What If Manny Pacquiao Fought in the 80s (Fourth of a Series)
By Teodoro Medina Reynoso
Tue, 05 May 2020
Pacquiao (L) and Azumah Nelson (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 Four: Move Up to the Featherweights II: Pacquiao Versus Azumah Nelson
As discussed in the previous part of this series, Manny Pacquiao forced to challenge WBC featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez in his debut at 126 lbs would have struggled and lost by unanimous decision to the 1980s Mexican great.
As what actually happened in his time, where he fought Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez back to back in title bouts, Manny would have had another chance at the world featherweight championship against another 1980s stalwart, Azumah Nelson of Ghana.
That opportunity would have come with the untimely demise of Sanchez in a car crash following his successful last title defense against Azumah himself.
In July 1982, Sanchez and Nelson figured in a classic that was decided in the 15th and final round where Chava forced a stoppage victory. At the time of the stoppage, Sanchez was ahead by a point in two judges cards with the third having Azumah up also by a solitary point.
Less than a month later, Sanchez died in a car accident thus vacating the featherweight throne. And since Pacquiao and Nelson were the last two worthy opponents of Sanchez, they would have been chosen by the WBC to fight to fill the vacancy (In reality, the WBC named Gomez and Juan LaPorte but with Nelson eventually knocking out Gomez to wrest the title in 1984 ).
So the stage would have been for the clash of two warriors, one from the Philippines South and another from Ghana for the vacant WBC featherweight championship of the world by late 1982. It would have been promoted as the first major clash between a Filipino and a Ghanaian since Flash Elorde fought tough and rugged Love Allotey in defense of his world junior lightweight crown back in the mid 60s.
Most likely, the venue would have also been the United States, specifically Las Vegas.
Azumah Nelson's Credentials
Before he met Sanchez, Nelson was a little known undefeated knockout specialist like Sanchez himself before he won the WBC title over Danny Little Red Lopez in 1980.
Born in Accra, Ghana July 19, 1958, Nelson fought briefly in the amateurs in the African and Commonwealth Games winning gold medals in the featherweight class.
Turning pro in 1980, Nelson won all his first thirteen bouts, nine by KO winning and retaining the African Boxing Union and Commonwealth featherweight titles, earning him world ranking in the process.
Despite all his early achievements and being undefeated in 13 fights, Nelson was virtually unknown outside Ghana. Because of this, he was a decisive underdog when he challenged Sanchez on 21 July 1982 at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
Coming back, Nelson won all four of his fights in 1983, and he began 1984 by beating Hector Cortez by decision on 9 March in Las Vegas. Then, on 8 December of that year, he became boxing royalty by knocking out Wilfredo Gómez in round 11 to win the WBC featherweight championship. Behind on the three judges' scorecards, Nelson rallied in that last round to become champion in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Azumah Nelson is crowned WBC featherweight champion after defeating Wilfedo Gomez in 1984.
Nelson would defend the title six times against Daniel Cabrera, Mauro Gutierrez, Jovenal Ordenes and Patrick Cowdell, all of whom he stopped and the tough as nail Mexican Marcos Villasana whom he defeated just on points twice.
In 1988, he moved up to the super featherweight and won the WBC title vacated by Julio Cesar Chavez outpointing Mario Martinez.
Retiring in 2008 with a record of 39 (28)-6(1)-2, he is widely considered one of the greatest African boxers of all time, currently ranked as the 31st greatest pound for pound boxer of all time by BoxRec.
Analysis: Pacquiao Versus Nelson
It would have been an evenly matched contest given their comparative performance against Sanchez and real as well as putative results versus Gomez, their supposed common recent opponents.
Stylewise, the two are both boxer punchers who can box and jab and throw volume punches in combination with Nelson fighting from the orthodox and Manny, the southpaw stance.
Manny would have had the advantage in speed but I would have to give the edge in stamina to Nelson as his fights versus Sanchez and Gomez which both went past 12 rounds with the Sanchez bout ending just minutes before the end of the 15 round duration.
Both have only been stopped once before so their taking power would have also been about even.
As both are hungry and determined to win the title, the fight would have been determined by which fighter could more successfully impose his style and make the necessary offensive as well as defensive adjustments along the way to sustain the same.
I think it would have been Pacquiao given that by that point, he would have the edge in experience, having fought in more world title level bouts and given his highly unusual and unorthodox style of fighting that features attacks from weird angles.
His speed in both offense and defense would have also posed problems to Nelson who at point relies on one gear in fighting-forward. Manny at that point really likes his opponents willing to come forward and mix it up.
But knowing Nelson's toughness and taking power as well as his ability to also dish it out, Manny would have also taken caution against Azumah's knockout potentials. Therefore, Manny would have befuddled Nelson by employing an in and out strategy, attacking him when he stops or tries to lure him to fight in spots and getting out of harms way or before Nelson could counter. That would have also minimized the possibility of him getting cut and injured which could tell at some crucial points of a long, physically draining fight.
Unlike Sanchez whose capability and versatility as an all around fighter would have given him headaches literally and figuratively, Manny would have had just some difficulties against Nelson who was at point, just a very solid and physically well conditioned basic fighter.
Manny would have characteristically started fast and strong in a bid to impose his style on Nelson. He would have gotten the better of the action by the middle rounds after a close opening three rounds. But knowing that he would be in for a long night, he would have also preserved his strength to ride out Nelson's stronger finish in desperate attempts to turn the fight around in the championship rounds
Manny by unanimous decision after 15 fast and often furious rounds of action. Yes, at that point, the 15 round reglementary duration in title fights was still in force.
Finally, Manny would have won his third world title at featherweight in his second try.
Next: Move Up to Super Featherweights-
Pacquiao Versus Hector Macho Camacho
The author Teodoro Medina Reynoso is a veteran boxing radio talk show host living in the Philippines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone 09215309477.
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