Manny Pacquiao is no stranger to suspicion. In recent years, he has had to endure a number of accusatory barrages which have suggested that he was a regular user of performance enhancing drugs.
A particularly intense period of slander aimed at the Filipino icon accompanied the opening chapter of the negotiation saga between his team, and that of Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Money May” and his father Floyd Sr. were the primary belligerents in the attack. They claimed that Manny’s dramatic demolition of bigger opponents in his tear up the weight divisions, especially his annihilation of Miguel Cotto, and his unwillingness to submit to stringent, Mayweather mandated drug testing provided ample evidence of his misdeeds.
The issue would play a major role in the prolonging of the negotiations for a fight between the parties.
Eventually, Pacquiao sued Mayweather, his father, and his uncle Roger for defamation of character, a move which prompted Floyd to subdue his commentary on the matter.
In 2012 Pacquiao dropped the lawsuit when a deal was struck, and Mayweather’s lawyers released a statement which asserted that the defendents wished “to make it clear that they never intended to claim that Manny Pacquiao has used or is using any performance-enhancing drugs”.
The speculation, however, has not stopped.
The new face of the movement against Manny is Italian-American Paulie Malignaggi. The former light-welterweight and welterweight titlist has been extremely outspoken in recent months regarding his beliefs about Pacquiao. In interviews and through social media “The Magic Man” has routinely stated that he is confident Manny was a PED user.
“He was using every excuse in the book to avoid testing. That doesn’t raise suspicion?”, said Malignaggi late last year, according to fightsaga.com.
It is certainly easy to understand those who question Manny’s refusal to surrender to blood testing before a bout, a stance which was explained by his team as being due to a phobia of needles, especially considering he eventually agreed to do so in May of this year. This alone is not evidence of a crime, however.
In a recent interview with fighthubtv.com, Paulie was asked to expand upon his argument, and list his reasons for suspecting Pacquiao. The motor mouthed Malignaggi didn’t hesitate, he pointed to a “huge weight rise in a short amount of time” which was achieved in conjunction with a gain in speed, power, stamina and punch resistance that he feels could not be achieved naturally.
Paulie’s points are not new or original. They form the basis of every Pacquiao doubter’s beliefs. In a sport where few fighters ever achieve what Manny achieved, and in a world where we have every right to suspect every athlete is seeking an illegal advantage, the reasoning seems sound.
But is it?
Emmanuel Depidran Pacquiao turned professional on January 25th 1995, he had celebrated his 16th birthday barely a month previous. He weighed in at 106lbs.
Pacquiao had been brought up in abject poverty in General Santos City, and his venture into professional boxing was to provide food for his family.
Manny’s age, at this point, and his background are important to consider in the context of his later weight gain. The Pacquiao that climbed between the ropes on that day in January 1995 was but a boy, and a malnourished one at that. With years of growing still left to do, and a new way in which to earn money to feed himself, he was always going to move up the scale quite quickly. It also stands to reason that his speed, power, stamina and punch resistance would improve during this time.
Yet, even with these special circumstances in place, Pacquiao didn’t grow at a suspicious rate.
In 2005, a decade after he debuted, he fought his first fight at super-featherweight. He would campaign there, 24lbs north of where he began, for the next 3 years.
It was following his departure from the 130lbs weight class that Pacquiao’s size defying exploits really garnered attention. His next 4 fights ended by knockout, even though he moved up 3 weight divisions and 17lbs in the process. First he blew David Diaz away at lightweight, next he dazzled against a defenseless Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight, before he dropped back to light-welter to flatten Ricky Hatton in the most literal sense. Finally, he returned to welterweight to hammer Miguel Cotto in what is still his signature victory.
It was this streak of savagery that made Manny Pacquiao.
