Philippines, 09 Aug 2020
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What if Manny Pacquiao Fought in the 80s? (Third of a series)

Pacquiao (L) and Salvardo Sanchez (R).

The 80s is among the strongest decades in professional boxing.

The decade saw Larry Holmes finally moving out of the huge shadow of the great Muhammad Ali and the rise of a heavyweight aptly described as a throwback fighter in Mike Tyson who would terrorize the division from 1986 through the early 90s and even beyond.

It also saw the coming of age of Michael Spinks in the light heavyweight class with him becoming the first to beat Holmes, as well as the battle for ultimate superiority among Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns, the so called Four Kings of the 80s plus Wilfred Benitez in and around the welterweight and the middleweight divisions.

The decade also saw the epic battles between Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello at 140, Julio Cesar Chavez and Edwin Rosario at 135, Hector Macho Camacho and Rafael Bazooka Limon at 130, Salvador Sanchez and Azumah Nelson at 126 and Wilfredo Gomez and Carlos Zarate at 122, among many other memorable fights and fighters.

Significantly, it was the decade where Leonard set the then record of five world championships in as many weight divisions, i.e. 147, 154, 160, 168 and 175, the last two he captured by beating Canadian Donnie Lalonde after his earlier upset of Hagler for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world.

That record would be tied by Hearns and later broken by Oscar de la Hoya in the 1990s with the Golden Boy bagging six world division championships from the 130 lbs through the 160 lbs weight classes.

The record is currently held at eight by Manny Pacquiao who officially won world titles at flyweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight from 1998 through 2010. He is now on his fourth reign as welterweight champion after beating Keith Thurman for the WBA super belt in July 2019 following three tenures as WBO titleholder.

In this series, I will endeavor to objectively analyze what could have been had Pacquiao emerged and fought in this particular among the strongest ever era in pro boxing. Would he been as successful as he became in the succeeding more than two decades? How many world division titles would he had won given the quality of the opposition in the 1980s and his own proven quality as a future Hall of Famer and a potential all time great fighter?

Part Three: Move up to the Featherweights, Pacquiao Vs Salvador Sanchez

As what actually happened in his time, Manny Pacquiao did not move up immediately to the featherweights after winning the IBF championship in the super bantamweights in 2001 after finding the 122 lbs weight class just right for his still growing and maturing body.

In fact, Manny would stay in this division for more than three years, his longest single stint before he embarked on his historic weight hopping campaign the succeeding six years culminating to his winning his seventh and eighth world division championships as welterweight and super welterweight in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Had he emerged in the 80s, Manny however would have had very limited window of opportunity to collide with Salvador Sanchez after unseating Wilfredo Gomez for his second world title (at 122 lbs) as discussed in the last part of this series.

Note that Gomez failed in his attempt to unseat Sanchez on August 21,1981 and Sanchez perished nearly a year later, August 12, 1982.

Hence, for a putative fight between Manny and Sanchez to have happened, it would have to be immediately after Manny had unseated Gomez on January 1982 where Gomez actually returned to action after the Sanchez loss. By which time Sanchez had actually registered another successful title defense against an inspired Patrick Cowdell of Great Britain which actually occurred on December 12, 1981.

The Pacquiao-Sanchez fight would have been set for April or May 1982 where Sanchez actually returned to the ring after the Cowdell bout which he won just by split decision.

Salvador Sanchez Credentials

Born in January 26, 1959 in Santiago, Mexico, Salvador Sanchez is considered as one of the greatest champions in boxing history and had he not died at a very young age of 23, he could have even gone to become the best featherweight fighter ever.

The highest tribute given him came from Willie Pep who said that he was lucky that Sanchez did not emerged in his era, the 50s. The Ring Magazine had Sanchez as the third best featherweight of all time, next only to Pep and his main rival Sandy Saddler.

After a brief amateur career, Sanchez begun his pro career at a tender age of 16 on May 4, 1975 with a 3rd round KO of Al Gardeno. He would win all but one of his next 17 bouts by knockout before losing by split decision to Antonio Becerra in September 1977 for the vacant Mexican bantamweight title. Three bouts later he was held to draw by Juan Escobar in March 1978. Those would prove to be the only marks in his record as he would win his all succeeding bouts, mostly by knockout.

Sanchez, touted as underdog despite his impressive record for being relative unknown won the WBC featherweight championship by stopping popular American defending champion Ernie 'The Little Red' Lopez in the 14th round on February 2, 1980.

He successfully defended the title nine times in just two years before he died in that car accident. Among those the challengers he defeated included Lopez himself (KO13) Ruben Castillo (UD15) Patrick Ford (MD15), Roberto Castanon (KO 13), Juan LaPorte,(UD15) Patrick Cowdell (SD12) Wilfredo Gomez (KO8), Rocky Garcia (UD15) and Azumah Nelson (KO15).

Analysis: Pacquiao Versus Sanchez

Given the scenario that Pacquiao has had to take on Sanchez immediately in his featherweight debut after winning the super bantamweight against Gomez, Manny would have been at a huge disadvantage going into this fight.

Sanchez, despite his young age was already very experienced at this point, with already more than 40 bouts under his belt. Manny also started boxing at young age but was less exposed to fights at top world level at this juncture in comparison.

Skillswise, Sanchez would also have held the advantage. Already considered as the best Mexican fighter and among the top pound for pound fighter in the world at the time, Sanchez had fully developed and perfected his unique Mexican style of boxing that made full use of his extraordinary balance in both offense and defense in almost any situation and fighting distance, allowing him to transition from offense to defense and back to offense.

He could elude a punch and counter by bobbing and weaving, rolling with the punch and using the shoulder roll. Apart from the capability to fight inside and out, he could also fight up and down, able to attack from a high vantage position and from crouch.

In fact his unique fighting technique was later even made into a training video for boxers aspiring to become a complete in and out world class fighter. I would be tempted to think that Floyd Mayweather, Jr and Vasily Lomachenko could have seen that video.

At this point in time, Manny though still essentially a one armed, seek and destroy fighter would have also been an above average inside-outside operator who uses his speed, power and weird angles of attack to befuddle and overwhelm his opponents, aided also by his above average staying and lasting power. He was like an Energizer Bunny as Mike Tyson would once describe him.

That would not have been enough against Sanchez.

Only three times was Sanchez troubled in his reign: against Guyanese Ford because of his height (5'10") and reach advantage; Cowdell because of his matching boxing prowess and Nelson who almost matched his fighting skills and determination to win. But in all cases, Sanchez admitted to have underestimated them and not even studied and prepared for their styles of fighting.

That would not have happened in this case as Sanchez would have surely taken serious notice of Pacquiao especially after his victory over the same Wilfredo Gomez and prepared earnestly for him.

Pacquiao's chance would have been to engage Sanchez in a chessmatch of a fight as Cowdell did but it would have been doubtful as Manny was used to starting fast and strong and could not have had the patience and discipline to carry out such a fight plan, still immature as he was at this point.

After a closely fought early to middle rounds where Sanchez and Pacquiao would have their moments in alternately effectively playing the role of defender and aggressor, Sanchez would have taken control in the championship rounds, more experienced he was in fighting in an era of 15 round world title bouts. His advantage in skills, particularly in varying and combining his punches while eluding those from Pacquiao would have been very obvious at that stage.

There would have been no knockdowns but Sanchez would have won on all scorecards by at least four to five points. Sanchez by unanimous decision.

The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at and by phone 09215309477.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Teodoro Medina Reynoso.

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