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A Not-Very-Civil Debate on Manny Pacquiao's Greatness

...Or lack of greatness! Or semi-greatness but who has he really beaten and so on. Tim Starks and Daniel Roberts have opinions on this, and they are not the same.
Photo by Chris Cozzone/ via USA TODAY Sports

Iron Mike Gallego: Let's set this up, because a lot of people don't know either of us. You're one of the most respected boxing writers alive. You founded The Queensberry Rules, one of the top boxing blogs on the planet, and were named one of Time's Top 25 bloggers. You also chair the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. By contrast, I own a keyboard AND a thesaurus. So it's a pretty even match.

Tim Starks: That kind of flattery is going to make it hard for me to go back to hating you for your terrible opinions on Manny Pacquiao. To return the favor—you, Daniel Roberts, have been the legendary Iron Mike Gallego at Deadspin, and you write about boxing excellently. You wrote the seminal takedown of Floyd Mayweather's history of domestic violence, and you were the subject of a GQ Q&A the other day. I have never even been in GQ, even though I'm very fashionable.


Read More: The Vice Sports Guide To Watching Mayweather/Pacquiao

IMG: I want to be clear: I am extremely unfashionable. I am wearing a t-shirt and running shorts. I would wear exclusively long sleeve t-shirts if society permitted it. But we can argue fashion some other time. We are here to talk boxing, and how you've managed to absorb nothing about it after all these years in the sport.

Starks: We disagree on things. Like how right you are about almost anything.

IMG: I have suggested on several occasions that Manny Pacquiao's much ballyhooed run through the welterweight division was a mirage, a result of him catching the faded, desiccated husks of once-great fighters at exactly the right time. I don't question Manny's historic greatness. I'd say he's about the 50th best boxer of all time, which is huge praise. I just don't think his welterweight record is a significant part of that calculation.

Starks: He has taken advantage of some circumstances, you're right. But what he's done at welterweight is far from a mirage. Nobody else these days in the division has beaten this roster of fighters: Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Timothy Bradley, Joshua Clottey, Juan Manuel Marquez. If it was easy to do, somebody else might have.

FURTHERMORE Him doing this after starting his pro career as a 106-pound bag of bones is extraordinary. Nobody has so successfully scaled weight divisions in the history of the sport, at least that I can name. Roberto Duran went from 135 to 168. That dude was no slouch. Manny has crossed more weight divisions than Roberto Duran.


IMG: He also started his career as a teenager. Had he had the typical amateur upbringing, his weight gain would look less remarkable.

Starks: Absolutely. Totally true. But it matters that he's the one who did it as a pro.

"Whatever, I'm not even sure he hit him, here. Looks like an accident." — Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

IMG: I am far more impressed that Roy Jones debuted as a true welterweight after a distinguished amatuer career and won the freaking heavyweight title, for what it's worth. Even if it was against John Ruiz.

Starks: That's also a pretty awesome achievement, I'd agree. It's a part of Roy's greatness in the way it's part of Manny's greatness. I think you're underestimating Manny's overall ranking, too, but I'll make my case in a sec.

IMG: Let's talk about those wins at welterweight. His fight against De La Hoya, who is absolutely a historically great fighter in his own right, came at the very tail end of Oscar's career. De La Hoya went to rehab shortly afterwards and confessed to drinking during training camp. You could see the track marks on his arm in the ring, from where his corner tried to inject him with fluids before the fight. Manny didn't beat Oscar De La Hoya, he beat a dehydrated Shrinky Dink who shouldn't have been in the ring that night.

Starks: You can pick apart any fighters' individual wins. It's the body of work that matters. We could go through just about every impressive win in boxing history and I could tell you why it wasn't as impressive as people think. It's when a fighter does it over and over and over again that you can't discount the resume.


We could go through Manny's best wins that we agree on the same way —Barrera, old; Morales, coming off a loss; Marquez, didn't actually beat him once, and so on. Some of those things might even be true! But he just kept beating the best, under every circumstance.

IMG: Sure. But let's be real, there are wins that are not as impressive as they look and then there are wins that are just meaningless. I'd argue Oscar falls in the latter category. I think Steve Forbes would have stopped Oscar that night. And I mean the magazine guy with a hard-on for the flat tax, not the former Super Featherweight champ.

Starks: I don't dispute that Oscar was in bad shape that night. But I predicted Oscar would win. It's impressive that Manny jumped up and beat him at 147. But then he beat other, legitimately top fighters at 147. Also, don't forget the advantage Oscar had eating all that kangaroo meat, MAN.

