Finding the next Pacquiao
MANILA, Philippines — There will never be another Manny Pacquiao. Not in the Philippines, not anywhere in the world. He’s in the record books as the only fighter ever to win world titles in eight different divisions, scaling the ranks from the flyweight class to super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight. That’s an unprecedented ascent from winning the WBC flyweight or 112-pound crown in 1998 to capturing the WBC super welterweight or 154-pound title in 2010.
Not even Floyd Mayweather, Jr. can claim winning as many championships. Pacquiao at 40 remains active in the ring. In boxing history, several fighters continued to ply their trade beyond 40. Bernard Hopkins was 46 when he wrestled the WBC light heavyweight crown in 2011, 48 when he took the IBF version and 49 when he annexed the WBA belt. The Executioner was 51 when he retired in 2016. George Foreman was 45 when he poleaxed Michael Moorer in the 10th round to capture the IBF/WBA heavyweight unified championship in 1994 and retired at 47 in 1997. Former light heavyweight title holder Archie Moore was 47 when he saw action in his last fight in 1963. Roberto Duran was 50 when he ended his career in 2001 and former WBC super lightweight ruler Saoul Mamby was 60 when he hung up his gloves in 2008.
When Pacquiao will retire is a decision that’s completely up to him. Someone once called Pacquiao “a freak of nature” but he’ll go down in history as the renaissance fighter who symbolized the triumph of the human spirit more than for his unnatural superheroism. Five years after he retires, Pacquiao will be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame where only three Filipinos have been named — Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde and promoter Lope (Papa) Sarreal, Sr. The argument for his induction is the feat of collecting eight world titles in different divisions, something no man will conceivably surpass or even duplicate in any generation.
Among the Filipino fighters today, who is closest to making a name for himself like Pacquiao? At the moment, there are four Filipino world champions — WBA welterweight champion Pacquiao, WBA bantamweight ruler Nonito Donaire, Jr., IBF super flyweight beltholder Jerwin Ancajas and WBO minimumweight titlist Vic Saludar.
In the top 10 ratings of the four major governing boxing bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO), 30 Filipinos are listed, excluding the four Filipino world champions. Five are No. 1 contenders — WBC light flyweight Jonathan Taconing (set to battle Japan’s Ken Shiro for the WBC 108-pound crown on July 12), IBF minimumweight Samuel Salva, IBF bantamweight Michael Dasmarinas, WBO super bantamweight Albert Pagara and WBO super flyweight Aston Palicte. Only one Filipino is ranked in the top 10 by the four sanctioning bodies — flyweight Giemel Magramo, listed No. 2 by the WBO, No. 4 by the WBC and IBF and No. 7 by the WBA.
Magramo, 24, is the reigning WBO International and Oriental flyweight champion with a record of 23-1, including 19 KOs. His father Melvin was a former pro who once went the distance with Pacquiao. Magramo may not be the next Pacquiao but is definitely a candidate to become a future world titleholder.
Donnie Nietes, 37, is ranked No. 4 by the WBC and IBF in the super flyweight division. He’s the longest-reigning Filipino world champion, counting his uninterrupted hold of the WBO minimumweight, WBO light flyweight, IBF flyweight and WBO super flyweight titles from 2007 to 2018. He relinquished the WBO 115-pound crown to give Palicte a chance to take a second crack at the throne and is now gearing for a showdown with WBC champion Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico. Nietes hasn’t lost since 2004 and boasts a record of 42-1-5, with 23 KOs. Before Nietes retires, he’ll surely claim another world title. Like Pacquiao, he’s a shoo-in for the International Boxing Hall of Fame but he’ll never approximate the fighting senator’s accomplishments.
The Ring Magazine, the so-called Bible of Boxing, cited several Filipino fighters as top prospects in a section on the “State of the Game” in its February 2019 issue. It was a clear indication that the outlook is bright for Philippine boxing even beyond the years of the reigning Filipino world champions today.
In a campaign to unveil new ring heroes, the Ultimate Boxing Series was recently launched on TV5 where a pool of 20 boxers, none with more than 10 fights in their pro careers, was assembled after tryouts involving over 80 hopefuls in Manila, Cebu and Davao. Of the 20 fighters, 14 enlisted with unblemished records. Five were below 20 and the oldest, 28-year-old unbeaten flyweight Ian Refuela of Negors Oriental, came off a nearly three-year hiatus. The divisions were exclusively flyweight and bantamweight. “We’re looking for the next boxing superstar and we might find him in this series,” said promoter Gerry Penalosa. “The fighters know what’s at stake. They’re fighting for their future and this is a golden opportunity for them to show if they’ve got what it takes to become the next Manny Pacquiao.”
Obviously, the depth of Filipino boxing talent is bottomless. MP Promotions head and Las Vegas promoter Sean Gibbons said that with Pacquiao’s support, more Filipino fighters are coming out of the woodwork to stake their claim as worldbeaters. But finding the next Pacquiao won’t be easy. Winning a world title in one division is hard enough but capturing eight world titles in eight weight classes is almost an impossible dream.
The mold of a Pacquiao is one of a kind. There can never be someone with as much talent, fervor, heart, intelligence and charisma. Of the younger generation, Martin holds a lot of promise. He’s a bantamweight who could rise to mow down opposition up to the lightweight ranks. With the slew of Top 10 Filipino contenders in the rankings, a Golden Era of the sport is dawning — a remarkable milestone in boxing history where fighters are hoping to follow in Pacquiao’s footsteps.
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