The Greatest HBO Fighter of All-Time Tournament Round 1: Merchant Region

Inside HBO Boxing is crowning the greatest boxer ever to compete on the network, as determined by you, the fans. Among the countless icons and Hall of Famers who’ve battled on the HBO airwaves, we’ve selected an elite field of 32 fighters for entry in a bracket-style tournament. All matchups are previewed in depth on the HBO Boxing Podcast, and you can vote for the winners on Twitter (@HBOboxing). Who is truly the greatest? That’s for you to decide.

See the other regions: Lampley | Kellerman 

MERCHANT REGION

Named after Hall of Fame HBO Boxing color analyst Larry Merchant, this region features a trio of Mexican legends, a pair of power-punching heavyweights, and a matchup as loaded with star power as any in the first round of the tourney.

greatestboxing merchant round 1.png

(1) Roberto Duran vs. (8) Erik Morales

If you’re into grunting, sneering bad-assery, there is no better matchup for you than “Manos de Piedra” vs. “El Terrible.” Latino pride is on the line when arguably the greatest lightweight ever takes on the newest Hall of Famer in a battle of four-division champions.

Roberto Duran
Lightweight/Welterweight/Junior Middleweight/Middleweight Champion
103-16 (70 KOs)
Years fought: 1968-2001
Best Wins:
KO 11 Esteban De Jesus, 3-16-1974
W 15 Ray Leonard, 6-20-1980
W 12 Iran Barkley, 2-24-1989

Erik Morales
Junior Featherweight/Featherweight/Junior Lightweight/Junior Welterweight Champion
52-9 (36 KOs)
Years fought: 1993-2012
Best Wins:
KO 11 Daniel Zaragoza, 9-6-1997
W 12 Paulie Ayala, 11-16-2002
W 12 Manny Pacquiao, 3-19-2005


(4) Julio Cesar Chavez vs. (5) Juan Manuel Marquez

Viva Mexico! In a showdown that arguably determines the best fighter in the nation’s history, it’s JCC vs. JMM, a battle of versatile boxer-punchers—one a stalk-forward body-banger, the other a clever counterpuncher—who provided fans with countless thrills.

Julio Cesar Chavez
Junior Lightweight/Lightweight/Junior Welterweight Champion
107-6-2 (85 KOs)
Years fought: 1980-2005
Best Wins:
KO 11 Edwin Rosario, 11-21-1987
KO 12 Meldrick Taylor, 3-17-1990
W 12 Hector Camacho, 9-12-1992

Juan Manuel Marquez
Featherweight/Junior Lightweight/Lightweight Champion
56-7-1 (40 KOs)
Years fought: 1993-2014
Best Wins:
W 12 Marco Antonio Barrera, 3-17-2007
KO 11 Joel Casamayor, 9-13-2008
KO 6 Manny Pacquiao, 12-8-2012


(3) Joe Frazier vs. (6) Aaron Pryor

You aren’t going to need ringside judges for this one. When “Smokin’ Joe” squares off with “The Hawk,” it’s a guaranteed brawl. Both men were defined by one rivalry, ruled a single division, and burned out quickly after about a decade of shining brightly. Who’s left standing when this slugfest is over?

Joe Frazier
Heavyweight Champion
32-4-1 (27 KOs)
Years fought: 1965-1981
Best Wins:
KO 7 Jerry Quarry, 6-23-1969
KO 4 Jimmy Ellis, 2-16-1970
W 15 Muhammad Ali, 3-8-1971

Aaron Pryor
Junior Welterweight Champion
39-1 (35 KOs)
Years fought: 1976-1990
Best Wins:
KO 4 Antonio Cervantes, 8-2-1980
KO 14 Alexis Arguello, 11-12-1982
KO 10 Alexis Arguello, 9-9-1983


(2) Manny Pacquiao vs. (7) Mike Tyson

manny pacquiao.png

You won’t have any trouble selling tickets or pay-per-views for this clash between two of the most popular, truly global superstars boxing has ever known. Non-stop action is assured when the spellbinding speed of “Pac-Man” meets the bone-crunching power of “Iron Mike.”

