If you haven't guessed by now, I really get down on contact sports. To a lot of people this is seen as brutish and violent which, to a point, I guess it is. The grim reality that is two men in combat save any weapon but his body and his skill set. The picture is a whole heap grimmer when you consider the idea of a stoppage, that the physical aspect of a game is so great that you can hurt someone so bad that it overwhelms their mental resolve to want to compete. In a game.
What critics of combat sports fail to recognise is that, when it really comes down to it, it's a sport where you couldn't win without the requisite skill set. Sure, you get freaks with such comparative advantage of one aspect or with one skill that they prevail over novice foes (Kimbo Slice, Bob Sapp, Butterbean et al). But these one note players never end up as anything of note and are usually dissected spectacularly by no one in particular. Extraordinary natural gifts are usually offset by some relative weakness that they never bother to fix, for they have never needed to develop the necessary character or well rounded skill set it would take to be considered great.
Coupled with skill set, and in viewing this as a sport rather than just a brutal pursuit, we realise that someone weighing 147 is just not going to beat someone 220. By creating the mystical title of "Pound for Pound" we create an index of skill regardless of size. From the two most popular combat sports, boxing and mixed martial arts, Manny Pacquiao and Anderson Silva have emerged as the generally accepted Pound for Pound Kings.
First, a little (recent) history....
Last weekends UFC 101 featured long time middleweight king Anderson Silva stepping up to face former light-heavy champ Forrest Griffin in only Silva’s second outing at 205. Silva struck gold against Griffin, hurting him with overhand lefts before slipping an onslaught to deliver a precision counter left that cut Forrest down to the stump in just 3 minutes 23 seconds of the opening stanza. Make no buts about it, this was an awesome performance. Silva’s striking and movement was way too much for the powerful yet relatively cumbersome Griffin. This win nullified Silva’s last two performances, which were lacklustre in comparison, and reasserted him as the best pound for pound fighter the sport has to offer.
In May, Manny Pacquiao became the only fighter in boxing history to win titles in six divisions when he blasted Ricky Hatton in two rounds to win a version of the light-welterweight crown. Also considered the best pound for pound fighter in his sport, Pacquiao’s recent opponents read like a list of fighters that one would avoid unless you are looking to make a point. Good thing for us he is.
Although completely different sports, the nature of their wins, and what it meant to their respective codes, were eerily similar. So…..in the spirit of the time I thought I would throw a little analysis at it to determine who’s accomplishments were greater. Let me note that, both of these fighters will go down as the greatest in this era and we should all feel honoured that we are able to witness the beauty and mastery of what they do. In analysing the two I took into consideration the following factors;
Stepping Up: How difficult it would be to step up a division
Last opponent: The reality of who they fought
Nature of last win: How physically dominant a performance it really was
Development: How they have changed their game
Silva has been a long time holder of the middleweight crown and made a record 5 defences. His last two bouts had his critics questioning his pound for pound status. He answered big against Griffin where he had to step up 20 pounds to the light-heavyweight limit (205). This is a phenomenal jump in weight however, at 6'2'', Silva is large for a middleweight and therefore has the frame to put the weight on. That said, he didn't look terribly well conditioned against Griffin. Good thing it didn't matter. Silva is one of the only fighters to have wins in three different weight classes (170, 185 and 205). That's a span of 35 pounds.
In comparison, Pacquiao weighed 106 pounds in his pro debut and as much as 145 when he faced De La Hoya. His last four fights were fought at 130, 135, 147 and 140 which were all wins and he collected three titles in the process. At 5'6'' and a half, he is about the right height for a lightweight (135 pounds) but has still managed to crush naturally bigger foes which makes things a whole lot more impressive. Pacquiao's span has been 41 pounds.
Although Silva did make the larger marginal leap in weight, Pacquiao did it tough by winning titles on the way.
Both their opponents could have been separated at birth. Limited but gritty fight dogs who love nothing more than a war. Attrition is their currency and both have been known to end fights covered in, their opponents or their own, sanguinary fluids. Both also have relatively slow hands and can be limited offensively.
Even though he was stopped by Mayweather in a welterweight bout, Hatton was still considered the top fighter at 140. Hatton's chin, however, is suspect at best whilst, the Silva fight aside, Griffin seems to relish in the punishment. Also, Griffin was champion at light-heavy until being dethroned by Rashad Evans in his last bout. The light-heavy division in the UFC is the sports premier division and is stacked with fantastic fighters. In comparison, light-welter in boxing is a good division, but no where near as full as 147.
Development of fighters
Interestingly enough, both these fighters are southpaws. Pacquiao used to one shot with the left hand but has developed into more a complete fighter with a wide array of punches. He has lost no speed whilst coming up through the weight-classes whilst his power has come up. Trainer Freddie Roach, seems to have maximised Pacquiao's skills
Silva has always seemed well rounded (great Muay Thai skills and a black belt in BJJ) and is remarkably adaptable. Every time someone throws a new wrinkle he seems to have an answer. A creative striker, Silva can throw shots off balance or switch hit from an orthodox stance. His head movement is second to none in the sport. He used to relish in the clinch but, of late, he seems to prefer to counter and move.
Both these two came to the table with a fantastic stoppage. If you haven't seen Pacquiao drop a left hand on Hatton like he stole something then you need to youtube it right now! It was a classic case of both trying to throw but one landing first. On the button.
In contrast, Silva was silky smooth and more deserving of the name 'Sugar' than that dude who got rolled on the undercard of UFC101. Silva used his superior reflexes and head movement to keep Griffin poking at shadows. Overhand lefts rattled Griffin before he was caught wading in, which makes the exchange sound relatively simple but Silva avoided three shots with ease before throwing an innocuous looking left hand. It was like the end of the first Matrix movie where Neo's movements make the agents look like they are moving in slow motion.
Both Griffin and Hatton hit the deck three times. Silva's stoppage was very classy and skilful whilst Pacquiao's was far more brutal and way cleaner.
Pacquiao takes it 2-1-1. This is in no means a slight on Silva's accomplishments or me showing bias to boxing but you would have to give Pacquiao the decision.