Classic Pound for Pound Matchup: Manny Pacquiao vs. Pernell Whitaker
By Anthony Coleman: This is what I call a true, dream match. It is a fight I think most boxing fans would love to see, if it were possible. What if we could transport Pernell Whitaker, the one from 1990-1994 that unified all of the major belts at Lightweight and won titles at 140 and 147, and have him face off against the current day Manny Pacquiao?
Article posted on 15.06.2011
Or how about the Manny Pacquiao who destroyed David Diaz in his only fight at Lightweight? Or the one who KO’d Hatton for the Junior Welterweight crown? It doesn’t matter what division the fight takes place (Lightweight, Jr. Welterweight, Welterweight), because they were still pretty much the same level of awesome in each of the weight classes they overlapped. The matchup is very interesting: you have quite possibly the two best fighters of the past 25 years, arguably the two greatest southpaws ever, and one of the all-time great offensive fighters ever against one of the best defensive boxers ever. Who would win such a contest? First let’s break down each fighter’s individual accomplishments.
Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker
-1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
-First to unify the IBF, WBA, and WBC Lightweight titles
-IBF Junior. Welterweight Champion
-WBC Welterweight champion
-WBC Junior Middleweight Champion
If there were a boxing encyclopedia and the phrases “Ring General” or “Southpaw Stylist” were entries, there is a good chance that Whitaker’s picture and or his name would be mentioned as examples. Whitaker was one of the top 4 or 5 best Lightweights in history and in the top 20 to 15 of all-time great Welterweights as well. Plus disregard “at least” 1 of the 4 losses and the lone draw on his record. The first loss came against Jose Luis Ramirez in his first bid for a Lightweight title in what is regarded by many to be one of the worst decisions ever. His draw with the great Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993 was every bit a robbery as his first loss. His loss against Oscar De La Hoya was razor close and could have gone either way (I scored it for Whitaker), but the scoring was so ludicrously lopsided that it was obvious that some of the judges were favoring the sports new Cash Cow. He only clearly lost twice in his career; first in his long overdue showdown with Felix Trinidad (it was originally supposed to take place back in 1995, but was cancelled) in 1999, and in his farewell fight against Carlos Bojorquez in 2001 when he was unable to continue after suffering an arm injury. At his best, Whitaker was nearly untouchable, regularly winning 8 to 10 rounds of a fight. He was that dominant.
Manny Pacquiao is the best fighter of the first decade of the 21st Century. He won world titles at 122, 126, 130, 135, 140, and 147 all in the same decade, and knocked off Barrera, Marquez, Morales, Cotto, and Hatton in that time period. Unlike Whitaker, who exemplified controlling distance, “make them miss and make them pay “boxing, Pacquiao started his career as a relentless destroyer, overwhelming his opponents with his combination of speed and power. Even when he matured and became a more intelligent and patient boxer, using more variety in his arsenal and tighter balance, he was still an attacking and swarming monster. Even in fights where he didn’t get the W or was given a questionable victory (the rematch with Marquez), Pacquiao never failed to cleanly hit and hurt his opponent. If you won a fight against him, you had to deal with near certain pain to get that win. Now let’s look at the styles of both men.
This is obviously a no brainer check in the box for Whitaker. “Sweet Pea” is unquestionably the best defensive fighter of my lifetime. He was better than Mayweather, Hopkins, and Roy Jones Jr. The man was very difficult to hit clean, and there were very, very, very few times when I saw an opponent land a hard combo on him. In every faucet of defense, Whitaker rates as an “A.”
He was able to use his legs, block, roll with punches, and his upper body movement was beyond amazing. As for Pacquiao, well for the first half of his career, until the rematch with Morales in 2006, he was a very flawed defensive fighter.
He would often square up while throwing his big shots or throw himself off balance when he attempted that massive left cross and leave his entire upper body exposed for counter shots. Plus even after improving his defense significantly later in his career, Pacquiao still hasn’t become a great defensive fighter. He will still leave himself open to get hit by power shots because of his aggressiveness. It just doesn’t happen as often as it did 7 or 8 years ago. He is now a decent defensive fighter.
Pacquiao got this in the bag, though the distance between he and Whitaker is considerably closer in this category than it was for the defensive one. Let me explain.