Manny Pacquiao
Flyweight/Junior Featherweight/Featherweight/Junior Lightweight/Lightweight/Junior Welterweight/Welterweight/Junior Middleweight Champion
59-7-2 (38 KOs)
Years fought: 1995-present
Best Wins:
KO 11 Marco Antonio Barrera, 11-15-2003
KO 10 Erik Morales, 1-21-2006
KO 8 Oscar De La Hoya, 12-6-2008

Mike Tyson
Heavyweight Champion
50-6 (44 KOs)
Years fought: 1985-2005
Best Wins:
KO 2 Trevor Berbick, 11-22-1986
KO 4 Larry Holmes, 1-22-1988
KO 1 Michael Spinks, 6-27-1988

Podcast: Klitschko, Marquez, and Bradley Retirements

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney celebrate their 200th episode by looking back on the careers of recently retired warriors Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Tim Bradley, discussing their most memorable fights, best performances, and Hall of Fame credentials.

Settling the Score: Do Rematches Provide Clarity?

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

“It just wasn’t a good decision,” Harold Lederman reflected about the first Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev fight. “I mean, there’s no question in my mind that Sergey Kovalev got jobbed.”

HBO’s unofficial scorer doesn’t speak for everyone in objecting to the decision that fell in Ward’s favor by a margin of one point on each of the three official cards last November 19, but Lederman speaks for plenty of people awaiting the June 17 rematch. After the  conclusion of a boxing match intended to clarify who is the best fighter in a weight class and perhaps even in the entire sport, many fans were still left looking for an answer. 

Ward-Kovalev 1 delivered entertainment and drama, it confirmed Kovalev’s capability as a puncher, and showed the depth of Ward’s resolve and ability to adapt. But it didn’t clarify anything. That’s why the only next move that made any sense for either of them was to sign for a rematch.

It’s worth noting that, with all due respect to Lederman’s assessment, Ward-Kovalev should probably not be termed a robbery. Anecdotally, it seemed the average fan/media scorecard was 114-113 for Kovalev; the three judges each had it 114-113 for Ward. If the official and the unofficial tallies are separated by one round swinging in the opposite direction, can you really cry foul? Not too loudly.

But you can cry out for clarity.

Boxing is only slightly more littered with controversy than it is with rematches signed in part to capitalize on the controversy. Whether you view it as a lemonade-out-of-lemons situation or you skeptically assume every dubious decision is a part of some devious plot to cash in a second time, the reality is that controversy sells. Not every debatable outcome in boxing history has given birth to a rematch, but here are 10 notable examples that have -- five where the rematch was immediate (like Ward-Kovalev) and five where it happened on delay:

Joe Louis vs. Jersey Joe Walcott

Louis was 56-1 and more than a decade into his heavyweight championship reign when he defended the title against Walcott at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 5, 1947, got dropped twice, and received the sort of gift split decision that aging icons who transcend their sport tend to receive. In the immediate rematch six months later, the 34-year-old Louis again struggled -- he got knocked down in round three and was trailing on two of the three scorecards through 10 rounds. But “The Brown Bomber” summoned an 11th-round knockout that would allow to him to retire (temporarily) as the champion without a cloud of controversy hanging over him. 

Carmen Basilio vs. Johnny Saxton

“It was like being robbed in a dark alley,” welterweight champ Basilio said of his March 1956 unanimous decision loss at Chicago Stadium to Johnny Saxton. Saxton was managed by mafioso Blinky Palermo, leading many observers to draw unsavory conclusions about why Basilio lost by seven points on two of the scorecards despite seeming to dominate the bout. In an immediate rematch six months later, Basilio got his title back by ninth-round knockout. For good measure, he needed only two rounds to win the rubber match five months after that. Those wins didn’t erase Basilio’s loss in the first fight from the record books, but they helped magnify the asterisk attached to it.

Pernell Whitaker vs. Jose Luis Ramirez

Precocious Olympic gold medalist Whitaker had 90 fewer fights worth of pro experience than Ramirez when he challenged for his first title in France in March 1988, but it was “Sweet Pea” who looked like the savvy veteran, slickly outboxing the Mexican on his way to what seemed a clear decision win. Two of the judges, however, had other ideas, awarding Ramirez a ridiculous split decision. It was ultimately a meaningless speed bump on Whitaker’s road to the top of the pound-for-pound list, avenged 17 months and four fights later when the judges got it right, two of them seeing the nearly untouchable Whitaker as a shutout winner.

Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor

This wasn’t a controversial decision, but it certainly was a controversial ending. On March 17, 1990, down by an insurmountable margin on the cards, Chavez rallied in the 12th round to convince referee Richard Steele to stop the fight with just two seconds left on the clock, as hotly debated a split-second decision as any ref has ever made. By the time the rematch came together more than four years later, Taylor was all but used up, and Chavez’s controversy-free eighth-round KO didn’t mean much. Even so, there’s a sense looking back on their first fight that even if there are two sides to the argument over who deserved to win the battle, there is only one reasonable answer as to who won the war.

Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield

With three heavyweight belts and the lineal championship on the line, the first Lewis-Holyfield unification showdown at Madison Square Garden in March 1999 had all the makings of a glorious night for boxing. But the fight disappointed -- Holyfield was flat and ineffective and Lewis boxed frustratingly cautiously -- and the draw decision was even worse. When they did it again in Las Vegas eight months later, the action was better, the fight felt closer, and while a draw this time around would not have been unreasonable, Lewis was awarded the unanimous decision and the undisputed championship that he deserved the first time.

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales

Marco Antonio Barrera, left, captured a controversial UD in his second duel with Erik Morales, right.  Photo: Will Hart

Marco Antonio Barrera, left, captured a controversial UD in his second duel with Erik Morales, right. Photo: Will Hart

The first meeting between Mexican rivals Barrera and Morales may have been 2000’s Fight of the Year, but it came with a Y2K bug: In the opinion of most, the wrong warrior got the nod. The favored Morales captured a highly controversial split decision by a single point, but even in official defeat, Barrera’s career was rejuvenated. When they got around to a rematch in 2002, it was Barrera who was favored going in, Morales who seemed to win over a majority of the viewing public, and Barrera who took home the controversial unanimous nod. It took a 2004 rubber match to establish a clear winner in the rivalry, with Barrera gutting out a well-deserved majority decision to finish with both the official and unofficial upper hand.

Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward

Micky Ward, left, and Arturo Gatti, right, slug it out in their second meeting.  Photo: Will Hart

Micky Ward, left, and Arturo Gatti, right, slug it out in their second meeting. Photo: Will Hart

The controversy of the first Gatti-Ward fight, waged over 10 epic rounds in May 2002 at Mohegan Sun Casino, has been largely forgotten because winning and losing was hardly the enduring legacy of their saga. But in the moment, there was heated debate over whether Ward deserved the majority decision that went his way. Gatti and Ward were probably destined for an immediate rematch regardless, but a heaping spoonful of uncertainty over who proved superior never hurts. There was no such uncertainty after their second fight, in November ’02, which Gatti won going away, or in their third fight, in June ’03, which was closer than the second but still decisive for Gatti.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Jose Luis Castillo

The perfect 49-0 record upon which Mayweather’s “TBE” claims were built was nearly spoiled 28 fights into the run, in April 2002, when lightweight champ Castillo applied enough unrelenting pressure to convince HBO’s Lederman that he won 115-111. But the official judges went the exact opposite direction: 116-111, 115-111, and 115-111, all for Mayweather. It was a controversial decision made more so by the absurdly wide scores across the board, but there was no controversy to the rematch eight months later. Mayweather again was pushed but did enough to win by dead-on scores of 116-113, 115-113, and 115-113.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

Manny Pacquiao, left, deals a crushing blow to Juan Manuel Marquez, right.

Manny Pacquiao, left, deals a crushing blow to Juan Manuel Marquez, right.

Pacquiao and Marquez don’t know how to swap punches without controversy. Their first fight, in 2004, was a draw about which opinions varied wildly. Instead of an immediate rematch, they waited four years and settled nothing in their second meeting, with Pacquiao winning a disputed split decision by a single point. Three more years passed before their third fight, which was the closest thing to a robbery in their series; Marquez seemed to win seven or eight of the 12 rounds, but it was Pac-Man who got the majority decision. So they did it a fourth time a year after that, and finally there was a clear-cut victor as Marquez knocked Pacquiao cold in the sixth round of a classic punchout.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley

 If Pacquiao got a gift or two in his series with Marquez, he learned what the short end of that particular stick felt like in his June 2012 bout with Bradley, which all but a handful at the MGM Grand Garden Arena thought the Filipino won going away. Among that handful were two of the three official judges, who somehow gave Bradley seven rounds and set in motion some outlandish conspiracy theorizing and more than a few “never agains” from fans who bought the pay-per-view. Pacquiao set things right in the rematch two years later, winning a comfortable unanimous decision, and with the series technically tied at one apiece, Pacquiao prevailed again in the unnecessary 2016 rubber match.