So how did he do it? The thing is Pacquiao hasn’t actually gained any weight since his time at super-featherweight. After weighing in at the 130lbs limit for his final fight in the division, against ubiquitous foe Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao rehydrated to 147lbs – the welterweight limit. He had been rebounding to similar weights the day after weigh-ins for most of his time at super-feather.
So, this was his actual weight gain over a 13 year period – 41lbs. Not all that considerable when one takes into account he went from age 16 to 29, from utterly destitute to filthy rich, and from training without any real guidance to having a professional team around him.
During his time at welterweight he generally weighed in at around 145lbs and never rehydrated much beyond the 147lbs limit.
The Pacquiao paranoia will not be banished so easily, however. So what if his weight gain wasn’t as dramatic as it seemed? He was still knocking out much bigger men, who routinely rehydrated to the point of being middleweights, and in the process he survived their most lethal leather without so much as flinching.
Pacquiao’s ability to “increase” his punching power in his move up to welterweight has been greatly exaggerated. It was somewhat of an illusion created by a number of factors.
First off, his natural power was greatly supplemented by the major speed advantage that he held against bigger opposition. This allowed him to land more often, and with shots that his opponent couldn’t see coming. As the old cliche attests – those are the ones that do the damage.
Secondly, his knockout victories in the higher weight classes ceased after he stopped Cotto in the 12th round of their November 2009 showdown.
Each of the three big names that he stopped in this initial onslaught were fighters vulnerable to the attacks of someone with speed of hand and foot. It was the odd angles that Pacquiao was capable of creating, and firing from, that proved the undoing of De La Hoya, Hatton and Cotto.
Pacquiao simply blitzed them.
Moreover neither Hatton nor Cotto were iron chinned, and both had leaky defenses, while De La Hoya was desperately weight drained. Against more durable welterweights like Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey or Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao didn’t look like such a monster in this regard.
The mystification at the Filipino’s ability to ship punches from much bigger athletes is also a little hard to understand. Pacquiao was a fighter in his prime and, unlike most of his opposition, he wasn’t required to drain the life from his body in order to hit the right weight the day before battle. The thing that improved his chin was fighting at his natural weight, not an illegal substance. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that ones punch resistance can be improved with the addition of PED’s.
Aside from pointing out the logical flaws in these arguments one could also highlight a precedent for Pacquiao’s exploits.
When Manny was marauding through some of the best welterweights in the world one of the comparisons he drew was with the great Henry Armstrong. “Homicide Hank”, as Armstrong was known, held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight championships all at once for a brief period in 1938. He is the only fighter to ever hold such a distinction. Hank also battled to a ten round draw in a fight that was billed as being for the world middleweight crown in 1940, although only the state of California recognised it as such.
The comparison between Manny and the murderously powerful Armstrong was a valid one. Not only because their C.V’s shared similarities but because they were both fast, powerful and voluminous punchers with aggressive, all-action styles.
Given that Armstrong’s career ended in the mid 1940’s i think it is fairly safe to assume that he wasn’t juicing up a storm during his astounding rise.
Yet, Henry was able to achieve an even more impressive feat than Pacquiao’s. While Manny accumulated a whole host of “world titles” throughout his career, they were a little easier to come by. Armstrong was THE featherweight champion of the world, THE lightweight champion and THE welterweight champion.
What’s more is that Armstrong knocked out the bigger men he fought with greater regularity than Pacquiao did. The devastating puncher is among the few fighters in history to log a century of knockouts, as he stopped 101 opponents in his 151 wins.
In the year 2015 it is easy to be suspicious of every single top class athlete, from every field of endeavour. In fact, it is naiive not to be.
For this reason I don’t harshly judge Malignaggi. If anything, his willingness to speak up is admirable, especially considering that he has a nice cushy gig as a commentator to lose, and that Pacquiao has shown himself to be litigious in the face of such allegations in the past.
Paulie is a brave and passionate guy, but don’t let his passion fool you into thinking that there is any reason to believe him, because there simply isn’t.
Not yet at least.