It has been years now since Manny Pacquiao was truly the darling of the Sweet Science. From 2003 through 2009, he put together a run that legitimately places him among the sport’s all-time elite.
In November 2003, the former flyweight champion turned in a stunningly performance, dismantling Marco Antonio Barrera and stopping him in Round 11, to claim the lineal featherweight title. He stunned Juan Manuel Marquez with three Round 1 knockdowns, before fighting Marquez to a draw in a classic battle. In 2005, he lost a close decision to Erik Morales. He knocked out Morales twice in rematches in 2006.
After defeating Barrera in a rematch, he topped Marquez by split decision in 2008, to capture a third true world championship, this time at 130 pounds. Then the dynamic Filipino started climbing weight classes, and his legend was cemented.
In November 2008, he retired the much larger Oscar De La Hoya on his stool, fighting at a 145-pound catchweight. In 2009, he stopped Ricky Hatton by iconic Round 2 KO, to become the real world champion at 140 pounds. He finished that year by defeating Miguel Cotto via Round 11 TKO.
In six years, Pacquiao won eight fights against future Hall of Famers and collected three legitimate world titles. His ability to move up and fight larger men was something that had not been witnessed in generations. His fights became major media events, packed with Hollywood stars.
And everybody wanted to see him fight Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao became the face to Mayweather’s heel. It was the obvious bout that needed to take place, but for years, the fight went unmade. When the bout finally took place in 2015, Pacquiao was already in decline, having lost a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley in 2011 and by shocking KO to Marquez in 2012. But Pacquiao’s bout with Mayweather was still the most lucrative bout of all time. It edified young fans of something us gray beards have been saying for years: no sporting event, no cultural even of any kind, is bigger than a major prizefight.
In the ring, Pacquiao was thoroughly out-classed. He no longer had the same explosive speed of a decade prior. And even at his best, Pacquiao never had the reach and technical ability to compete on even terms with Mayweather.
Today Pacquiao feels a bit like an after thought, even as he remains the top fighter in the welterweight division, if we are going to judge on both resume and recent work. His victories over Bradley and Jessie Vargas last year were better than any other two wins in the division.
Over the weekend, Pacquiao finalized terms to face Amir Khan in April. This is one of the better fights that can be made in boxing right now. Khan has the speed and boxing acumen to give an aging Pacquiao fits. But Khan is also clearly outside of the division’s top five. Like Pacquiao, he no longer has the “It” factor that he enjoyed a few short years ago.