Of these 10 controversial outcomes, all but two (Barrera-Morales and Pacquiao-Marquez) were fairly well settled and controversy-free by the end of their second fights. For Kovalev and Ward, the challenge is not just to win on June 17, but to do so conclusively enough to end the series with no demand for a third fight.

Bodyshots, Bravado and Blood: Understanding “Mexican Style”

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

The blood pushes past a glob of Vaseline and spills from a cut over his eye, but he pays it no mind as he barrels forward, trying to corner the man who a few minutes ago was his predator but now has become his prey.  

He steps at just the right angle to cut off the ring, then fires off a left hook to the rib cage, causing his opponent’s hands to drop and his legs to lose their bounce. He seizes the opening with a vicious torrent of punches upstairs, then goes back to the body. One more left hook liquefies the liver, and the helpless victim crumples, doing little more than roll around and make tragedy-mask faces until the count reaches 10.

The ring swells with bodies, and the victor is carried around the ring. The blood is still flowing, but it’s no longer a cause for concern. Now it’s a point of pride, part of the legacy, adding color, quite literally, to the tale of the night the great warrior prevailed in dramatic fashion.

When you close your eyes and picture this scene, whom do you see? Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.? If you’re a tad older, maybe Ruben Olivares? If you’re slightly younger, perhaps Erik Morales?

It’s not the precise “who” that’s important. It’s the “where.”

The great majority of fight fans, when reading the description above, are sure to picture a fighter from Mexico. That’s not to say that a Ricky Hatton or a Micky Ward or a Shane Mosley or a Miguel Cotto couldn’t end a fight in the exact same way. But the notion of the “Mexican fighter” is potent. It is its own sub-genre of boxing.

You don’t have to be from Mexico, or even from anywhere in the Americas, to aspire to “Mexican style,” as a certain Kazakh middleweight has shown us. Perhaps “Mexican fighter” is a stereotype, but it’s the good kind of stereotype, almost always meant as a compliment.

“When I think of a Mexican fighter,” says veteran ESPN and ESPN Deportes boxing broadcaster Bernardo Osuna, “I envision a warrior, a fighter who comes forward, who’s willing to take a punch to give a punch, who, when the chips are down, is willing to do what it takes to win. He’s willing to bleed to score a victory. He’s willing to get up off the canvas to score a victory. There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘Morir en la raya,’ which translates to English as ‘Die on the line.’ That’s how they feel. The Mexican fighter is willing to go that far in order to come away with the victory.”

While the heart and desire that Osuna cites are a key part of the picture, there are also certain stylistic tendencies associated with Mexican pugilists. The approach is built around pressure, around aggressiveness, around body punching, with an emphasis usually on the left hook. There’s no rule against having skill or utilizing defense, but there are unwritten rules about how to employ them. A potshotting jabber who’s always on his toes, circling, bouncing out of danger, doing anything that could be remotely construed as running—that stuff doesn’t fly south of the border.

While the legendary “Lion of Culiacan” Chavez is the most famous purveyor of the Mexican style, he wasn’t the first Mexican to use it at the elite level. That distinction most likely goes to Luis Villanueva Paramo of Mexico City, much better known during a 255-fight career spanning all the way from 1929 to 1961 as Kid Azteca. He scored 114 knockouts among 192 wins, and is said to have influenced such 1960s and ’70s successors as Vicente Saldivar and Olivares, the latter of whom was probably the most beloved Mexican fighter until Chavez came along.

After Chavez elevated the ceiling for star power in the ’80s and ’90s — notably scoring the most iconic and most Mexican-style win in the nation’s history, stopping Meldrick Taylor with two seconds left in the final round while trailing on the scorecards — he helped open the door for a generation that included rivals Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Erik Morales.

Among all those names are many with sublime skills, men who didn’t need to take a punch in order to land one. But they all took their share anyway, and are adored for it.

“I think the Mexican fan feels, if you have a skill set, you can use it, but when it comes down to it and you need to come up with something special, that’s when the Mexican in you comes out,” Osuna says. “When I think of who best embodies what it means to be a Mexican fighter, I would say Ruben Olivares. He was skilled, but that guy would take a shot to give a shot, and he just had a huge heart. If you want to go to a more modern fighter, I’d say Juan Manuel Marquez, especially when you look at the Manny Pacquiao fights. In the first one, he gets off the canvas three times. In the fourth fight, he’s bloodied, it looks like he’s about to be knocked out, and he finds a way to land that one punch.

