After three successful fights in as many weight classes last year (first when he eked out a split decision over Juan Manuel Marquez, second when he annihilated David Diaz to win the WBC world lightweight title, and third, his eight round drubbing of Oscar De La Hoya) Manny Pacquiao is the consensus 2008 fighter of the year among boxing writers and pundits.
Thanks to his fantastic showing, Pacquiao is in perfect position to enjoy even more lucrative fights this year. First on the list is Ricky Hatton, who has been salivating at the prospect of fighting the Filipino ever since the Pacquiao — De La Hoya fight pushed through. Should Pacquiao defeat Hatton, the most logical opponent would be Floyd Mayweather Jr. And if Pacquiao chooses to fight three times this year-- win or lose against Floyd Jr. — he can have a farewell bout at the end of the year (perhaps a third fight with Marquez at Jr. Welterweight?) before hanging up his gloves.
Of course when we say fighter of the year, we should also look beyond prizefighting and take a look at the best among the practitioners of Mixed Martial Arts.
I donâ€™t know if Anderson Silva is the consensus MMA fighter of the year, but I do know that in my book he is. The Spider showed that he is still the man to beat at middleweight when he won via submission over Dan Henderson in March. A lot of people believed that Silvaâ€™s reign as UFC Middleweight Champion would come to an end against a dangerous, skilled, and experienced fighter such as Henderson. But Silva once again proved his critics wrong.
Silva then climbed up to light heavyweight and took on James Irvin. Not a few wondered how Silva would handle the extra weight, not to mention how he would fare against a bigger opponent. Silva knocked out Irvin in 61 seconds.
However, Silvaâ€™s last fight for 2008 against Patrick Cote left a bad taste in some fansâ€™ mouths. Instead of going for the kill early, Silva appeared to be toying with Cote. He didnâ€™t show his usual deadly form, much to Dana Whiteâ€™s chagrin. The fight ended quite unfortunately when Cote blew out his knee and the referee was forced to put an end to the fight.
I attribute Silvaâ€™s less-than-stellar showing in his last outing to boredom. He has fought every possible contender in his weight class, annihilated every one of them, and he needs to step it up. Maybe Dana White should consider putting Chuck Liddell in the Octagon opposite Silva? Or how about the winner of the upcoming George St.-Pierre - BJ Penn fight? The point is, as good a fighter as Silva is, he needs to be fighting top contenders instead of tomato cans for him to be challenged. Give him an opponent who he knows could hurt him and even take him out, and Silva wouldnâ€™t even think of toying with the other guy. I guarantee youâ€™ll see the old Silva back in action.
In Pacquiaoâ€™s case, it has always been and will always be, proving other people wrong. Nobody gave him a shot to beat Lehlo Ledwaba, everyone thought Marco Antonio Barrera would school him in their first fight, boxing experts thought Erik Moralesâ€™s length and reach would be too much for him, and lastly, majority of the sports and boxing media thought the Dream Match was a farce and a huge mismatch.
Of course Pacquiao, as recent history has told us, cut through all of these opponents (and then some) like a hot knife through butter. Or, more appropriately, like a violent, ravaging Pacific storm through a sleepy seaside town.
Do I hear Erik Morales recently making noises about how Ricky Hatton will flatten Pacquiao? What, Pacquiao will go down in the sixth or seventh round because he will tire and lose steam?
With all due respect to Morales, a great champion and future hall-of-famer, since when did anyone of us see Pacquiao tire? Heck, the Pacman can easily give the Energizer Bunny a run for its money. Hatton, on the other hand, has had stamina problems in the past, of which, perhaps can be attributed to his hard living in between fights. Hatton is tough, a strong body puncher, and he has knockout power in both fists. But stamina is not one of his strong suits. He is a good pressure fighter for the early to middle rounds but for the rest of the fight he plods along and holds. Whether Hatton can outhustle, outwork, and finally overpower Pacquiao remains to be seen. But I dare go on the record here and say that I highly doubt it. I believe it will be the other way around.
For Pacquiao and Silva, the year 2009 will be one of the most important years of their careers. And it is not just because it is another year to earn more money through the hurt business. More importantly, another year is upon them to show to the world that they can continue to fight the best, stay on top, and prove the critics wrong.