When your year roughly mirrors one of the finest achievements in boxing history — Henry Armstrong’s simultaneous three-division reign — then it’s going to be hard for anyone to top you in the Fighter of the Year category. And that’s what Manny Pacquiao did in 2008.
Just a few weeks ago, Pacquiao toppled Oscar De La Hoya at 147 lbs. to complete a 2008 that is so majestic it’s going to take a little while to sink in. This was the year he probably became the greatest Asian fighter ever. It was the year he became the best fighter currently in the game, bar none. It was the year he, with Juan Manuel Marquez, broke the pay-per-view sales record for a fight featuring boxers below 147 lbs., and participated, with De La Hoya, in the #3 non-heavyweight pay-per-view sales record. By beating three top opponents in three different weight classes, he mimicked Armstrong’s feat, if not precisely, then closely enough that comparisons aren’t unwarranted.
And it wasn’t boring even for a second. Howsabout pulling off one of the most dominant upset wins ever? Check, did that against De La Hoya. Maybe knockouts are your game? Fine, take a look at the way Pacquiao crushed David Diaz in his lightweight (135 lbs.) debut. Perhaps you’re the purist-type, only wanting to see the best fighting the best and producing the most action-packed fights? It would be difficult to ask for more than the Fight of the Year candidate Pacquiao waged against then-130-pound Marquez, a match-up that featured what are now the consensus two best fighters in the sport of any weight. That one won him the lineal Ring magazine title belt, to go with the alphabet title strap he won off Diaz. He won a whole different title altogether by beating De La Hoya: Like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last year, Pacquiao became the heir apparent as the figurehead of the sport as a whole.
Pacquiao’s sure to sweep the Fighter of the Year awards from almost everyone in 2008. If he wins the nod from Ring magazine, he’ll become a two-time winner by virtue of his 2006 nod, something only Mayweather, Evander Holyfield, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns have done in the last 20 years. That’s pretty elite company, friends. And you know what’s great? You get the impression he’s just getting started. He’s right in his prime; he’s better than he ever was; and it looks like he’s on his way to starting 2009 with the biggest conceivable fight that can be made among active boxers, a bout with 140-pound lineal champion (and the only rival to him in drawing power) Ricky Hatton. If he beats Hatton, then lures Mayweather out of retirement and beats him, and/or completes the much-needed trilogy with Marquez with a win, he moves into a stratosphere that almost sounds blasphemous: consideration as one of the handful of best boxers who ever lived, period.
Politics in the Philippines isn’t my bag, but as a boxing fan, I’m so excited about what Pacquiao is capable of that I hope an opponent who’s the electoral equivalent of Ronald Reagan in 1984 emerges to stand in the way of Pacquiao winning a congressional seat there in 2010. It’s been a great ride, one that keeps getting better and better, and I don’t want to see it end until it reaches its clear conclusion.