“The Mexican fight fan respects someone who works as hard as they do. The Mexican fan is, say, a gardener that goes out every morning at 4 a.m. and then works until sundown and comes home to his family. When Marquez gets up off the canvas three times in the first round, that’s representative of the Mexican fight fan. Someone who goes out there and, whatever it takes, however many hours it takes to get the job done, they’re gonna get it done and they’re gonna get it done right.”

All of which begs the question: How “Mexican” are the two men set to square off on May 6 in the biggest all-Mexican showdown since … well, maybe ever, if you’re looking at the size of the event and fighters’ purses? Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are the two biggest boxing stars Mexico currently has to offer, but they also have their detractors on both sides of the border.

About Chavez, who didn’t come from an impoverished background and was literally born marketable, there are doubts about whether he works as hard as those blue-collar fans demand. About Canelo, there are questions about his willingness to take on all comers — specifically, that “Mexican-style” fellow, Gennady Golovkin.

And neither Chavez nor Alvarez has had a signature Mexican-style victory yet, that dramatic win achieved via heart and relentlessness in the face of adversity. On May 6, fans of all nationalities will tune in, hoping to see the battle of Mexico’s two biggest stars settled in as Mexican a style as possible.

1000 Fights: Marquez-Diaz

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Diego Morilla

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

February 28, 2009

It was supposed to be a rare chance to see the passing of a torch from a proven champion entering his twilight to an undeniably talented young lion. It ended up as the ultimate crossroads fight, sending both fighters down entirely different paths, all while producing one of the most memorable wars in HBO's recent history. 

The rivalry between Mexican-Americans and native mexicanos was never more present than in the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Díaz lightweight championship bout on February 28, 2009. It was evident from the beginning in the charged atmosphere of the Toyota Center in Houston. And it became even more evident in the amazing first round, when both men charged forward throwing punches from all angles, clearly trying to out-Mexican one another from the get-go. Diaz took the round on the scorecards, and offered a cocky “admit you’re impressed” stare towards Marquez as he was walked to his corner.

More: HBO Boxing Insiders Pick from 1000 Fights

The next three rounds were even more outstanding, with Marquez weathering the storm and matching Diaz’s aggression with a more controlled output, withstanding the all-out pressure that earned Diaz the early lead on the scorecards. The 10-year age difference between them was supposed to kick in during the second half of the bout, but it was the older Marquez who surged, battling a cut on his right eye and a bloody nose to take the fight to Diaz, who suddenly understood that his ability to take a punch was being seriously tested.

It quickly became clear to both fighters that they were in for a more challenging test than they had expected and they responded accordingly. By the seventh round, the always-busy Diaz had already broken his own record for punches thrown in a 12-round fight, and finally his work paid off when he rocked his veteran foe after a vicious onslaught. But just when Marquez’s boxing life flashed before his eyes, the fight took a turn in his favor, as the fearless champion dug deep to start working behind his trademark left-uppercut overhand-right combo, hurting Diaz. 


In the following round, the crowd finally acknowledged Marquez’s effort and began to get behind him. The undisputed lightweight champion responded to the cheers by stunning Diaz with 20 seconds on the clock, sending him to his corner with a brutal and bloody cut above his right eye. Tired, bewildered by the sight of his own blood, unable to gather his strength and having lost the support of the crowd, Diaz succumbed to Marquez’s relentlessness. By the ninth, Marquez was the one breaking his own record for punches thrown in any fight. He dropped Diaz with a barrage of volleys with 40 seconds to go for the fight’s first knockdown, and dropped him again with an uppercut with 25 seconds left in the round to score the stoppage and the upset, outlasting his challenger with one of his most courageous performances to date. The scorecards were split with two judges having it 77-75 for each of them and a third scorecard dead even at 76 apiece. 

Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KO) and Diaz (34-1, 17 KO) would take completely different paths after the fight. Marquez continued his ongoing rivalry with Manny Pacquiao in one of boxing’s most memorable series, and he would be a presences in the top 10 pound-for-pound rankings for years to come. Diaz, on the other hand, would struggle to regain his previous form, losing the rematch against Marquez one year later and flirting with retirement more than once, never again earning consideration as one of boxing's promising young champions. But the fight itself would become a worthy winner of Fight of the Year honors, and far from being lost in HBO’s first thousand bouts, remains even today (and in the face of some extraordinary competition) one of the network's all-time highlights. 