IMG: I also thought Oscar would win the fight, and he landed one punch in the first round that, even in Oscar's emaciated state, made Manny sag up against the ropes. I have no doubt that the version of Oscar who gave Mayweather all he could handle would have defeated, and probably stopped, Manny.

Starks: Let's talk about Miguel Cotto. I think it's on the subject of Cotto where I hate you most.

IMG: Last comment on the hypothetical historic matchup: I think the prime De La Hoya left hook is the best punch I've ever seen, period.


Starks: It's damn sexy.

IMG: Before Cotto, can we agree that Manny's win over Clottey is meaningless, first?

"It was a slip. That was clearly a slip. Come on, pay attention." — Photo by Chris Cozzone/ via USA TODAY Sports

Starks: Absolutely not. I'd sooner shove you off a cliff.

IMG: Clottey's career highlight is respectability in defeat against Antonio Margarito, and even that respectability was based on an injury he likely faked (or at least indulged). Clottey is basically the prototypical "replacement player" from baseball. He'll fill a role just fine without ever doing anything meaningful.

Starks: Compared to whom? We're talking about a guy who legitimately fought himself into the top 10 of a deep welterweight division, and that means there were (let's say) a hundred other guys he was above.

IMG: His career highlight is being respectable in defeat. If Joshua Clottey had never existed, the boxing world would be exactly the same.

Starks: That's just not even an argument and I'm not going to dignify it. Clottey also took Cotto to the absolute limit and beat the piss out of Zab Judah. And being the first guy at 147 to test Antonio Margarito in his prime still counts for something with me. I'm not saying Clottey is Karl Malone, at all, but Karl Malone also was "respectable in defeat." Just talking about the standard. If you give a tough time to tough guys, then you're a fighter who should be respected. Not as much as if you got more wins, to be sure.

IMG: He's a mid-season replacement. He's a utility infielder. Let's get to Cotto, which is one of those wins in Manny's career that arguably matters.


Here's my hypothesis. Miguel Cotto died in the ring against Antonio Margarito. Like Paul McCartney died after Revolver. Cotto died and was replaced by Miguel Cotto*, a guy with a softer chin, a weaker punch, and no stomach for mixing it up. I will say that, like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. did until recently, Miguel Cotto* improved, but he was never anything close to Miguel Cotto.

Starks: Just because guys fade doesn't mean they aren't still awesome; Cotto fought his way back into about the top-10, pound-for-pound. LeBron James has looked like LeBron James* to me, but he's still one of the best couple players in the game. We also disagree on who beat Cotto better, Margarito or Manny. The Margs beatdown was more prolonged and nasty, yet competitive until Cotto began to wear down and submit. The Pacquiao beatdown was a flat outclassing.

IMG: Well, regardless of which was more impressive, Pac certainly had the advantage of fighting Cotto after the damage was done. Whereas Margarito had to take on a prime Cotto, with only his concrete-loaded fists to protect him.

Starks: It's amazing how little we disagree while still arriving at totally different conclusions. Yes, Pac benefited from what Margs did. But Cotto really did give Mayweather one of his toughest fights not so long ago, and has done some good things since fighting Manny. So, we're not talking about a spent fighter. We're talking about a fighter who was good before, slightly less good after, and stayed good. He's Hall of Fame bound.


IMG: Let's agree that beating Cotto was a good win. I think that's fair. Cotto is a consistently solid fighter, though he's never really had a signature win, and I wouldn't rank him as one of the best of his generation.

So, I'll concede the point, but only to set up my larger argument, which is: so what? Pacquiao was a healthy favorite against Cotto. He should have beat Cotto, and he did.

Starks: If a fighter doesn't get credit because he was expected to win, we're entering the realm of absurdity. Mayweather has been expected to win every fight of his career for almost forever. Do none of those wins count, now?

IMG: Let me ask you this: would you be impressed if Manny beat the crap out of me? I mean, I'm a former collegiate boxer and all.

Strong chin. Even stronger ear. — Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Starks: I imagine I'd enjoy watching it, but no. Every win over a good or great fighter should move the needle. Not every win, period. Although I'm hoping you're next on one of these dude's lists right now.

IMG: I want Mayweather. Think of the storylines: out-of-shape internet wiseass knocks out Mayweather.

Starks: I'd root for you in that one, now that I think of it.

