LAS VEGAS — In 2003, Marco Antonio Barrera was deep into a Hall of Fame career, but he was the lineal featherweight champion. Because he surrendered a sanctioning body belt, he didn’t have one around his waist, so his promoter, John Jackson of Forum Boxing, dubbed him “The King of the Featherweights.”
On Nov. 16, 2003, Barrera defended his crown in San Antonio against Manny Pacquiao. Freddie Roach was a little more than two years into his run training Pacquiao, and was supremely confident Pacquiao would win.
So on a trip to Las Vegas, he tried to make a bet on Pacquiao. There were wildfires in California where Barrera was training and it put the fight in jeopardy, so Roach couldn’t get his bet in.
While waiting to weigh-in, Pacquiao came across a pool table and told Roach he would sink all eight balls with one shot.
“I know it’s a trick shot, but it still can’t be easy to do,” Roach said.
Pacquiao lined the balls up, positioned the cue ball and then took his shot. Roach was astounded. And he quickly made a call to the sportsbook.
“After I saw him do that and how good he’d looked in training, I knew he’d win,” Roach said.
The over-under was 11 full rounds, so Roach bet the under. After the ninth, he urged Pacquiao to go for it. Pacquiao stepped on the gas and Barrera’s corner threw in the towel.
It was, to that point, Pacquiao’s greatest victory. And it proved to Roach that he was capable of hitting dizzying heights in the boxing game. He had everything a trainer could ask for physically, but he was also as coachable as anyone Roach had ever seen and loved to work out.
“My problem wasn’t getting him to the gym,” Roach said. “It was getting him out.”
He figured after the Barrera fight that Pacquiao would do astounding things in boxing, but as he discussed some of the Filipino senator’s staggering achievements, he couldn’t believe it.
Pacquiao has been so great for so long that it is easy to forget all that he has accomplished.
Pacquiao, who on Saturday at 42 years of age will fight Cuban Yordenis Ugas at T-Mobile Arena for a welterweight title in the main event of a PPV card, holds three records that are far too under-publicized and may never be matched.
He’s held a major world title in four different decades, but because of the nonsense the WBA pulled in stripping him of the welterweight super championship, some could argue he hasn’t been a champion in the current decade.
But the WBA took the super title from Pacquiao in January and gave it to Ugas, who will fight Saturday for the first time since that gift. So if Pacquiao wins, that will end any argument there may be about the decades record.
He’s also the only man to hold the lineal championship in five divisions. He won lineal titles at flyweight, featherweight, super featherweight, super lightweight and welterweight. And he’s the only man to win titles in eight classes.
Those are achievements so staggering it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to repeat them.
“What the Senator has done, and what he continues to do, I should add, is remarkable,” said Sean Gibbons, the president of MP Promotions. “He’s gone out there against the best in the world for so long and there are fighters who never do that, and he’s still done all these remarkable things.”
Having held a title in eight weight classes — flyweight, super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight — means he’s been champion in nearly half of the sport’s 17 weight divisions. It seems unlikely that heavyweight champions Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua will step up to give him a chance to make that No. 9, but it’s still mind-boggling.
Championships are easier to attain now, with four sanctioning bodies handing out belts and 17 weight classes in three of them and 18 in the fourth (WBC has added bridgerweight, which neither the IBF, the WBA nor the WBO recognizes).
So while it’s never been done before, it’s not inconceivable that a fighter could win in eight classes again, even if it is unlikely. Nine, though, is basically incomprehensible.
Roach said his favorite mark of all those that Pacquiao holds is winning in eight classes.
“I just don’t think you’ll ever see anyone do that again,” Roach said. “You think how hard it is to win in four classes and Manny did it in eight. That just blows my mind.”
The record that might be his most remarkable, though, is holding a title in each of four different decades. Canelo Alvarez, the sport’s pound-for-pound kingpin, has held titles in two decades at this point. So for him to match Pacquiao’s mark, he’d need to win a title in both the 2030s and 2040s.
In 2041, Alvarez will be 51 years old.
“When you saw that, it shows you how incredible what the Senator has done truly is,” Gibbons said.
Being the lineal champion in five classes is extremely difficult, too, and not just because of talent. It will take an elite fighter to be able to move up all those weights while winning belts, but the opportunity has to be there, too. Things lined up well for Pacquiao, but in the jumble that are today’s boxing ratings, that usually doesn’t occur.
Fighters are on different television networks which can prevent a match, or on different time schedules. For a lot of fighters, there is never the opportunity to be a lineal champion.
The most difficult is standing the test of time, which you have to do to accomplish both of the other feats but to an even greater degree when trying to win a title in four decades.
Pacquiao won the WBC flyweight title on Dec. 4, 1998, when Ugas was 12. When Ugas walks to the ring on Saturday, he’ll be 35. That was Pacquiao’s only world title of the 90s.
In the early 2000s, he won championships at super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight and welterweight. That gave him championships in seven classes in the '00s.
In the '10s, he added a super welterweight title and in the '20s, he’s held the welterweight belt he won from Thurman in 2019.
“This guy has been amazing for me, amazing for this sport and for so many people,” Roach said. “This is a once in a lifetime guy.”
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