Common Opponents: How Did Floyd and Manny Fare Against Five Shared Foes?

By Eric Raskin

CLICK to enlarge

As opposite as they may be in many ways, from their personalities to their fighting stances, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather actually have quite a bit in common. They’re both rich and famous beyond any expectation they ever could have had. They’re both guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famers. They’ve both been boxing professionally since the mid 1990s and are now in the back half of their 30s. They’ve both held alphabet titles in every weight class from 130 to 154 pounds (with Pacquiao boasting a few lighter ones as well), and they’ve both held lineal titles in four divisions.

And they’ve both prevailed in fights against Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley.

After May 2, we’ll be able to compare Mayweather and Pacquiao based on direct evidence. Until then, the best we can do is infer based on indirect evidence. In other words, a comparison of their performances against common opponents is our most telling source. So here we’ll tap that source, analyzing all of the fights in question and determining whether Pacquiao or Mayweather gets the edge for each common opponent. (The opponents are listed in chronological order based on their first fight with either Mayweather or Pacquiao.)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Mayweather and Pacquiao's common opponents on the HBO Boxing Podcast.

OPPONENT: JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ

Pacquiao’s Results: Marquez proved to be Pacquiao’s toughest, trickiest rival, and it isn’t close. They fought four times, producing three Fight of the Year candidates, three controversial decisions, and one of the greatest knockouts of all-time. In their first fight, Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in the opening round, but Marquez called upon remarkable guts and guile to battle his way to a split draw. The second time around, Pac-Man won a split decision in another grueling fight. The third fight was less fulfilling for all involved, as Pacquiao won a controversial majority decision in a slightly slower paced bout. And in the fourth fight, Marquez finally got into the win column with a one-punch knockout in the sixth round, just when Pacquiao seemed on the verge of finishing him off.

Mayweather’s Result: Not nearly as much drama here. In his first fight back after a 21-month “retirement,” Mayweather schooled a puffed-up Marquez, a second-round knockdown powering him to a near-shutout decision win. Mayweather’s critics will point out that he chose not to pursue a knockout in the late rounds, but as sterling boxing displays against elite opponents go, this one is tough to top.

Edge: Although the pudgy version of Marquez that Mayweather fought in 2009 was probably a lesser fighter than the versions Pacquiao fought before or after, you still have to give the overwhelming edge to “Money.” Pacquiao had life and death with the guy for 42 rounds en route to a record of 2-1-1 that could arguably have been 1-3 or even 0-4; Mayweather never had to shift beyond second gear.

OPPONENT: OSCAR DE LA HOYA

Mayweather’s Result: This was the event that pushed Floyd from star to superstar, but his performance inside the ring was more “acceptable” than “exceptional.” Neither man succeeded in landing many clean punches and it was in could-go-either-way territory for about eight rounds, until the aging De La Hoya began to tire and stopped jabbing. Mayweather pulled away to win a split decision that probably should have been unanimous.

Pacquiao’s Result: Oscar had lost fights before, but never like this. Nineteen months after his close defeat to Mayweather, De La Hoya dropped back to welterweight for the first time in seven years and walked into the buzzsaw that was prime Pacquiao. Some predicted Manny, who fought at junior lightweight earlier that same year, would be too small, but instead he turned out to be too fast and too accurate, drubbing “The Golden Boy” for eight rounds until De La Hoya surrendered in the corner, never to fight again.

Edge: Mayweather fans can rightly argue that Pacquiao took on an older De La Hoya who ruined himself making weight. But that case isn’t strong enough to outweigh the fact that Pac-Man annihilated a fighter Mayweather eked past. And for what it’s worth, Mayweather was a slight favorite to beat Oscar, whereas Manny was perceived as a substantial underdog. The edge goes to the guy who exceeded expectations and finished the job, not the guy who met expectations and heard a scorecard in his opponent’s favor.

OPPONENT: RICKY HATTON

Mayweather’s Result: As a follow-up to his win over De La Hoya, Floyd kept the PPV train rolling with a battle of unbeatens against the beloved British “Hitman” and scored a rare knockout. It took Mayweather a few rounds to adjust to Hatton’s swarming, energetic, mauling style, but once he did, it became one-way traffic, culminating with a check-hook that propelled Hatton WWE-style into the turnbuckle pad. A few punches later, Mayweather had a 10th-round TKO win.