IMG: I have some issues with this "legacy" talk, though. It's 2002. Roy Jones has been pound for pound king for a decade, absolutely untouchably dominant. He's just defeated John Ruiz to take the heavyweight title. Waiting for him are the washed up husks of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. All he has to do is going beat those two dead men, and he retires arguably the greatest fighter of all time.


But then, because Roy only knows how to do Roy, he cuts 25 pounds of muscle to fight a light-heavyweight contender nobody has heard of, gets an ugly win and then, for unknown reasons, accepts a rematch. Now, all these years later, Roy is still fighting and has spent more time lying face down than a starfish.

For me, none of that should affect Roy's legacy. He earned his status as one of the all time greats. The fact that he pressed on when he was finished and drained shouldn't detract from that.

Starks: I'm not sure I'm following how this relates to Manny.

IMG: I see Manny's position in history as having been set before the Cotto fight. Beating a version of Cotto who we agree was not his best could not enhance the fact that Manny had already beaten a number of truly great fighters. Manny Pacquiao beating Joshua Clottey is like Floyd Mayweather buying another Bentley. I mean, it's cool, but it doesn't change Floyd's car collection in any detectable way.

Starks: One of the reasons Sugar Ray Robinson is the best ever is because he's just beaten so goddam many Hall of Famers. If he beats fewer of them, his case isn't as good. In between Hall of Famers, Ray beat a ton of other good guys. Every single win over a good fighter, whether it was better than the last, adds to his legacy. How else are we to measure fighters against one another? In your dystopian nightmare world, the second you set an expectation of excellence, nothing else matters unless it's surpassed. Adding to something changes it. Mr. Wizard could tell you that, pal.


IMG: No, in my dystopian nightmare of a world, once you establish a certain level of greatness, it persists, and the only way to enhance or diminish it is by doing something that forces a re-evaluation of what it means

Also, everyone else is my slave, and the national anthem is "Tik Tok" by Ke$ha.

Starks: I think you and I are on the same level about what a true dystopia would be, as well as how a fighter can't go down in most cases once you've reached a certain level. My argument is that you can go up after reaching a certain level, even if some of your wins aren't as good as the ones that got you to that certain level.

IMG: Maybe this will help: I've never felt like a guy like Don Sutton belongs in the Hall of Fame. He piled up 300 wins without ever being the best pitcher in the league, or close to it. Just a guy who was very good and stuck around forever.

Surrounded by an adoring public. LIKE A CHUMP. — Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Starks: I can't speak to that because I got mad at baseball when they screwed the Expos over in the strike year, and now only occasionally go to the Nats games, where I root for Thomas Jefferson to win the President's Race very, very loudly.

But: I think Pacquiao is better than top 50 all-time. Top 30, maybe more. He was, at various intervals, the best fighter in the world. He was the best fighter of the past decade. He was the first fighter to win four lineal/true championships, ever. He beat a significant number of future Hall of Famers. He beat a lot of good fighters in his divisions. He spanned numerous weight classes very successfully.


I think things he did after beating Marquez/Barrera/Morales are integral to his legacy, although those remain his crowning individual wins. In conclusion, you are a stupidface.

IMG: No one denies this.

Also I disagree on Manny's standing in history. I think top 50 is about right.

And I don't think he would have won a welterweight belt in almost any other era in recent memory. Not when Ray Leonard was there, not when Chavez and Whitaker were there, not when De La Hoya and Mosley were still there. And, I think, not if he'd had to beat Floyd for it.

He did very well for himself against what I would say was B-minus level competition. I do think his dominance at and below junior lightweight is impressive and historic. But he has yet to do anything above 135 that has changed my existing opinion of him, in part because I think I thought more of him before he moved up than did many others.

Starks: I'm not going to argue with what you were just saying because I'm tired of you and I feel sullied by my association with you. I do think trying to compare how a fighter would do in one era against another fighter in another era is a very difficult enterprise.

Starks: I judge fighters' historical standing by who they could beat, and how they did it. Leonard beat Hearns and Hagler and Duran. That's why he's more like a top 10 fighter all-time. Dig?

IMG: I totally dig. Also, he didn't beat Hagler, but that's neither here nor there.

Starks: Ha. OK. Let's call a halt to this argument. /Turns around, spits on his hand Handshake?

IMG: Deal

[extends hand]

[pulls hand back]

[runs through hair]

Starks: DAMN.

IMG: Sucker