We want to take Doc Brown's mythical time machine and transport Pacquiao back to the 1970's and see how he would fare against the likes of Salvador Sanchez and Alexis Arguello. We want to deposit him in the 1980's and see how he would stand up an assault from Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. We want to warp him back to the mid-1990's and see if Pacquiao's speed can match that of a young Oscar De La Hoya or Julio Cesar Chavez. We want this because of what we already know: that Pacquiao, SI.com's 2009 Fighter of the Year, is the best boxer of this era.
We grew accustomed to Pacquiao's brilliance a long time ago. We watched in awe as the southpaw rose through the ranks outdueling the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But in 2009 we were witnesses to something we really didn't see much of until now: stunning displays of raw power.
Last May, Pacquiao was matched up with Ricky Hatton, a physical equal (at least on paper) to Pacquiao and a man who had long dominated a 140-pound division that Pacquiao was debuting in. It was supposed to be an evenly matched fight.
Hatton was target practice from the opening bell, getting dropped to the canvas twice in the first round before eating a crushing right hand that could be felt from London to General Santos City.
Six months later Pacquiao was back in the ring and once again he was matched against an opponent, welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, who was considered by most to be physically superior. Yet in a stunning display of power and speed in a weight class he had little experience in -- if one fight can be called experience -- Pacquiao systematically dismantled one of the top fighters in the division. Cotto, a fearless warrior who had previously gone toe-to-toe with Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito, was no match for the little Filipino, absorbing a stomach-churning amount of punishment before being mercifully saved from an even more savage beating by a benevolent referee who had seen quite enough.
"Manny Pacquiao," his promoter, Bob Arum, claimed after the fight, "is the greatest fighter I have ever seen."
That he may be, though we'll never really know. What we do know is that Pacquiao is the best in his generation. Better (for the moment) than Floyd Mayweather, better than Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Margarito. That's not a knock on any of them; right now, Pacquiao is simply in a class by himself.
He has a thudding left hand and a cast-iron jaw. He throws punches from almost geometrically impossible angles and looks tireless doing it. He's personable, in a quiet, next-door-neighbor kind of way and is more philanthropic than a suburban church. Honestly: How many athletes do you know whose appearances are enough to have a cease-fire declared in wars.
Manny Pacquiao has become boxing's emissary to the world. He also happens to be its best fighter. What a perfect combination.
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GALLERY:SI.com's 2009 Boxing Awards
O'BRIEN:Top trainer Roach is no one-Manny show
GALLERY:Year-end Boxing Champions for 2009