Pacquiao’s Result: Hatton had rebuilt from the Mayweather loss with lopsided wins over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, only to get wrecking-balled by probably the best version of Pacquiao we’ve ever seen. Pac-Man dropped him twice in the first round, and just when it seemed like Hatton was starting to get his legs back, the Filipino iced him with a perfect left hand with one second remaining in round two.

Edge: Again, Mayweather fought Hatton first and a case could be made that he softened the Brit up. But that doesn’t fully account for the violent mismatch Pacquiao-Hatton turned out to be. It was largely stylistic—Mayweather is not a seek-and-destroy fighter who blows people out in two rounds—but you still have to give Pacquiao the edge. Watch his KO of Hatton again if you need convincing.

OPPONENT: MIGUEL COTTO

Pacquiao’s Result: Riding the momentum of destructive wins over De La Hoya and Hatton, Pacquiao took on the younger, stronger Cotto and danced through the danger to detonate and dazzle. The first few rounds featured sensational back-and-forth action, but Pac-Man took over with knockdowns in both the third and fourth and doled out a frightful beating until the fight was stopped 55 seconds into round 12.

Mayweather’s Result: While he won by comfortable scores of 117-111 (twice) and 118-110, the fight was anything but comfortable for Money May. Cotto’s aggression and fearlessness, combined with Mayweather’s seemingly heavier legs, made for an entertaining 12-round chore for the usually untouchable pound-for-pound king. Nevertheless, Floyd finished strong, hurting Cotto in the 12th to put an exclamation point on a hard-earned victory.

Edge: Since Pacquiao got to Cotto first, you can’t chalk this one up to Floyd softening up the Puerto Rican badass. You can, however, wonder if Cotto was fighting at too low a weight and hadn’t yet shaken off the effects of his infamous TKO loss to Antonio Margarito. So it’s up for debate whether Pacquiao or Mayweather beat the better version of Cotto. What isn’t up for debate is that Pacquiao beat him up far more convincingly. It’s another verdict in favor of Pac-Man.

OPPONENT: SHANE MOSLEY

Mayweather’s Result: “Sugar Shane” produced the scariest moment of Mayweather’s 47-fight career, but the rest of the production belonged to Floyd. Mosley hurt him with a pair of right hands in round two, the second one causing a pronounced knee dip. Mayweather proceeded to bite down and take the older man apart over the remaining 10 rounds to win a lopsided decision. Despite being hurt, Mayweather chose to play the role of aggressor, and it suited him so well that we were left to wonder why he employs that approach so rarely.

Pacquiao’s Result: This was one of Pacquiao’s most disappointing performances, as he carried a washed-up Mosley for 12 uninspired rounds after it seemed an early knockout win was there for the taking. Manny dropped Sugar Shane in round three, only to let him off the hook and settle for a shutout decision win. The fight is remembered more for the amiable boxers touching gloves excessively than for any glove-on-face contact.

Edge: Although you might think Pacquiao has the edge based on Mosley scrambling Mayweather’s brains briefly in round two, the edge actually belongs to Mayweather for the way he responded to that moment of peril. He beat a less cooked version of Mosley and, for the most part, looked better doing it.

State of the Division: Welterweight

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

Technically, any fight with a weight limit above 140 pounds and not above 147 is a welterweight bout. That means that this Saturday night in Macau, officially, Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri will square off in a welterweight fight. It doesn’t matter that the fight is at an agreed-upon “catchweight” limit of 144 pounds, or that Algieri last fought at junior welter, or that Pacquiao’s people are talking about a possible drop to junior welter in the near future. For record-keeping purposes, this weekend, they are both welterweights. Which means that for the moment, Pacquiao and Algieri are part of the most star-packed, financially fruitful division in the sport.

It’s been that way for a considerable portion of the last 35 years, actually. From the days of Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Wilfred Benitez, through the age of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Pernell Whitaker, and Shane Mosley, to the modern rivalries of Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, and Juan Manuel Marquez, heavyweight is probably the only division that has generated more money than welterweight. Boxing’s biggest names just keep finding their way to the 147-pound class.