First Pacquiao is one of the best offensive fighters ever, blending speed, power, and combinations better than almost anybody. While he doesn’t have the technical abilities of the Marquez brothers (and Rafael at Bantamweight was every bit as heavy handed as Pacquiao at his best), it is the hand-speed and his willingness to throw punches from so many angles that separates him from the pack. Over the past five years he has evolved into a fighter who could throw every punch with precision and crunching power to the head and body. However, no matter how strong his right-hook and uppercuts from either hand may be, his most notable punch is his straight-left hand. In fact no other fighter is more synonymous with the straight-left than Pacquiao.
Even in his early years when he would rely mostly on his hand-speed, and a range finder right jab (rinse, repeat, and no variety thank you sir and ma’am), and the opponents knew the left hand was coming behind it and could in fact see him winding and loading up on it, he would still score devastating KOs off of the punch because it was so fast they couldn’t accurately time the punch and brace themselves for the impact. It was like seeing a freight train and you are attempting to run across the tracks before it arrived, only for it to be coming at 1000 miles per hour instead of 100. The fighters could see the punch coming, but was shocked that it came so suddenly. Yet, as I stated, Whitaker wasn’t a slouch in the offense category as well.
While its true that Whitaker didn’t score a lot of KOs and he was nowhere near a Duran or Rosario at Lightweight in terms of power, he still was very effective on offense because of few noteworthy positives starting mainly with his jab. Pacquiao may have the best straight-left in history, but Whitaker might have had the best right-jab ever. There was a reason why he was a master at controlling distance.
His opponents would often have their rhythm disrupted, because Whitaker would often circle to his right, stop, and then step in with his hard, thudding, laser fat jab then immediately circle out of danger. His jab was often one of the reasons why his defense was so great; the opposing boxer often couldn’t get in close enough and resorted to lunging in with wider shots. Whitaker was also an underrated body puncher, often throwing the left cross to the stomach, and hooks from both hands to the ribs. He wasn’t as effective as Pacquiao for body punching, but still quite good.
Plus, Whitaker had very fast hands. Not quite as fast as Pacquiao’s but fast nonetheless, and he was willing to throw a lot of them per round, and was very accurate. Finally, his KO record is misleading: in many of his fights he had the ability to hurt and KO his opponent when he sat down on his punches. Everybody who fought a prime Sweet Pea eventually learned, in the course of the fight, to respect his power. Just ask Chavez if Sweet Pea was feather-fisted. But the advantage still must go to Pacquiao. In terms of speed, power, versatility and creativity Pac-Man has the edge in terms of offense.
This is a push. Both men had very good stamina and could maintain their respective best even in the very late rounds.
I think Whitaker had the better chin and I base this assumption off of two facts. First, Pacquiao was KO’d twice in his career. Second, the past his prime, drug-addicted version of Whitaker was able to survive all-twelve rounds against Felix Trinidad.
Trinidad is, of course, a Hall-of-Famer in waiting and one of the best punchers ever, and while he was able to knock down Whitaker, stunned and teed off on him in round 8, and land nearly half of his power punches, he still wasn’t able to KO him. Whenever “Tito” had that kind of offensive performance against most foes, it almost always ended with a knockout. Seriously, the only person I can remember taking that kind of “Sustained Trinidad Beating” and not get stopped was David Reid. Whitaker had a tendency to periodically get knocked down from time to time (like the Roger Mayweather fight), but the fact that he was able to take the punches from the near-prime Felix Trinidad proved that Whitaker had an iron chin.
As for Pacquiao, as I mentioned he was KO’d twice in his career, but that was when he was younger and fighting at the lower weights. Ever since he moved up to 122 pounds he has never come close to being stopped, however, he was hurt in his rematch with Marquez and in his tune-up fight with Oscar Larios. Yet Morales, Cotto, Barrera, De La Hoya and Mosley were able to land cleanly on his jaw, but he was mostly unaffected. I think it is fair to say that Pacquiao has proven that he has a very strong jaw, but Trinidad is a better puncher than all of those guys. Advantage: Whitaker.
Who would win the fight?
If I’d have to pick a winner, whether the fight be at 135, 140, or 147 I’d take Whitaker by a 116-112 decision. While this would be a close contest, and Pacquiao’s speed would give him some trouble, I believe that Whitaker would constantly trouble the Pac-Man with his jab, foot and upper-body movement and begin to rack up points and build momentum as the fight moved into the later rounds. I could definitely see the Pac-Man scoring a knock down, but not knocking him out. Most importantly I see Whitaker out-landing and outworking Pacquiao from the outside while simultaneously containing his offense. This really doesn’t say anything about who should be ranked higher all-time (that’s a discussion for a different article), but in terms of a fantasy head-to-head confrontation, I gotta give it to Sweet Pea.
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