard, Duran and Hagler were dominating the sport, called Pacquiao the best of his era and suggested he would have been more than competitive in any era. It's difficult to disagree with him.
"It's so hard to compare eras," Roach said. "We could argue all night long. Why not leave it at this: Manny Pacquiao is the best of his era."
Mosley, who was routed by Mayweather in May and drew with Sergio Mora in September, attended the fight with his new manager, James Prince. Mosley still owns a portion of Golden Boy Promotions, but Prince said he's a promotional free agent who can sign or fight for any promoter.
Prince said a Pacquiao-Mosley fight would not be difficult to make. And Mosley said he thinks he could do better than some of Pacquiao's recent opponents.
"I saw some things I think I could take advantage of," said Mosley, who might be easier to take seriously if he were 29 instead of 39.
At this stage, Pacquiao's only measuring stick is history. As great as Leonard was, he never dominated multi-time champions the way Pacquiao is doing. Leonard was exceptionally fast, a hard puncher, a smart defensive fighter and as tough as they come, but Arum wasn't willing to say he was Pacquiao's equal.
"Ray Leonard is a great friend of mine and he was a great fighter, but he doesn't compare to Manny Pacquiao, in my opinion," Arum said. "Ray had great, great skills, great heart, and he was a tremendous fighter, but he didn't have the same type of extraordinary skills that Pacquiao has.
"Julio Cesar Chavez was a great, great fighter. Sitting in front of me was a guy a lot of people say is the greatest fighter they've ever seen, Roberto Duran. These guys are truly great fighters, but they do not compare to Manny Pacquiao, in my opinion."
Last November, those kinds of words could have been dismissed as promoter hype or the silly rants of a nearly 80-year-old man.
Today? Well, it's hard to argue. Pacquiao still has to face the ultimate test, the fast, speedy, in-his-prime opponent that Mayweather would be, but it takes two to say yes and Mayweather continues to throw up road blocks.
There may have been better fighters than Manny Pacquiao in the last 50 years, but their numbers were few and their talent level was exceptionally high.
Without question, Manny Pacquiao is an all-time great.
And that's not just promoter hyperbole.