So here’s a look at who’s who in this deep division, on the eve of one of its two marquee superstars stepping through the ropes:

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Pound-For-Pound King: Floyd Mayweather

Maybe if Andre Ward was fighting regularly (or at all), Mayweather wouldn’t be the clear P-4-P king anymore. But Ward isn’t, so Floyd is. He looked more vulnerable this year than ever before, winning two grueling decisions over Marcos Maidana to run his record to 47-0 with 26 KOs, but Mayweather is still a marvel at age 37. The only significant knock on the defensive genius is the same one that’s been knocking for the better part of the last decade: He tends to be somewhat risk-averse in his matchmaking. But even if Mayweather’s legacy isn’t all that it could be, he remains undefeated and is laughing all the way to the betting window.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Beloved International Icon: Manny Pacquiao

The greatest offensive fighter of his generation doesn’t have quite the same offense he used to—but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s any less effective. Following his stunning 2012 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao returned a smarter boxer who uses angles and footwork more and reckless power lunges less. He looked tremendous outpointing fellow pound-for-pound entrant Tim Bradley in April, extending his ledger to 56-5-2 with 38 KOs, and now he prepares for a different sort of challenge in the taller, rangier Algieri. It has been five years since “Pac-Man” last scored a knockout win, but given his adjusted in-ring approach, it’s quite possible that he doesn’t care whether he brings an end to that streak.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Little Engine That Does: Tim Bradley

For much of his career, “Desert Storm” Bradley was roundly underrated. Then he won a bogus decision over Manny Pacquiao, and he became roundly disrespected. But after winning the 2013 Fight of the Year in a brawl with Ruslan Provodnikov, outpointing Juan Manuel Marquez, and losing competitively in the Pacquiao rematch, Bradley finally seems to be properly rated and properly respected. He’s now 31-1 with 12 KOs, and he has an intriguing fight coming up on December 13 against Argentina’s Diego Chaves. Much as we’d all like to see Bradley-Provodnikov II, the Chaves fight seems a reasonable facsimile from an action perspective.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Mexican Maestro: Juan Manuel Marquez

Our fourth welterweight taking up residence in most experts’ pound-for-pound top five, Marquez continues to perform at an elite level at age 41, although he’s slowing down from a scheduling standpoint. His lone fight of 2014 was an off-the-floor decision win over Mike Alvarado that advanced his record to 56-7-1 with 40 KOs. Marquez is a hair slower than he used to be—in part because of added bulk that has raised its share of suspicion—but he’s still as clever a counterpuncher as there is and a willing give-and-take warrior who packs pockets of excitement into every fight. A fifth fight with Pacquiao seems his best moneymaking option for 2015, but so far Marquez has been pricing himself out of it.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Relentless Brawler: Marcos Maidana

It isn’t easy to elevate your stock with an 0-2 campaign, but that’s exactly what Argentine assailant Maidana did in 2014 by pushing Mayweather close to his limits over 24 rounds. He’s not the most consistent performer—the one-sided nature of his 2012 loss to Devon Alexander remains puzzling—but when he’s on his game, “El Chino” can defeat the world’s most arrogant fighters (Adrien Broner) or come close (Mayweather). Though his record fell to 35-5 (31 KOs) this year, Maidana has taken major steps toward becoming a household name and would make a dangerous opponent for any of the welterweights listed above him here.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Upside Guy: Keith Thurman

With the division’s biggest names all in their 30s or 40s, it’s nice to have a guy like Thurman exploding onto the scene and looking like a threat to the welterweight elite as a 25-year-old. He has speed, power, and personality; what Thurman doesn’t have is an A-level opponent on his 23-0 with 21 KOs resume. That won’t change when he faces Leonard Bundu in December. Hopefully it will change next year, because “One Time” is entering his prime and you’d hate to see it wasted.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

The Handsome Stranger: Chris Algieri

As a natural 140-pounder, Algieri might prove to be a non-factor in the welterweight division. But you can’t do a roundup of the state of the division without including the guy who’s about to fight Manny Pacquiao, because the ramifications if Algieri were to win would be enormous. He’s not much of a puncher at 20-0 with 8 KOs, but he had the skill and heart to upset Ruslan Provodnikov earlier this year, and he’s good-looking and articulate enough to cross over into the mainstream in a big way if he somehow gets the better of Pacquiao.

In The Conversation:

Kell Brook, Shawn Porter, Devon Alexander, Amir Khan, Robert Guerrero, Sadam Ali

Read previous State of the Division pieces on the Light Heavyweight and Middleweight divisions.

 

HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 6 - Marquez vs. Alvarado Postfight

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Juan Manuel Marquez's unanimous decision victory over Mike Alvarado at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.