Lawrence Osborne in Newsweek:
To call Manny Pacquiao a “boxer” is one of those descriptions that don’t quite fly, like calling Mahatma Gandhi a “Hindu lawyer.” The pound-for-pound greatest fighter on earth has begun to move beyond his bloody sport in increasingly unpredictable ways. In the Philippines, where he was born into abject poverty, the WBO welterweight champion is an almost religious figure, whose following is ecstatically cult-like. In America, he is “Pacman”—the idol of Las Vegas mega-fights, the Bruce Lee of Marquess of Queensberry boxing: tiny, furious, and lethal. “Manny Pacquiao,” Mike Tyson has said, “is a phenomenon.” No argument there: ESPN ranked him tied for first among the world’s highest-salaried athletes this year.
Pacquiao’s fights are not ordinary fights. His battles with Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, and Shane Mosley, his seesaws with Erik Morales and Juan Manuel “Dinamita” Marquez—against whom he will fight, for the third time, on Nov. 12 in (where else) Vegas—showcased a mortal intensity without equal. Against De La Hoya, few expected an easy fight for the Filipino. Pacquiao, however, dominated the larger man with his precision and speed.
It was ironic, in a way: Pacquiao had burst onto the American scene in 2001 on a De La Hoya undercard. Then unknown, he was brought in as a late substitute for Enrique Sanchez in an IBF super-bantamweight title fight at 122 pounds against South African champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba. Pacquiao was 32–2, but no one really knew who he was. (George Foreman, commentating, repeatedly mispronounced his name.) After a rampant Pacquiao overwhelmed Ledwaba, however, Larry Merchant stated that “Ledwaba came in here with a chance to be a star but it looks like Pacquiao may go out being the real star.” But it was not until November 2003 that Pacquiao became a true American superstar, with an 11th-round stoppage of the menacing Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera for the featherweight title.